Life as missionaries-Part3

Frank and Emily van Dalen have decades of experience as missionaries in Pakistan and Lithuania. In the current interview, I had the pleasure of talking with them about faith, the work of missionaries, and their time in Pakistan and Lithuania. In the third part the focus will be on their current work in Lithuania and building church communities.

This is the continuation of the interview previously published. For the previous part, see here.

I am aware that right now you are in Lithuania on a mission. How did you end up in Lithuania? From Pakistan, it is a really big jump.

Frank: A huge jump. We can feel at home in Lithuania. We never felt at home in Pakistan.

Emily: We were always foreigners; we were a different color, different religion, and different in many ways.

Frank: Now we have learned to speak the language. Emily could speak two of the languages very well. I learned to speak Urdu, the national language, very well. But once one of the Pakistani leaders came to us, he said, “You can talk like us, you can grace like us, you can act like us, but you will never be one of us; we think differently.” And it was very helpful and very liberating. I knew that I would never be a Pakistani. But when we came here to Lithuania, we actually felt more at home than we felt in the States. The United States has become much more liberal than it was when we were younger.

Emily: The United States was never home for either of us. Neither of us grew up there, but it is really nice to be between Pakistan and the US here in Lithuania.

Frank: It is a little more conservative here than in the US.

Emily: It is smaller, has a slower pace of life, and is more traditional. You know, it is more lovely.

You are building there as an international community as well. You have many people from different backgrounds, from different countries. What are the ups and downs and the hardships of building such a community?

Emily: Actually, we have two communities. Our first calling is to the Evangelical Reformed Lithuanian Church. In the morning, we have a Lithuanian worship service; that’s the real community of the church that we are growing. Then, three years ago, we began this worship service for internationals because there is a huge student population in Kaunas within walking distance of our congregation. There were so few options in terms of English worship, so we just kind of felt that there was a need and somebody had to do something.

Frank: Also, we haven’t really put the time to learn Lithuanian well, so our natural environment is more of an English-speaking environment. We want to have the Lithuanian church, and we do that. But it is easier to communicate with international students. They basically need a mom and dad around.

Emily: Or grandmother and grandfather.

Frank: We are not grandparents; we are like their mother and father or uncle or aunt. This is where Emily and I differ.

Emily: Lithuania is not used to having foreigners. It’s a multicultural country in a sense that it has Polish, Russian, and German influences from history. But there is very little familiarity with the larger international world. Students that come here aren’t welcomed very much. I shouldn’t say that; they are treated very well, but Lithuanians are reserved by nature anyway. They are all introverts. There is not a lot of initiating in the local population to get to know foreigners.

Frank: There is no desire in Lithuanians to get to know them. But for us, we can fit within the international community very easily. We do a lot of hospitality. As a fact, after this interview, we are going to teach two Indian ladies how to make a cake, so they will just come over and do these types of things. It is a natural community for us to fit into. The first thing that brought us, is the need in the Lithuanian church rather than in the international ministry. It’s just that this one grew up almost by accident. We thought we would take our weakness and turn it into an opportunity. Our weakness was that we can speak English much easier than we can speak Lithuanian.

Emily: In terms of challenges with this group, it’s the student population primarily. It is quite transient; they are not here for more than 4-6 years, so you have to, in your mind, decide. I have this opportunity for 4-6 years to really show the love of Jesus, to teach the Bible to educate, prepare these students to go back home, to go to the next place, and to be a more mature believer in their next context, where they can share about Jesus. In a way, it is a very different kind of church community. It is very intentional in the context of teaching the Bible, creating fellowship, helping students feel that they have a safe space, and can build relationships with people who are trustworthy. We help them with practical issues as well. Sometimes they need to store their stuff over the summer, so we put their stuff somewhere. Sometimes they are hungry.

Frank: A lot of the time they’re hungry, oh boy.

Emily: Sometimes we have one or two of them who, while they are here, lost a family member at home, so they are going through grieving by themselves, and there is no community that they used to. It’s a very practical and intentional ministry. It’s committing to give your heart and life to a short-term relationship. That’s unique because most people would not do that. Many think that it’s not worth it, that I am going to invest in someone that I am not going to know for a long time. But this is investing in people that God will know for a long time, and he is going to take them to the next place, and that is my part in building up this person.

Frank: Some of them are coming from weak churches, some from very different churches, and some have no church background. So we want to give them exposure to this. We have a wide range of Africans, from Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, down south, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. But we also have people from India, the United Arab Emirates, Russians, Ukrainians, and Hungarians, so we have people from very different places.

In the fourth and final part of the interview, they will  tell about their experiences, how people relate to the Gospel in different societies, and what their message would be to Christians around the world.

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