40 Years in America

Planting Seeds in Lithuania

Joy Pople

Joy (left) with Lithuanian workshop staff

A van-load of American Unification Church members arrive in Anykcsiai, Lithuania, the headquarters of about 20 sites offering seminars during the summer of 1991 on the teachings of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church. Most of my traveling companions are sent out to other workshop sites. I will be spending much of August here at a rest camp in the pinewoods of central Lithuania.

In a few hours about 200 teachers will be arriving by train from Moscow for a ten-day seminar. John, Celeste and Linda, who have been living in Russia for a number of months, are leading the seminar. Mohammad, who came on the plane with me, runs an import business in New York and helped staff seminars in America for Muslim leaders. (He will put into perspective the challenges we face.) Two other Americans will be group leaders. A Russian student, Helen, will translate the lectures. Newly arrived at this site, none of us envisions the difficulties we will face with the imminent arrival of a couple hundred non English-speaking guests. Sometimes it is better not to know what awaits us.

The evening is calm. On the walkway I meet Tony, who is coordinating programs at twenty camps in the Baltics. He suggests that I walk down to the river. The guests arrive and eat dinner. Alla, a Russian girl hired to help with logistics at this camp, is assigning participants to rooms. Upstairs I find my roommate, Natasha, an English student from Nizhni-Novgorod, who will help translate for a few days. Lectures cover the nature of God and creation, Godís ideal for the family and society, the purpose of our life, the principles of spiritual growth and development, what went wrong in the first human family, the purpose of the Messiahís coming, and Godís work throughout history to restore the world back to His ideal.

Our hope is that people will consider the possibility of the existence of a Creator and eventually open their hearts to God as our Heavenly Father. As St. Augustine said, there is a God-shaped emptiness within each of us that is not satisfied until it is filled with our Creator. A God-centered worldview is very different from what people were taught under communism, and people examine new concepts cautiously. As teachers or parents, participants are concerned about the future of their nation and want to be able to offer some hope to the next generation. Some people skip lectures, while others come early and sit in the front row with shining eyes.

There are two morning lectures, with a tea break in the middle. The main meal of the day is at 1:30 pm, followed by free time. Lectures resume at 5:00. Supper is at 7:30, followed by an evening activity. After lectures there is generally time for discussion. Staff members see each other in the morning, after the evening program, and sometimes for coffee in the afternoon.

We are teaching high ideals, and we are determined to persist in serving, giving, listening and praying that some of the participants will grasp the vision as well. Russians are skeptical about ideals, and they challenge us at every step.

John wants to assign participants to discussion groups and find English-speaking Russians to help us lead group activities. Only three people volunteer, and they are asked to collect a list of people they would like to have in their groups. Even Helen and Natasha have difficulty deciphering the handwriting. We compare lists to eliminate duplicates. By now two days have passed.

I am a group leader, and 40 people flock around me. One person has discovered an amphitheater, and we follow her down a path. I ask for volunteers to help facilitate communication. Finally I have three assistants, none of whom speak English. My roommate, Natasha, interprets for me for several days until she returns to her hometown, but since she appears insecure people donít stop talking when she translates. At least the rest of our staff have English-speaking people in their groups.

There is one word, which sends shivers up our spines: tickets. Unfortunately, it is announced halfway through the seminar that arrangements for return transportation to Moscow have not yet been finalized. Anxiety over their return begins to dominate the thinking of many people. After every lecture, they ask about tickets. John tries valiantly to allay fears. Sometimes whole trains are rented, and an ingenious American named Brian has to negotiate track time through each station. The best schedule he could negotiate for our participants means arriving in Moscow a little after midnight, when public transportation is unavailable.

In spite of the intermittent uproar, both staff and participants have deep experiences during our ten days together. Some of the morning prayer services move staff and participants alike to tears. Between the departure of the first group and the arrival of the second group of 210 teachers and students, we have about ten hours to prepare. John and Celeste go to other seminar sites; Jim, Mohammad and I stay on and welcome new staff. We thoroughly clean the lecture hall, to create a fresh atmosphere.

Tom joins us as coordinator. Being tone deaf doesnít stop him from trying to teach two little boys to sing "Yankee Doodle" with him for evening entertainment. Heís confident we can work together. Louise transfers here from another camp; a mother of four children and manager of a store, this is her vacation. New group leaders include Susan, who is taking a break from studying for the Massachusetts bar exam, Marius and Nick. Two enthusiastic Lithuanian girls take charge of logistics.

Considering the shortage of translators, we have panel discussions after lectures during the second seminar. These question and answer sessions are fascinating. Very stimulating and insightful questions are posed. Scientifically-minded participants challenge attempts to correlate science with a God-centered worldview, demanding clarification and precision of detail. For instance, did life develop as a result of random mutation and the survival of the fittest, or did God direct the process? People would like to believe in God, but they insist that everything be precise and logical. If the possibility of a spiritual dimension is acknowledged, how does it relate to the physical? There is a lot of interest in reincarnation and UFOs. Moral issues cannot be passed off with a casual answer; for example, one person asked what should be their attitude towards officials of the KGB who were responsible for causing many deaths.

Lindaís story is told before one of her lectures. Her husband, Lee, was in Afghanistan filming a documentary of the war there several years ago when he and his sound man were assassinated on orders from the KGB. Linda felt directed by God to come live in Russia, the land of the people who had ordered her husbandís death, and witness here to Godís love and forgiveness. She hopes to meet someone who can give her more information about her husband and help her recover his body.

A highlight of this seminar is the enthusiastic singing. Music has a way of drawing people together in heart. Celeste has a fine, strong voice and plays the guitar well. The CARP songbook has only eight Russian songs, which few of us can decipher. Therefore, most of the singing is in English. I learn to stumble through several Russian songs. The haunting melody of "Nadyezhda" is especially appealing.

Evening activities include a movie, a bonfire, group entertainment, or open-mike singing and poetry recital. Some groups organize very clever skits or write new words to traditional Russian music, making hilarious comments on the personalities of the staff and the experiences of the seminar. Sometimes they give us a translation. We hear many passages from the poet Pushkin, as well as original poetry by participants.

A much-loved tradition of these seminars is the Day of Heart, which encourages people to develop deeper relationships of heart with each other. Names are exchanged for secret pals, and anonymous gifts such as carefully tied bouquets of wild flowers appear at peopleís doors and seats. We encourage people to reach out andtry to relate to someone with whom they may experience difficulties. Some of the Russian teachers decide to institute a similar tradition at their schools to begin the new school year.

In the second seminar, I am fortunate to have Inna for one of my group leaders. Her English is excellent. I prepare a lecture entitled, "The Process of Change," which I give around a campfire one night along the river. These presentations give me an opportunity to share some of my 22 years of experience in the Unification movement, as well as challenges I have faced and things I have learned in my roles as wife, mother, teacher and family counselor.

After my lectures, people come to me for counseling sessions. One woman talks to me about her daughter and, inspired by the conversation, she brings other women with painful stories and translates our conversations. I hear tearful stories of marriage difficulties, health problems, and challenges of parenting a teenager. Access to a counselor is rare in Moscow, and to be able to speak frankly and in a confidential setting is a new experience. Katya gets the flu, and I bring her soup from the dining hall and prepare tea. On the day of our outing to Kaunas, Katya plans to stay in bed and rest, but one of the participants walks into our room and badgers her with questions. I return with a banana I bought from a sidewalk vendor. Katya jumps up and gobbles it down. Vitality returns to her spirit. It has been three years since she has had a banana, since they cost so much. I thought 17 rubles for a banana was a little high, but if I had known the marvelous effects bananas produced, I would have bought a dozen.

Having been assembled from the far corners of America to lead a seminar in a foreign land, we are forced to pray. Maybe this is part of what Rev. Moon wants us to learn this summer. We also encourage participants in the seminar to develop a prayer life. I am asked to give a talk about prayer. I decide to focus on the basics: what is prayer? Why pray? Who can pray? Where to pray? What to pray for? We challenge people to pray not just for themselves but for others. Prayer draws us closer to God and each other. I describe my experience last summer when I was visiting the Central African Republic during the attempted coup in the Soviet Union. In a small village, Africans and an American knelt in tears to pray for Godís guidance and protection for the Soviet people. At our group meeting a couple of people tell me that after listening to my testimony they will begin to pray not just for their own country but for other nations as well.

Perhaps the most difficult type of prayer to grasp is repentance prayer. We teach about Godís love, the origin and effects of sin, and Jesusí coming to bring deliverance from sin. The first step back to God is repentance. Sometimes the best we can do is model humility and repentance ourselves. In spite of our good intentions, we make mistakes, causing bad feelings; sometimes one of us makes a public apology and asks forgiveness. Sincere apologies open doors. Towards the end of the first seminar, a couple of teachers come to us privately and apologize for some of the uncooperativeness and uproar of the group as a whole.

Following a stimulating group discussion one evening, a dozen people linger in the room, and I ask them if they would like to go into the woods with me to pray. They nod. I get some candles from the supply closet and head for a place where we can see the stars through the trees. I light my candle and we pass the flame around. We sing a version of "Kumbaya." Then in the stillness of the night, I lead the group in prayer, suggesting themes and allowing periods of silence for individual prayer. Eyes are bright upon our return to camp.

The staff decides to invite all the participants to a riverside prayer the following evening. After the evening program I invite everyone who wishes to join me for a candlelight prayer walk. We pass out 150 candles and light them in the still night air. A long procession of light stretches along the path and descends the steps to a broad meadow along a bend of the river. The ever broadening circle of light against the backdrop of pine trees fills us with awe and lifts our spirits. Rev. Moon had told us the time would come when hundreds of people would be begging us to teach them about God, but I never took it seriously.

On the last day, the Russians collect bags of fruit and bunches of flowers. We exchange addresses and souvenirs. Louise has brought bags of squash seeds from her garden and asks the recipients to pass on their seeds next season to someone else. She hopes the seeds of truth will sprout as well.

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