Members of the Erskine Choraleers traveled to Europe in June to participate in a Lithuanian-American choir, spending a week in the north of Lithuania just before the annual synod of the Lithuanian Reformed Church.
With the students were the director of the Choraleers, Associate Professor of Music Dr. Keith Timms (pictured above in center of front row, flanked by son Harrison and daughter Hannah) and his wife Amy Rankin Timms (not shown); Prof. Tobi Otekayi, (above, far left), accompanist for the ensemble; and Robert and Paula Clarke (not shown), parents of Choraleer Lydia Clarke (above, directly behind Hannah Timms).
Sarah Williamson, pictured above, a junior business administration major who serves as president of the Student Government Association, wrote some reflections on the Choraleers’ trip which were sent to the ARP Magazine and published on the Erskine College page of the September/October issue.
Here we share Sarah’s reflections with readers of the Erskine news site.
Going to Lithuania was probably one of the most exhilarating and humbling experiences in my entire lifetime. When Dr. Timms asked for students willing to go to Lithuania, he told us to put immense prayer and consideration into it before answering. I spent awhile asking the Lord to show me whether it was His will for me to serve, and eventually I told Dr. Timms I would attend.
I have been abroad before, but never to Lithuania. While there, I learned a lot about the culture of the country itself, and while getting to know the Lithuanians my age, I felt a deep sense of God’s sovereignty. I knew that’s where I was supposed to be at the exact moment I was there.
Honestly, the most exciting element of the trip was our joint concert with the Lithuanians in the castle of Birzai. I’ve never experienced such grace and excitement from an audience. They gave us a standing ovation when we entered, and I could see the hope on their faces. One of my friends now (whom I did not know at the time) almost started crying because he said he felt the Lord’s presence there. And of course, I did too. It was so humbling.
The most encouraging aspect of the mission effort was seeing how open some of the Lithuanians became with us. In Lithuanian, there is no word that means ‘testimony,’ so the concept in general is very strange to them. One of them explained to us that they have a saying which translates in English something like “keep it within the family.” If they struggle, they don’t tell anyone. If they’ve been facing something on the home front, they keep it to themselves. We all were expected to be willing to share our testimonies if asked, which none of us really minded. I never truly realized how open Americans are until I saw the cultural differences. American Christians especially have no issue sharing how they came to faith in Christ Jesus, and have no problem sharing that with people. It allows us to connect on a deeper level and reinforces the sense of community, the “you’re not alone in this and you don’t have to be alone in this” feeling.
On our last night in Lithuania, two of the Lithuanians decided to open up to us and shared parts of their stories with us. Their stories were not as ‘testimonial’ as ours, more just walking us through the struggles of their lives. It was hard to hear, I’ll be honest. But, sharing is what unites us. I could see that huge burdens fell from their shoulders as they realized someone cared enough to listen, to cry with them, to celebrate in the triumphs, and to hold them in the hard times. And really, if that’s not the Gospel I don’t know what is. Jesus Christ offers us grace and mercy amid our brokenness even when we don’t deserve it.
I think I gained a clearer picture of what eternity will be like when we sang our hymns that night: every tribe, every tongue. Towards the end of the trip I started to see what the Lord was doing in their lives (and in ours). In third world countries like Uganda and Rwanda, the people need physical acts of love and service—things like running water, food, and clothing. Lithuania is a developing nation; however, they have all their physical needs met. What the Lithuanian people need more than anything is love and support from a neighbor. They need someone to listen, to have faith for them when they can’t have faith themselves, and most importantly, to remind them that God made the ultimate sacrifice and chose them as His people, and He says they are enough.
Each of the Lithuanians we met will forever hold a special place in my heart. I could go through the list, but you’d be reading and I’d be writing until I could hop on a plane to go back. But I will name a few instances and circumstances I learned from during the trip.
There were eleven American students there, and twelve Lithuanian students. Among the Lithuanians, there were only two guys: one was 16 and the other was 25. The 25-year-old came from a smaller village in Lithuania that the other Lithuanians said they identified an accent from. He did not grow up in a city big enough to teach English in grade school, so he chose to start learning three weeks before we came just to communicate with us. The others started learning English back in the third grade as a second language, which put our friend behind and created a true language barrier.
I was humbled by the fact that he put forth the effort to learn English for us, as we didn’t make the effort to learn much Lithuanian. It reminded me of how prideful we can be as Americans sometimes, traveling around the world expecting everyone to speak English. I really wish I had learned some Lithuanian before we arrived.
I also became good friends with one of the girls (though really I became friends with all of them) who opened up to us about her home life. This was so hard for her to tell us about that I remember us all crying together. I remember in our last concert singing “Reap What You Sow”and making direct eye contact with her while trying not to sob. The Lord knit her together with such beauty and grace, and as He wove her life together, He included strength to fight through the toughest battles. I watched her find a different vantage point on God throughout the week. At first, she had the idea that He sat up in the sky and wanted nothing to do with her, and I watched her vision shift to understanding He created her and wants an intimate relationship with her.
Watching the faith of each person at the camp grow was so encouraging. I think overall, the greatest lesson the Lithuanians taught me was self-worth. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years, and while we were there I opened up to some of the girls about it. Leaving was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I know that the Lord used the Lithuanians we came to know to grow and prepare us for when we returned home, to keep faith and trust in Him, just as He used us to show our faith to them.