Republic of Lithuania
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The largest of Europe’s Baltic States is the Republic of Lithuania. With a western border to the Baltic Sea, Lithuania also shares borders with Latvia (north) Belarus (east and southeast) Poland (south) and the Russian Federation (southwest). Much of the area of 65,000 sq km (25,000 sq miles) consists of a relatively fertile plain with extensive marshlands, forests and sand dunes along the coast. More than 3,000 lakes and numerous rivers dot the landscape. The population of Lithuania is approximately 3.5 million. A unified Kingdom of Lithuania emerged in the thirteenth century under a Christian king. In the sixteenth century a merger with Poland increased the kingdom. A constant threat of partition and annexation by Russia was realized in 1795 when Lithuania came under Russian control. During the World War I Lithuania was occupied by Germany but declared independence in 1918. In 1940 it became a part of the Soviet Union but shortly thereafter was again invaded by Germany. By the time the Soviets returned in 1944 more than 200,000 Lithuanians, many of them Jewish, had perished. In 1991 Lithuania declared themselves independent of the Soviet Union and today the single legislative body known as Parliament with multi-party democracy in place governs the nation.
Though independent, Lithuania must still rely upon Russia for oil and much of its raw materials for industry. Machine building, manufacturing, petroleum refining, shipbuilding and food processing are among the chief industries of the state. Agriculture consists largely of the raising of dairy cows, beef cattle and pigs. A good deal of marshland has been reclaimed for growing cereals and vegetables. Due in part to its economic dependence upon Russia and a high degree of inflation, Lithuania is considered the least prosperous of the Baltic States.
In 1377 Jogaila became King of Lithuania and subsequently Catholicism became the religion of the realm. Islam was later introduced by Tartars who served in the Lithuanian army. Russian Orthodox Christianity was introduced during the Russian occupation. During the years of Soviet occupation the Catholic Church suffered but emerged as the protector of Lithuanian culture. Ninety percent of the population is Roman Catholic with the remaining population consisting of small minorities of Russian Orthodox, Muslims and various Protestant denominations of which there are nearly fifty known to exist in Lithuania.
After Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 Polish evangelist Henry Ciszek initiated a work there for the a cappella Churches of Christ, beginning in the city of Klaipeda, where he had family. He began by advertising for World Bible School students, enrolling many; he soon led 27 of them to the Lord. A congregation was established. Though Henry Ciszek later moved to Canada, enrollment in the Bible correspondence courses continued to grow. American congregations soon took interest in the work in Lithuania and in assisting the correspondence students. Bob Hare traveled to Lithuania in 1994 to conduct the first evangelistic campaign. Working with the congregation in Klaipeda he produced 12,000 copies of a correspondence course in Russian and saw the distribution of the same. The Waterview Church of Christ in Richardson, Texas became serious about evangelism in Lithuania and drafted a plan to bring to maturity congregations in five of Lithuania’s major cities. Teams of campaigners began work in Vilnius, the capital city, in 1995. Directors of the campaign were Keith Levy, Ken Sewell and Herman Alexander; early efforts were directed towards those who had been students of the correspondence courses.
The European Evangelistic Society which maintains a study center in Tubingen, Germany (see Germany profile) has had some contacts with Lithuanian and Russian Christians and congregations in Vilnius, Siauliai and Silute. The European Evangelistic Society is supported by both the American Christian Churches and Churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
Churches of Christ Around the World, Lynn, Mac, 21st Century Christian Publications, Nashville, TN, 2003.
For online directories of a cappella Churches of Christ see:
Vilnius Church of Christ, Vilnius, Lithuania
For further information see:
Waterview Church of Christ, Richardson, Texas
European Evangelistic Society
P.O. Drawer 90150
East Point, GA 30364