Lithuania: Spring 1997
Steven F Deaton
The Great Commission
After his resurrection, and before his ascension to glory, our Lord gave the commandment to go "teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20). The reason was because all men have souls that are stained with sin (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, all men need salvation of their soul, a cleansing from sin (1 Cor. 6:11). It was for this reason that God sent his Son into the world (John 3:16; cf. Matt. 26:26-28).
In fulfillment of the "great commission," the apostle Paul traveled far and wide to preach Christ and him crucified (Acts; 1 Cor. 2:2). We read in Acts 13 and 14 where Paul and Bamabas leave Antioch and journey to many places, preaching the truth, then returning to Antioch and giving a report to the church of their activities (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-27). Informing the brethren at Antioch, no doubt, helped to encourage them as they heard about the conversion of men and how the saints fared in other locations. Along these same lines, we see how brethren of the first century often kept in touch with each other (Col. 4:7-9; Eph. 6:21-22). Knowing about the conditions, trials, and triumphs of others helps us to appreciate their labors and lives. It is in this vein that this report is written.
Travel, Conditions, and Brethren
Travel to Lithuania was rather smooth. We left on March 25 from Dallas, Texas. The route of flight was from there to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfort, Germany, and from Frankfort to Vilnius, Lithuania (the capital city). Total travel time was approximately 24 hours. We were met at the air-port by Steve Wallace and his wife, Mary, and from there rode by car to Kaunas (population of about 430,000), the main city of our efforts. (Lithuania is close to 1/10th the size of Texas and located along the same parallel as Newfoundland).
Religious conditions in Lithuania are not very favorable to a great number of conversions like that of the Philippines or other places. The country has been dominated by decades of Communism and centuries of Catholicism, the former closed off open evangelism for years. Most people are either Catholic or atheist, both a tough sell on the gospel. Moreover, when the society began to open up, television announcements warned about the "western sects."
While in Lithuania, we labored with two other gospel preachers, Bill Bynum and Steve Wallace. Brother Bynum lives in Sheffield, Alabama, and has lived and labored in the Czech Republic. He also travels frequently to eastern Europe to preach. Steve Wallace has lived in Germany since 1984. He travels about twice a year to Lithuania, and is really the main force in the work there. He coordinates with others to try to ensure that two preachers are present in Kaunas throughout the year.
The New Testament is not an account of how people lived or the climate in various areas, but it does incidentally give us insight to both. The apostle Paul stayed in his own hired house while under guard and Jesus had no where to lay his head (Acts 28:30; Luke 9:58). We also know that while Paul was in route to Rome, he and others encountered rough weather (Acts 27). Along the same lines, we wish to note the accommodations and weather in Lithuania. This is not done to receive pity, but simply to inform others of the things that many preachers and their wives experience while laboring in the gospel. In Kaunas we stayed in a rented five room apartment which has radiator heating and hot water after 7:30 a.m. Though the apartment was not paradise, it was better than the airport hotel which had nearly no heat and absolutely no hot water in the morning. And the weather . . . you guessed it, cold! Likewise, there are some areas into which men travel that are hot and muggy with no air-conditioning or ice to cool their drinks (like South America). Therefore, contrary to the ideas of some, traveling overseas is not a vacation that preachers take at the expense of the brethren.
Phases of the Work
The work in Lithuania consists of three basic phases. First, and most prominent, is the street work. Similar to the apostle Paul in Athens, workers in Kaunas go into the public places where the people are (Acts 17:16-22). We set up a table on the street, pile literature on it, and give it away. Many tracts are taken each day. People take information on New Testament Christianity, Roman Catholicism, denominationalism, and the so-called Jehovah's Witnesses. From time to time someone will engage the preachers in a discussion. Also, being street work, we would attract drunks. On a good day, we were able to hand out hundreds of invitations to the Sunday lectures.
Another phase of the work, as mentioned above, is the Sunday lectures, an exclusive work of the preachers. Like Paul in Ephesus, preachers in Kaunas rent a room in the local civic center and teach lessons pertaining to Bible subjects (Acts 19:8-9). On a typical Sunday two lectures are given. Attendance at these lectures while we were there averaged about 5 to 7 non-Christians. After each lecture those who attend are given the opportunity to ask questions. This aspect of the work has produced the most fruit in times past.
Paul taught not only publicly but from house to house (Acts 20:20). Following this example in the third area of work, men in Kaunas strive to have private studies with others. Some studies are set up from the lectures, others by newspaper ads. As you study with individuals, you become aware that there are various reasons why they wish to study with you. Some try to validate their peculiar views. Others, as a result of advertising free Bible studies in English, want to have an English lesson. However, it is still true that some good and honest souls come to study the Bible. While we were in Lithuania, there were a total of nine non-Christians who studied with us.
It does not matter where you go, you have to deal with "issues" Obviously, in a country dominated by Roman Catholicism, one must deal with the one true church (in its real sense), baptism, inherited sin, etc. However, these are not the only things. Many issues that must be dealt with in the States must be dealt with in Lithuania. One of the first problems to be addressed is immodesty. Even in the cold climate, women dressed in an immodest manner. Therefore, teaching has to be done. They have to be taught that their thigh is nakedness (Exod. 20:26; 28:42). They need to be instructed that immodesty can lead to other sins as well (Matt. 5:28; Rom. 1:23-25).
Another problem is alcohol. The most prominent feature in all the restaurants in which we ate was the bar, and, as mentioned before, we met several drunks on the street. This is no surprise, for the dominant religion allows the consumption of alcohol. Therefore, the Biblical principles that condemn this must be taught (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-32). People need to be shown that any recreational use of alcohol is sinful, whether socially with a meal or wildly at a party (1 Pet. 4:3).
Also, where men and women are, there is going to be marriage. Where marriage is, there will be divorce (though it may not be called by that name). Where divorce is, there will be remarriage. We were told that priests should not marry. After getting past the priest part, we pointed out that this idea was a doctrine of devils (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Further, one man we studied with wanted to marry a twice-divorced pagan (his word) woman. He was pointed to Jesus' teaching in Matthew (19:3-9). These issues exist in Lithuania, and we must strive to teach the truth on them.
In further efforts to reach the lost and strengthen the saints, several books and tracts are being translated into Lithuanian, which include: 1. The New Testament Church, Roy Cogdill; 2. Glossolalia, Jimmy Jividen (just recently printed), 3. Denominationalism and The Church, Larry Ray Hafley. Additionally, preachers continue to rotate in and out with the hope of providing some continuity to the work.
The labors in Lithuania have produced fruit. People have been converted (though not on this trip), Christians are growing stronger, and above all, the truth is being taught! Please continue to pray for the work in Lithuania and everywhere.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 13 p. 14-15