Planting Seeds in Lithuania
by Joy Pople
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 pine woods 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 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
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, God's 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 Messiah's coming, and God's 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 always seem to have to run to the next activity. We look for
somebody in one building, only to find that he or she has left for
another. Alla is supposed to be in charge of communications, but she
is almost never in her office. We are paying double the usual charge
for meals, but in vain we urge the cooks to serve better food. John,
Linda and Celeste say things went much better at other camps. Since
none of us was at this site before, we have no idea how the previous
staff met these challenges.
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 don't stop talking when she
translates. At least the rest of our staff have English-speaking people
in their groups.
We invite group leaders to join us for coffee before breakfast.
American coffee is a treat here. John is upset that people are not
attending lectures, but it is hard to know who is present and who is
not. Some participants appear puzzled when we ask them to attend
meetings. They want to go swimming or shopping. There seems to be some
communication problem. The seminar was planned for people interested in
pursuing in greater depth what they learned at an introductory seminar
but some consider it an extended holiday. We seek to embrace them with
God's love. The fee the participants paid is only a small portion of
the costs, which are underwritten by donations from America and Japan.
The schedule includes free time, and we encourage them to participate
in the program.
Each meal I try to sit at a different table. We gave out books with a
translation of Rev. Moon's teaching at the beginning of the seminar;
one teacher tells me that she has been reading it every spare minute.
When no one speaks English, we communicate by drawing pictures on
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 sometimes 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
Tom joins us as coordinator. Being tone deaf doesn't stop him from
trying to teach two little boys to sing "Yankee Doodle" with him for
evening entertainment. He's 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 UFO's. 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
officials who were responsible for causing many deaths.
Linda's 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 husband's deaith, and witness here to God's
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 people's doors and
seats. We encourage people to reach out and try 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. A French teacher, Elena, is also in
my group, and last summer's French practice in Africa comes in handy.
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
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.
During the first seminar Natasha and I talk at length about the love we
share for nature, art and literature. She tells me many stories of her
family and school. We explore the woods and paddle around in secluded
swimming holes. During the second seminar my roommate is Katya, an
English student from Tver. Katya speaks fondly of Siberia, where she
grew up, and riding Siberian trains so crowded the only place to sit
down is on the rooftop of the coach. The locomotive puffs through
clouds of mosquitoes at a speed only slightly faster than a running
cow, Katya says, with a dreamy look in her eyes. It's a shame that we
have to stop talking in order to get some sleep.
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 God's 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 God's love, the origin and effects of sin, and
Jesus' 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.
Slowly, the procession returns to camp. Nobody wants to blow out their
candles and go to their rooms, so we sing several more songs in the
courtyard. At midnight, I urge people to retire for the night.
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.