On our first trip to Lithuania, our mission team spent the last night near our airport. Breakfast was served in our rooms. It was simple fare tea, bread, cheese and ham a typical Eastern European breakfast, at least in post-Soviet days. Because my bags were packed, I collected the trays and returned them to the small kitchen. "Thank you," I said to the young woman who had prepared our meal. A little surprised that she didn't need to climb the stairs for the umpteenth time to gather the trays, she asked if I would like to have more tea. As I drank another cup of tea, she asked a surprising question. "What makes your group so joyful?"
"We have enjoyed our trip. Lithuania is a beautiful country," I replied.
"No," she said. "What makes all of the groups who come to work in Lithuania from churches in so many places so joyful?"
Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne
Guessing that she wasn't well acquainted with the Christian faith, I asked her if she had ever read the Bible.
"No," she replied. She had been raised during the Communist era, when the few churches allowed to remain open were attended by the old women and men. Churches were considered old-fashioned at best and heretical at worst. Many beautiful church buildings were turned into sporting facilities by the government. At another point, the government brought earth-moving equipment in and created huge mountains of soil adjacent to churches and cathedrals. Why? The Soviets hoped that surrounding churches with huge mounds of dirt might actually hide them. One Lithuanian pastor said, "They actually thought that if people couldn't see the church that surely God would not be able to see the needs of the people! But God saw and heard everything. Today, Lithuania is free."
Time was short and our team was gathering for a service of Holy Communion before we left for the airport. Yet, it seemed far more important to me to open my bags, retrieve my Bible and give it to this woman. As I hastened back to her, Bible in my hand, I shared with her where she might begin to read of the coming of the Christ child in Bethlehem so long ago.
Reflections, a mini-sermon written by Minot and area clergy, will appear each Saturday in The Minot Daily News. Clergy interested in writing a mini-sermon should contact Religion Editor Loretta Johnson at 857-1952 or Debbie Sandvold at 857-1950. The toll-free number is 1-800-735-3229.
"A writer named Luke tells a wonderful birth story about a special man named Jesus. You can read the story in the Book of Luke, Chapter 2. In later chapters, he tells us of his life, his work and how we are to live. Because of Jesus, those who follow Jesus know real joy. I hope in reading this Bible, you will come to know about Jesus and find that same joy."
I have often thought of this young woman in Lithuania. Did she find joy in the Christmas message? Will you? I encourage you to discover again the joy that the angels heralded on the night so long ago. Find your way to the congregation of your choice this Christmas.
The Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne is pastor of Faith United Methodist Church, Minot.