Friday, July 27, 2012

The Longest Day of my Life

When I say, "The Longest Day of my Life," I mean it quite literally. Thursday, July 26, was 31 hours for me. It started probably around the time I was getting my things together at camp. I left with Adyva and Darius after midnight, went to the Millers' house to get my bigger suitcase, went to Adyva and Darius's apartment, repacked everything, showered, slept for about 30 minutes, and got up to go to the airport. My flight left at 5:35am. I slept for another 30 minutes on the way to Kiev, Ukraine, and once there, I actually went through passport control so I could leave the airport during my 6 and a half hour layover.
Maryna, who I'd met at ISM, came to the airport to meet me, and we took a bus to a subway station, then a subway to the city center. We got to walk around and talk for a couple hours before turning back and making the nearly hour-long journey back to the airport. It was a good way to pass the time, and a lot better than spending 6 hours in the airport.
My flight to New York left at 1:35pm. My time was spent cramming in Bible verse after Bible verse, still preparing for nationals. The flight arrived to JFK airport around 5:40 that evening, making it a little more than 11 hours total.
By this point, I was completely exhausted, and by the time I got to my hotel, I made a few phone calls and called it a night at after 11pm.


Warning: This will be another long post.

Sunday was a day of fun, fellowship, and friends. We had an awesome church service with guest speaker Pastor Adrian Smith from Stockholm, Sweden, and we had a great time afterwards. One of the Portuguese students who I met at ISM, Joao, actually came to the church service and spent time with our group after, and he loved it.

But Monday was what we were really all waiting for, Awakening Camp 2012.
I'm sure there are several people who could join me in saying that Monday I could hardly contain my excitement for camp. I've seen some of the work that's gone into the camp, and I couldn't wait to see all the good things that would come out of it. I knew it would be good just from the level of excitement in the air. There were kids everywhere who had been sponsored for the camp, and I found it moving how grateful they were. I took this from a post in Shasta and Tony Miller's facebook group. It's one of a few similar messages she let me read. I want to share it with you just to show a piece of what went on:
Dear Shasta I cant go to the camp but I really want to be there, for me it's to expensive what should I do? -.-

Shasta Miller:
Are you coming with the group from Klaipedia? Are you riding with them?

Yes with my sister dania but I don't have money to pay for the camp that's my problem

Shasta Miller:
Come & we will take care of your camp stay.

Really serious ?

Shasta Miller:
Yes come
If its ok with your pastor

To take me to the camp?

Shasta Miller
Yes they will take and last question I don't need money for the camp? It will be free?

Shasta Miller
Yes for you free

Ou Thank you very very Shasta !! I'm love that camp and I like spend my time there with god and lots of people!
That was the story of several students, and I'm sure they and the Millers were very thankful for the several sponsors that made camp possible for them. My first "awakening" was related to this. Every year, most of the people from Colorado can afford every youth camp, youth convention, youth retreat, etc. and we think nothing of it. We always have a few sponsored, but it seems to be no big deal. Contrarily, thankfulness simply eminates from these students who couldn't afford it, but still were given the opportunity to be a part of what God would do.

Camp would begin on Monday. That morning, Amber and I hurriedly packed smaller bags (as ours were both too big to need to take to camp), and before we knew it, we were out the door with Tyler, Taylor, and Adomas, a friend of theirs. We all walked to the bus station, caught a bus, on which we ran into Raimonda, Rasika, and her girls, and went to the train station. We bought tickets to Trakai and waited with the group of about 25 headed to camp. Once in Trakai, Shasta drove their minivan back and forth from the train station to the campgrounds, taking loads of people at a time. Others arrived gradually, from Estonia, Latvia, and Norway.

When Monday evening came around, I was more than ready for church. I don't know that I'm good at singing in Lithuanian, but I can manage. Evelina and I, who had been practicing together, were joined by Benidicte and Miriam, sisters from Norway. Worship service took a little getting used to for some of the youth, especially those who hadn't been exposed to much or any Pentecostal church before. Jonathan Briggs, from Norway, preached that night, and it was the beginning of some awesome messages. Afterward, we all played volleyball, since it was still light out. Tuesday and Wednesday were just as good.

Youth camps in Colorado are great, don't get me wrong, but this was something else. Youth camp in Colorado is expected I guess, we're all used to it, maybe too used to it. And although every year it seems to get better, and we have great moves of God, it seems that at least some of the people start off with an indifferent attitude at first. Of course, there's also that "last night" mindset, where some people just go through the motions for the first few nights and then try to break through on the last night. It wasn't like that here. These kids don't get a huge youth event every few months like we do back home. We go from youth camp, to Shift, to Holiday Youth Convention to youth retreats and hyphen events etc. and we have youth services regularly enough. Here, this is the big thing. Camp is something everyone comes to already excited beyond belief. Every service, people worship and take it all in, even if they're a little hesitant about our worship style. People show up to morning prayer, looking forward to talking to God before breakfast. They're excited to clap and sing, they're excited to hear what the preachers have to tell them. Of course, the sports and games and fun bring tons of excitement too, but my point is, the entire mindset of everyone there made me think, maybe we don't appreciate what we have enough. That was another "awakening" moment.

I was given the opportunity to have personal conversations with many of the students at the camp...

The first was on Monday night, when a girl walked into the room I was sharing with six others and asked somewhat timidly, "Um, excuse me, but does anyone know how to do hair nice?"
We were all rushing to get ready as it was, but after a moment of silence I was first to volunteer with a, "Yes, I can do it," and she proceeded to ask me if I'd do her hair.

Her hair was beautiful, long, blonde, and thick. And before even an introduction she asked me, "So, you don't cut your hair, right?"

This is true. We Pentecostal girls are known for our uncut hair, among other things. I've heard a lot of things in response to this, but it's not a cultish thing and it's not legalistic either; it's in the Bible, it's not forced, it's a personal faith thing. Yes, there are standards we choose to live by, like uncut hair, no makeup, no jewelry, no pants, etc., but especially in foreign missions works, they aren't emphasized a lot, at least not at first. Shasta explained to some of us Pentecostal girls who have been in this for all our lives and have all the standards down that they deal with it on a personal and individual basis and they let people come to them about it, not the other way around.

So when Daniella asked me about my hair, I kind of proceeded with caution. "Right, I don't cut it," I said.
"Will you tell me why?" she asked.
"Well," I began, "the Bible says that your hair is a gift from God. And it's for a covering and it's your glory." That made her smile, and I continued, "so I wouldn't want to cut it, because God has given it to me, and why would I want to get rid of any of it?"
"That makes sense," she said. "I've been thinking that maybe I shouldn't cut mine again."
"That's for you to decide, but I think that's a good idea," I told her.
I did Daniella's hair the next night too, and the last night, she watched me do some other girls' hair and tried to do Amber's to practice.

Doing hair became a regular thing for me. By my last day there, I had over ten girls' hair to do. I put my own pins, flowers, headbands, and clips in their hair, as many of them didn't have any of that sort of thing. Even with the big box of pins I had, I still had to have Tony get some for me when he went into town. Daniella was so cute, after she learned the word "pins" she had to tell all the girls what they were called. I learned that they call hairbands and pins and things like that "guma" or "gum," so learning the English word "pins" was cool for her. The girls said I had golden hands. Although it was tiring doing hair for hours, I didn't really mind. Every one of them thanked me several times, hugged me, and were happy about their hair. It was something special for them, and that's all that mattered to me. Of course I told them that they shouldn't let their hair stop them from worshipping, to jump and clap and everything just like they normally would.

Because of all the hair-doing, I had a few more conversations about hair cutting and coloring, which I answered with care and sesitivity. I was glad the girls were asking though.

Other questions came as a result of Bible quizzing. Since nationals is right around the corner, I had my Bible quizzing cards with me pretty much 24/7, learning another one whenever I had a few minutes, looking over them at meals, and getting people to let me quote to them whenever I could. Many people asked what the cards were and if they could see them. They all loved the concept of Bible quizzing and wanted to know how they could do it. (When I go back to Lithuania, we just might have to start it up there...)

So another opportunity for sme question answering came when I walked by Christa, from Norway, and Ruta, from Klaipedia. Christa has been in church a little longer, I think, and she was trying to answer Ruta's many questions. She called me over because she thought I would know how to answer better since I know a lot of Bible verses. The first thing was showing Ruta a verse about why we only wear skirts. Christa could almost quote Deuteronomy 22:5, but didn't know where it was to show Ruta. That is indeed a Bible quizzing verse this year, so I went right to it. After that, Ruta followed with questions about jewelry. Then we moved inside so I could start doing hair, hers being first. There she asked about tons of other things, and Amber, who came to keep me company while doing hair, was glad to help me answer. I loved her spirit about the whole thing. She was just curious, hungry to know more, looking for answers, and looking in the right place, the Bible.

My last night there, Wednesday, Eimantas and Ugne joined us at Bajambalessodyba (where the camp was). Tyler Miller had met Eimantas a couple weeks ago and invited him to church. He came and brought his girlfriend, Ugne, with him. They loved it. After their first service, he said, "I have no words. Only wow!"

So it was great to see them at camp. Since we had coffee and apple pie squares after church, I went and sat by Ugne. She had just witnessed her first baptisms, and she had questions about it. I did my best at explaining without overwhelming, and we had a great conversation. She really likes Tony and Shasta's church, and she says Eimantas does too. She told me about their church, which is Catholic, and she said that it's like it's dead and Vilnius Slovinimo Namai is alive. She said it's different because they can feel happiness and joy at Tony and Shasta's church, and they're so nice and sweet. I loved getting to talk to her more.

My camp experience culminated with a bonfire. We had fun singing and playing games there. I let a few tears out and only consoled myself in the fact that I will most definitely be coming back.

Over the course of the three days I was at camp, several young people received the Holy Ghost, and six people were baptized.

The entire thing was just so touching. I'm thankful I got the chance to be a part of this.

Amber and Alex

First of all, my apologies for the delayed updates in blogging. I was at youth camp where blogging was not an option. So here we go, from last Saturday...

There were a couple people from America coming in for the camp, and Saturday and Sunday nights I would be sharing a room with one of them. That's pretty much all I knew. Saturday morning when I woke up, AnnaRose and Jessica had both already left the hostel. The room looked empty. After I had packed my things and moved them out, it looked even emptier, with only Jessica's things left there.

The Millers picked me up, the two Americans already with them. I was introduced to Amber and Alex from Maine. We headed to the church to meet Rasika, a Lithuanian lady who goes to Vilnius Slovinimo Namai and is a certified tour guide. She would be giving Amber and Alex a tour that day, since the next day would be church, and then we would all be at camp near Trakai. We started the day off right, with prayer and worship, and I thought it was a wonderful way to begin the next little section of my journey (no longer studying, but now in preparation for camp).

After getting something to eat, Rasika, Amber, Alex, and I walked around old town Vilnius, a place I've become used to and now know my way around. We saw the Cathedral, the Palace of the Grand Dukes, Gediminas Tower, St. Anne's Church, Stikliu where the Jewish Ghetto used to be, Vilnius University, the Gates of Dawn, Town Hall, and ended our tour at the KGB Museum, where I hadn't been yet. It was quite gruesome, and I now completely understand why Shasta and Tony said when they take people there, they feel sick afterwards.

We finished the night out with spending time together, everyone chatting, including Toby, the Millers' dog.
Amber and I were sharing the guest bedroom at the Millers' house, and we started a pretty good friendship. We stayed up for a long time just talking, as girls do. Although I had been surrounded with a bunch of girls before, it was comforting to have another church girl, and one from the States too, to talk to.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Kryzus Kalnas

Ever since I saw a picture in the "Looking at Lithuania" book we checked out from the library, I really wanted to go to The Hill of Crosses. Unfortunately, it's in Siauliai, which is over 200 km. from Vilnius. One of the other girls from UNC went to see it last week one day, and she said it was completely worth it. Friday was my opportunity, so I looked into bus and train schedules.

I left the hostel a little after 6 in the morning to walk to the train station. After asking a particularly helpful gentleman at the train station, I bought my ticket. My train left Vilnius at 6:45 and arrived in Siauliai around 9:20. I again asked questions and figured out how to get to the bus station, which was about a 10 minute walk in the rain. Luckily, I had my umbrella with me. After encountering more helpful people and finding out the bus I would take would leave at 10:25, I went into a shopping center and bought something I could eat for lunch later on. The bus ride was only 3 litas, and the bus driver let me know where to get out. The elderly lady I was sitting next to told me, "Kryzus Kalnas, walk there," and pointed at a road trailing off the main road.

I was a little concerned. It looked like I was in the middle of no where, I couldn't see even a glimpse of a hill, and it was pouring rain. I ended up walking with a Japanese lady who had gotten off of the bus as well. It was about a 2 km walk, and in the rain that was a lot worse. I don't think my friends and family in Colorado can quite comprehend the magnitude of the rain here. It's crazy! Even with the umbrella, I was soaking wet by the time I saw the hill in the distance.

Words cannot describe the wonder of that place. There are thousands, maybe millions of crosses. There are literally crosses hanging on crosses hanging on crosses. It's hard to even fathom. To me, it was a symbol of a solid, unwavering, undying, persistent faith tying together generations of people from several cultures and beliefs. It's simply amazing.

When I got back, I went straight to the church for music practice. It was our last, as camp starts on Monday. I have to say, singing in Lithuanian, a language I didn't know a word of before this trip, has been quite the challenge. But I'm getting there... I think.

Later that night, we said goodbye to Maryna, our new friend from Ukraine. AnnaRose and I walked her to the bus station, where she left around 10.

We then spent Anna's last night in Vilnius just hanging out and relaxing. We grabbed a snack and walked the streets until dark, so we could get some pictures of the Cathedral at night.

Back at the hostel, there were only three of us girls left. AnnaRose would leave at 4 the next morning, and Jessica would leave the next night. I would leave the next day to stay with the Millers until camp. We talked a little about our days. Jessica had gone with a couple others to the Soviet statue park and to a zoo. AnnaRose had gone to the castle at Trakai with Maryna. After telling each other about our adventures, we all said our goodbyes and went to sleep, content.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wrapping Up

It was the last week of school, and everything was hitting us. There was so much in Vilnius we hadn't done yet. We had put some things off like we'd be here forever. But we wouldn't have time now. As projects and exams waited for us at the end of the week, we had a lot of preparation to do.

Thurday would be our last day, and we would have a group presentation and an exam for both International Marketing and International Project Management. Every night we were meeting with one group or the other, trying to get everything ready, plus cramming in some studying when we could. And I was still at the church almost every night, what with camp starting next week, and final preparations in full swing there too. I told one of my best friends that I just can't seem to get away from everything happening at the same time, no matter where I go. Always being fully involved in church and school, things tend to all come to fruition at the same time, requiring a lot of work from me in all places, all at the same time. But as crazy as it may sound, I wouldn't trade that feeling for the world.

Tuesday evening I didn't have to go to the church, but we got quite the surprise. Behind the cathedral in old town, there is a building that is fenced off and under construction. While I've heard it called "the palace," I had no idea what it was. Turns out it's a reproduction of a palace that once stood there and will serve to be a sort of national museum, displaying the history of old town Vilnius as well as several artifacts found on the site. Rimas, a student from Tulane who took part in ISM Summer University, arranged for us to have a tour through his uncle, who is on the committee for the reconstruction of the palace.

Although much of the building was incomplete, and there were many places we couldn't go into yet, what we did see was amazing, and I think we all learned a lot. The tour culminated with climbing up into the tower where we got a great panaramic view of the city.

The next night was spent frantically completing power point presentations and reading and re-reading class notes. When students went out, they didn't go out to bars or clubs, but rather to ISM to study hard. Seeing as how we'd have open ended questions, I personally was a bit worried.

On Thursday, the tension was pretty high, but project after project was presented successfully, and the test in International Project Management went perfectly fine for most everyone. By lunch, we were all a bit more relaxed. That didn't last long though, as we all had to basically do it again in International Marketing... except this time, the test was harder.

At the end of the day, we were all glad to be done.

That night, they gathered at a bar to receive certificates and say good-byes, while I was at the church. They were told the lowest grade was an 8, so we all passed!

With school complete, I realize the majority of my trip is over. Camp starts in just a couple days. I leave Lithuania in less than a week. A week from today I'll arrive in St. Louis for Bible Quizzing nationals. It really has gone by fast.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Bigger Picture: A God Thing

From the very beginning of this trip, in fact from the very "planning stages"even, I've recognized it as "a God thing." If you've read my blog from the start, you know that, and you know exactly what I mean. It's just amazing how God has had His hand in the entire thing, guiding my every step, directing the whole journey.

For my fellow Christians, you'll know what I mean when I say, "the bigger picture," but I'll explain a little for some who might not. Again, I'll bring up Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." We have all these little things in our lives good and bad, and even neutral (job promotions, deaths of loved ones, new classes, new friends, etc). But all these things don't just happen for their own sakes. God sees the bigger picture, and all these little things just contribute to His too-big-to-fathom plan, like pieces of a giant puzzle. So, for example, while it hurts that my parents aren't in church, God knew it had to be that way, at least for a while, so I would learn to stand on my own and have my own solid faith, so I can be more effective at reaching out to those in similar situations, and I'm sure for a plethora of other reasons I can't even wrap my mind around. That's what I mean by "the bigger picture," if that makes sense.

Now that I've given that definition/explanation of sorts, I'll tell you what I recently learned about "the bigger picture." I thought I had it all figured out. You know, I didn't just come to Lithuania for this study abroad opportunity. It was like God literally reached down and pointed out Lithuania and said, "This is where you need to be," from how everything worked out. And yes, as I received confirmation about coming here, it was also confirmation about being at the church in Loveland (TPOL - love you guys!). Coming here would make my summer about studying and about God. Those things alone were enough for me. I thought "the bigger picture" was pretty self-explanatory.

But what did I think? Did I really suspect I had God's plans and thoughts all figured out? Did I actually think that to be possible? Just when I thought I had it all figured out, God showed me another piece of this little thing I call my life. I was amazed with God before any of this, speechlessly astounded when this trip came together in the way it did, so now I'm just at a loss for words. I'm in awe, I'm excited and thrilled, and I can't wrap my mind around all this. This all reminds me of Isaiah 55:9, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." See, what I "figured out" was only the tip of the iceberg. Figure out God? Impossible.

Now for my disclaimer: I don't have it all figured out. I know I'll get a ton of questions after this post, and I probably won't have most of the answers. But that's okay, because God has all the answers, and for now, I know all I need to know.

This post has already been long, I know, but don't stop reading just yet. I'm just getting to the good part...

When I was around ten years old, I began to develop an interest in foreign missions that I now realize was uncommon among my peers at that age. I just wanted to know things about other countries and the missionaries there. I had a map with missionaries' pictures on it, and I would take it into my bedroom and pray for them. By the time I was twelve, I felt undeniably called to somehow help with or work in the foreign missions field. After meeting Angie Clark, missionary to China, at a Kids' Prayer Camp, I became convinced that someday I would be a missionary. I thought of places like China, Uganda, and India. Still young, I didn't really begin seeking God's direction in this area, and soon, I let other things get in the way. For the next several years, I went on to pray and fast about it with great inconsistency as I struggled with a lot throughout my teenage years. From ages thirteen to eighteen, I had some of the best and worst times in my short life. I battled with self-injury, depression, and even thoughts and plans of suicide. At age fifteen, I was so far down that if you'd have asked me where I would like to go to college, I would have said I'd have probably killed myself before then. Of course, these dismal times were sprinkled with some good ones. I still enjoyed family and friends most of the time, and a lot of the time, no one even knew anything was wrong. For all this time, I tried and tried to get out of the pit I found myself stuck in. I tried to stop hurting myself too many times to count.

My point in telling you this is not to make you feel sorry for me or even to move you to any emotion. My point is to show you that not only did I lose sight of my dream, my vision, my calling, but I also lost sight of God. And without God, life isn't worth living.

When I finally surrendered and let God take control, everything changed. That was only a relatively short time ago, and this is a process, not an instant thing. But my life has been vibrant since then; there's really no other way to describe it. I'm truly living, and loving every minute of it. I see how God allowed me to grow and have some stability before reminding me of my former passion for foreign missions.

Right about now, I'm assuming my family and close friends back home are getting a little bit panicked. Take a deep breath and read on...

A few days ago, I was leaving the church here with the Millers when Shasta asked me if I would ever consider coming back to Vilnius and staying for a longer period of time. Honestly, the thought had only briefly crossed my mind before then, and I hadn't paid much attention to it. I don't remember exactly how I answered her, but I'm sure it was something like a hesitant "maybe." But the idea was planted, and even over a few short days, it's grown.

God has reminded me of my old passion and dreams for foreign missions, and He has reminded me of a promise He gave me involving this, the only time I've heard His voice audibly. It's like a fire has been started within me. All this, paired with the stories I've heard from the Millers, the excitement I've gotten from watching God work in people's lives, and the love I've gained for this city, makes me want to be a part of the awesome things God is doing here, not only for the next week and a half before I leave, but on a more long-term basis. I know this isn't just a me thing because I couldn't fathom something like this. I've been homesick since I got here, and everyone knows how much I love my family and friends back home. I wouldn't have come up with an idea like this on my own; it has to be a God thing.

But that's not even the whole story. The other part happened by accident. The background on my phone is an edited photo of arms with the word "love" written on them, in support of the organization To Write Love On Her Arms, which - if you don't know - is basically a non-profit organization for self-injury, depression, and suicide awareness and prevention.

I've always thought TWLOHA is a great idea, and I've wanted to be a part of something like that. I actually looked into interning with them in Florida this summer, but we all know how my summer plans came about. Anyway, Shasta happened to see the background on my phone, and she asked about it. After explaining it to her, she said, "We need something like that here!" And immediately the thought came into my head, "I could make that happen." But it didn't seem like a thought of my own, more like a thought whispered into my mind, which is sometimes how it happens when I feel like God is speaking to me. For that reason, I also think this idea is a God thing. Lithuania has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and as such, Shasta is right, they are in need of something like TWLOHA to make a difference, even a little difference. And that little thought I had was true, I could be the one to start it.

Well, as long as that was, I've really only told you the condensed version of everything, if you can imagine that.

So now, after all this, I'm thinking I will be looking into returning to Lithuania, possibly even finishing school here as I have three years left, and I'm not even sure I want to wait that long. Of course, it won't be an over-night thing either. Right now, I can hardly take in the excitement and the huge-ness of it all. I have a lot of research to do on a lot of things, but in the meantime, I can assure you I will be praying and fasting about this, along with attempting to learn some more Lithuanian.

Like many other young people across the UPC, I've been told time and time again for as long as I can remember that God has something great planned for my life. Well, this just might be it...

I'd like to leave you with some relevant Scriptures that have been on my mind throughout this incredible journey:
Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct they paths."
Psalm 37:4-5 "Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass."

My "Lonely" Weekend

Lonely isn't exactly the word I would use to describe my weekend, but knowing that the other students were away, a friend of mine back home asked how my "lonely weekend" went. In truth, it was just peaceful.

The past weekend, ISM was taking the students to Palanga, a coastal city along the Baltic Sea. Knowing that this trip wasn't really school related, knowing it would mean missing church again, and also hearing that Palanga was more of a city for partying than anything, I didn't really want to go. I imagined a weekend feeling out of place, and although I thought it might be nice to go to the beach, weighing my options, I decided to stay in Vilnius.

It was a great decision. I started out my weekend by sleeping in, and then Friday I blogged and had a long walk all over town. I went to the oldest church in Vilnius, to the Museum of Contemporary Art, to the streets where the Jewish ghetto used to be, into several little shops, to several churches, to Gediminas Tower, and to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. I have a couple more things on my "sight-seeing to-do" list, but all in all, it was a great day, and I was very tired at the end.

Friday night brought another long night of sleep, which I was thankful for, and Saturday I went with the Millers. The day involved thrift store shopping, doing laundry, and cleaning the church, which had partially flooded with the heavy rain last week.

Of course Sunday was church, and I was more than ready. Pastor Tony Miller preached a great message that definitely reminded me about some things. Of course the church services also led to me meeting even more people. Church in Vilnius is just wonderful. It's great to see how excited the people can be about the things of God. I feel so blessed to be here to see it and take part in it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Week Two

This week flew by. It's really just been a blur.

Monday was pretty rough on us, especially those of us who spent the weekend in Tallinn and Helsinki. Our professor for International Marketing, Benas Adonavicius, taught his last class on Monday, and I was sorry that I may have seemed disinterested due to being to tired. After class, I headed over to the church for prayer meeting. By the time I got back to the hostel, I was ready for bed.

Tuesday, Maik Huettinger, from Germany, took over the International Marketing class. His teaching style is very different from Benas, but I can't say I prefer one over the other.

Meanwhile, in International Project Management, we started our second project, "Ă„ssignment P". We stay in the same groups we had for the first project (my group is AnnaRose, Carolina, Rita, and I), and basically have to come up with the plan for a project over the remainder of the class. My group decided on "Vilnius Bike Tour," creating the plan for a tourist event a travel agency could offer. Also Tuesday, my computer gave me problems. This is why I haven't blogged this week, and this is also why I haven't been able to upload photos. (I'll add some later, I promise!) My computer wouldn't start. I took it in to a repair store, where communicating in itself was challenging, and found out it's a problem with the hard drive. While this is frustrating and less than ideal, being in another country, it's not the end of the world, and it'll be fixed by next week.

On Wednesday, our professor for International Project Management changed too, and now we have Vytautas Buda instead of Alfredas Chmieliauskas. Wednesday night, the Portuguese students cooked us dinner. I need to ask what it was called, but it was some kind of meat with rice and a sauce, and it was very good. Last night, we introduced them to tacos, bad tacos, but tacos nonetheless. A few things went wrong with the meal. The sour cream was more like yogurt, the avacados for the guacamole weren't ripe enough, and the salsa was sweet. But while we Americans thought they were less than apetizing, the Portuguese students and Maryna (the Ukranian girl) loved them. They didn't know what tacos were before, so we had to tell them that these tacos weren't even good. It was a good night all around though.

Again, I was at the church a few evenings this week. Out of everywhere I've gone, the churches, both in London and here in Vilnius, are where I feel the most at home. I feel blessed to be able to still find myself at church so often while away from my home church.

Speaking of which, I have to give a shout out to Colorado! They had their youth camp this week, and I've heard nothing but amazing things about it. So, great job once again, CDYM! I've heard it was the best youth camp ever, but I think it gets better every year, because we say the same thing every year. I also heard Dustin Turpin, a boy who is paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair, walked! I know the youth in Colorado have prayed for this miracle time and time again, and it's wonderful that they got to see it!

While hearing these stories and all the wonderful things that happened makes me miss home and wish I had been there, it also makes me look forward to the youth camp here even more than I had been. It starts in a short ten days, and I'm sure it'll be here before I know it. Seeing the young people here and how excited they are about having a church and having a youth camp is touching. I can't wait to see what God is going to do here!

Last Weekend's Adventures

Saturday morning, I woke up to Anson knocking on the door and AnnaRose answering it. It was already 6:30, the time we agreed to meet in the hostel lobby to take taxis to the port in Tallinn. I had gone to bed less than an hour before, set my alarm to get us up at 6:00, and left my phone on silent. Consequently, AnnaRose and I had not gotten up on time. Neither had Caronlina and Rita, the Portuguese girls in the room next to ours.

We got ready within a few minutes and headed downstairs. The others had left already, but the man at the front desk told us another taxi was coming for us within five minutes. After waiting outside for over fifteen, we had another one called. By the time it picked us up, it was 7:10. The ferry was scheduled to leave the port at 7:30.

Of course, we got to the port late. I think it was about 7:28. The night before, I had bought my ticket online, along with four of the five people who had already left. Luckily, I was able to change my ticket for a ferry departing at 10:30 for 4€. The other girls bought tickets to depart at 10:30 as well, and we decided to leave the port and walk around Tallinn.

We got breakfast, consisting of coffee and muffins, and ate in a park. Then we went to some shops nearby. I don't think we realized how far we walked, because by the time we were heading back to the port, we found ourselves rushing to make it there. Carolina and Rita were just a little distance behind AnnaRose and I, and when we went in and got on the escalator, I saw them coming in the door. But then we didn't see them behind us again, and when we made it on the boat, we waited at the entrance for them until the doors closed.

Having never found them, we headed up to the top deck, hoping they made it on before us. This was the case, and we found each other again on the deck (where it was extremely windy, by the way).

The ferry itself was way more then I expected. I don't know why, but I was expecting something like the ferry I was on with my family in the San Francisco Bay. This "ferry"was complete with rooms you could buy to sleep in, restaurants, gift shops, a play area for kids, and a grocery store. The trip was off to a great start.

When we ported in Helsiki, I'll be honest, we had no idea what to do. I asked a lady in the port about how to get into town, and she told us to take bus 15A. We took it and got off at a bus station off of a town sqaure. From there, we walked around quite a bit, not having or finding enough of a map to even know where to go. Finally, I asked a couple of passersby if they had any suggestions as to what my friends and I should see, being in Helsiki for the day. They were more than happy to give recommendations for both an art museum and a couple old cathedrals.

In the art museum, again AnnaRose and I lost Carolina and Rita. We continued to the cathedral and walked around a little more before heading back to the port where we found both Carolina and Rita and the other five from our group waiting.

Once again, we were all tired, and we headed back to the hostel in taxis once we were back in Tallinn. The next day, we slept in, checked out at noon, and went into Tallinn with Maik Huettinger, the professor from ISM who joined us on our trip.

He took us to an Estonian restaurant some locals had told him about, and it was amazing. It was hidden off of a side street, and had a very warm and friendly atmosphere. The food was delicious, and differing from Lithuania, the service was friendly and helpful.

Our group of nine (ten if you count Maik), split up after lunch, and AnnaRose and I went with Rose, a lady here from Chicago. We went to a small souvenier shop, where we all got something for someone. Then we went to "Old Town Square," where we had passed a market earlier. Small booths filled the square with vendors selling crafts of all kinds, from dresses to table cloths to pottery, and more. Off to the side, a large crowd was gathered watching dances on a stage. Many people were dressed in traditional clothing, and it was a festive atmosphere. We heard that this event only happens 3 or 4 days a year, so we definitely happened to be there at the right time.

Rose headed back to the hostel, where we were supposed to meet Maik before 6:00, and AnnaRose and I walked around a little more until my sandal broke, and we headed back as well. When we returned, Maik helped me find super glue at a local grocery store, which has worked at holding my shoe together surprisingly well.

Again, we flew in to Riga, Latvia, a 40 minute flight. We had a layover there for a little over 2 hours, and Maryna, a girl from Ukraine, and I got dinner together and had some laughs. By the time we got into Vilnius, it was late, and we didn't get back to our hostel until after 1:00am.

The next morning would begin week two of our classes.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Skyped and Wiped Out

Friday morning, eight of us walked to ISM in a less than pleasurable state. Some were just tired, some were hungover from the previous night's ventures. The taxi ride to the airport proved to be more fearful than the flight. Our driver flew out of the parking lot, speeding down streets, giving us whiplash when turning, and nearly hitting the other taxi and other vehicles several times. I personally felt lucky to be in one piece upon arriving at the airport in Vilnius. The flight was a whole 40 minutes to Riga, Latvia, where we had a layover for about an hour. From there to Tallinn, Estonia, it was another 40 minute flight.
Once we landed, taxis were called and we proceeded to the Academic Hostel where we would be staying for the next two nights. We had a short time to drop our things off, and then we were headed to Tallinn University for a short overview of the history of Estonia, which we knew nothing about. After wandering around the poorly labeled and confusingly numbered campus for over ten minutes, we made it to the classroom late. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the teacher, who for all her genuine excitement about her country's history, couldn't keep some students awake. Those of us who managed to stay awake all looked bored, I'm sure. Although I found the history interesting, I had a hard time seeming interested, and I'm sure many of the other students shared my feelings.
When we were finished with the lecture, we had lunch in the cafeteria, and then headed over to Skype. For those of you who don't know, Tallinn, Estonia is where Skype started, and a good percentage of Skype's employees are in Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia. A lot of us were expecting a huge skyscraper with a giant sign. What we got was a building that at first appeared small and was in the process of a remodeling. During the tour, we worked our way from the fifth floor down, walking all over each floor. I felt like an "Alice-in-Wonderland" phenomenon had taken place, as the amount of space inside would never have been guessed from the outside.

The corporation was very impressive, with "phone booths," open work areas, video conference/call rooms, open areas for discussions and relaxation, and even a cafeteria where the employees get free lunch.

Heidy Heinpalu, the facilities manager, showed us around and told us some about Skype. I particularly enjoyed the modern and open decor, the casual feel of the place, and how the managers sat in the open area with the employees. The tour was very impressive.

When the tour was finished, the nine of us and Maik Huettinger, a professor from ISM who accompanied us on the trip, went back to the hostel. The majority of the people went to sleep, completely wiped out from the already long day. I sat in the lobby doing homework for an online class I'm taking.
Later, we all went into Tallinn and walked around a little bit. After talking about it and knowing we had the next two days free, we planned to take a ferry to Helsinki, Finland the next day.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The 4th of July!

Yesterday was the 4th of July (American Independence Day). The other American students recruited the Portuguese students to help celebrate. So last night, while the majority of the students went out and/or stayed in drinking, I helped out at the church. Although I admit, I do feel like "the odd one out" almost every night while basically all of the other students engage in drinking and or going out, I'm making my own fun.
After leaving the church, Giedre and I walked around for a while. She showed me a hidden path that leads to a hill overlooking old town Vilnius. The sun was going down, and it looked absolutely beautiful! We talked about all kinds of things; I can't help but be grateful to have found such a good friend so far from home.

This morning, most of the students were at least a little out of it from the night before. Personally, I had a great time without the partying, and without the side effects.
Tomorrow, some of us are meeting at ISM at 7 am to head out to Tallinn, Estonia. We will have a short lecture on Estonian history, a tour of the Skype corporation, and return to Vilnius late on Sunday, if I understand correctly. While this means missing both "youth night" tomorrow and probably church with the Millers on Sunday, I am excited to be going.
The feelings of homesickness have gradually been fading, and I just feel glad to be here.

Week One

Somehow, this first week of classes seems to have gone by in an instant and lasted forever all at the same time. It's not exactly an easy or fun thing to be in class all day, but I'll manage. We've done so much in these four days; I'm glad we don't have classes on Fridays!
What notably stood out to me about this week is that we've all clearly seen a lot of cultural differences both in and out of the classroom.
First of all, the very classroom structure is different than at home. Back home, when a professor asks an open question for discussion, there is usually not a "right answer." As long as students contribute to the discussion and factually support their opinions and ideas, they are generally accepted. Here, professors will blatantly tell you, "No, you are wrong," seemingly without a thought, just because you didn't give the exact answer they wanted. While your idea might have immense value to the subject at hand, if you didn't take it directly from the professor's mind, you're not right. Additionally, things seem to lack a certain organization I'm used to. There was no syllabus handed out at the beginning of class, there was no rubric or guidelines for the presentation we had to give, etc. This all definitely forces one to adapt.
There are also differences in the cultures of the students. The majority of the students here this summer are Portuguese, followed by American. While the American students generally strive to be on time and focused, the Portuguese students lag behind a little and chat during classes. But I hear they're great to party with (although I'm not doing any of that). In how we answer questions, how we approach our case studies, and how we give presentations, certain elements and values of our cultures shine through.
Obviously we're all being exposed to every day Lithuanian culture as well. We've all shared several observations. Among things mentioned have been everything from the fact that Lithuanians don't smile often to the fact that there isn't much spice in their food. For both the Americans and the Portuguese students who are here studying, there has been a lot of unfamiliarity.
I think it's important to note these things about culture. It is also important to realize that just because these cultures are so vastly different, that doesn't make any one better than another. We're all different, and it is crucial for each and every one of us to give our best attempt at understanding and appreciating each other and the culture's we come from. This is not only something for the students studying here at ISM to do, but also something everyone should be mindful of.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

And So It Begins...

Monday was the first day of classes. Pastor Miller drove me to ISM University in Old Town Vilnius, and the Millers' sons, Taylor and Tyler, rode along. At this point, leaving the Millers was like leaving a security blanket. I didn't know what the day would hold, but I went into it with an uncomfortable uncertainty and an extreme lack of confidence.

I got to the room where classes would be held, room 410, and no one was there. It was 8:30, and class didn't start until 9, but I expected people to be there already. I sat on a bench in the hallway waiting. Soon, people began to show up. There are five other students from my university, The University of Northern Colorado (UNC), and although I didn't know them, I recognized a couple of them. There are also a couple other Americans who immediately fell into place with us. Unintentionally, we ended up sitting in such a way that one side of the room seemed to be American, and the other side Portuguese. There were also two girls from here in Lithuania, and one girl from Ukraine.

We had a short introduction at the beginning of the class, and then our professor, Benas Adomavicius, dove right in to our "International Marketing" class. That class goes from 9:00-12:15, and then we go have lunch. After this, we have Alfredas Chmieliauskas from 1:30-4:45 for "International Project Management." In this class, we broke into groups on the first day and were assigned articles to read and give presentations on.

My group consisted of a girl from UNC, named AnnaRose, and two Portuguese girls, Carolina and Rita. Our presentation would be the following day, yes Tuesday, our second day of class, and we would be first.

I've found these classes to be challenging, not in an impossible way, but they definitely get you thinking. As a student who has not taken many business courses in management yet, I am most definitely treading in unfamiliar territory. However, although they are somewhat demanding, I am enjoying them very much. I'm just grateful for the opportunity to be here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lietuva: Arrival and the First Few Days

When I arrived in Vilnius, it was after nine o' clock at night, and I was surprised that it was still completely light outside. Getting off the plane and through the passport check was far simpler than in London. I got my bags together and proceeded to the exit with ease. When I went through the door from baggage claim, Shasta Miller was waiting for me.
I rode with Tony and Shasta Miller to their house where several young people from their church were still gathered. They soon left with a van-full of them, off to take them home. That night it didn't get dark until after eleven o' clock, and even then, the sky to the north had a highlight as if the sun refused to vanish completely.
Saturday there was a wedding at the church that had been thrown together in a matter of a few days. It was very simple, but very nice. Shasta told me about a tradition here where after the wedding, the groom carries the bride over a bridge, symbolizing that he'll carry her over things for the rest of their lives. They then put a lock, usually with their names engraved on it, on the bridge and throw the keys into the water.
Later that day, we went to a small Mexican restaurant, yes, Mexican. The Millers know the owner. He told me that there are only a handful of Hispanics in all of Lithuania. When we were finished, I met Giedre, a girl from their church. Giedre and I started at the cathedral and walked all over town. It was quite a day.

(This was one particular church we passed; there are many! Apparently Napoleon parked his horses here when he passed through Lithuania.)

Sunday we had church service, and although it had only been a week since I was in a Sunday service, it felt like a lifetime. It was great. Shasta sang songs in Lithuanian, and Pastor Miller preached a wonderful message. I also got to meet a lot more of the people from their church.

London Outings

During the two full days I spent in London, I did quite a bit.
A girl I met at Life Tabernacle, the church I went to, met me at the church and then took me by bus to see different places. On the first day, we took a pretty long walk through part of Battersea Park.

It was very pretty, and very big. We didn't go through the whole thing, of course. There are several different paths to take. There are fountains, gardens, picnic tables, tennis courts, and there is even a small zoo in the park. After Battersea Park, we caught a bus to Victoria. According to the girl from the church, Shaneel, Victoria is a more upscale place in London. Higher income people live there more than in places like Battersea and Brixton, so she said. We walked around a mall there, and then ate lunch at a place called Nando's. After that, we caught another bus, to Trafalgar Square. During the bus ride, we could see Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the London Eye.
Trafalgar Square was pretty interesting. We went into the National Gallery there, but of course, no photography is allowed, so I just have to remember all the magnificent artwork we saw. From Trafalgar Square, we walked to Parliament Square. We walked around there for a while, and then caught a bus to Brixton to meet someone and then go to "Cell Group," a Bible study at someone's house. I got to meet a lot of the other young people and the youth leaders from the church, and we had a great time.

The second day, we met at the church again, and caught a bus to Victoria. We went inside a beautiful church. I took a picture of the outside, but not the inside since mass was going on, and I felt like it would be disrespectful. The inside was far more beautiful, with high ceilings, statues, elaborate architecture, and exquisite tile works and artwork. When we left the church, we went to Westminster Abbey. It was very crowded, so I took pictures, and we walked by. We then went to see Big Ben. From there, we walked to Buckingham Palace.

After that, we went to the London Eye. It was a little more than I wanted to pay for both of us, but I thought, 'This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so why not?' I'm very glad we went on the London Eye. Shaneel had never done it, and had been living in London for four years, so she was also grateful for the opportunity. It was quite the experience, and I would highly encourage everyone who travels to London to do it.

We headed back to the church after that, and while they had choir practice, I got to sit in the office and chat with a friend from back home for a while.

The next day, Friday, Sister Monica took me to the coach station where I took a coach to Stansted Airport. It was about a two hour long bus ride, but it wasn't bad. I flew out of Stansted that evening, headed to Vilnius, Lithuania.