Archive for December, 2013

Advent in Amsterdam, or Encounters with Others

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Pakistani Christian children look at Christmas decorations in Islamabad. (Getty images)

I have spent the majority of this week in Amsterdam – meeting colleagues from VU Faculty of Theology and the Dutch Baptist Seminary, taking part in several meetings, and – a confession – enjoying some uninterrupted hours in front of computer to reduce email number, which I’ve done quite ferociously. A few more days, and I could perhaps declare victory over my Inbox! Well, tomorrow I’m leaving, so that’s not going to happen, but it’s been good to be here – and, inevitably, being away from the usual surroundings and tasks, to reflect on various things – such as IBTS and its challenging but amazing mission so far, issues faced by today’s Europe, the meaning(s) of Advent and Christmas time…

And what a place it is, to reflect on such things. It started already in the plane, actually, coming over from Prague. The passenger next to me clearly wanted to talk. I’m used to two kinds of reactions when I respond to someone’s question, what is it that I do for a living. Occasionally: “Oh…” and a quick change of subject (quite often because the person has no clue what ‘theology’ is). Or – much more often – the space between us turning into a sort of a confessional. This wasn’t quite the second scenario, but it turned out to be a deep conversation about the meaning of life, the basic desires of human beings, and the importance of listening to the other. My neighbour said he was a Muslim, but not a terribly practicing one. He was quite disturbed by the aggressiveness of some Muslims he’s encountered.  (Having recently encountered some rather aggresively behaving ‘Christians’, I silently thanked God that my neighbour apparently hadn’t encountered them.) His wife was a Christian, and he had once taken part in a Baptist baptismal service of a friend. So we talked about the baptistic conviction of each and every person having the right – and the responsibility – to decide over their life orientation, their ultimate loyalty, their community of belonging and their practice of faith, and how difficult this can be at times.

January 2011. Muslims surrounding the Coptic Christmas mass, offering their bodies as “shields” to Egypt’s threatened Christian community.

We wished each other merry Christmas, my plane neighbour and I. “Pray for me,”  he asked as we parted.

Next day, I found myself singing in the VU Theology faculty and Protestant Theological University faculty choir (our good friend and the Rector of the Dutch Baptist Seminary, Teun, had recruited me!) for their Christmas service. It was a Christian service, with carols (including ‘Adeste fideles’ with descant!) and Scripture readings and prayers. But before that, we heard a reflection from a female professor who is a Muslim convert from Christianity, about the meaning of Christmas from her perspective.

Listening to her, I couldn’t help but think again of the ‘Ummah Supermarket’ which is just accross the street from our future Baptist House here in Amsterdam, and a clear sense that engaging in conversations with people of other faith, and perhaps especially Muslims, is going to be  a very important element in the future, both for IBTS and me personally. As a Lithuanian, I have not had too many encounters with Muslims. I have studied quite a bit about them – I still treasure the lessons I learned from my once teacher and Academic Dean at Lithuania Christian College, and later colleague at IBTS, Dr David Shenk, and his book co-written with his Muslim friend, A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. I have taught the Worldviews class a number of times to our CAT students, Lithuanian Baptists and others. But in terms of deep personal encounters and important conversations – those are still to come. And yet I am sure they will take place, because however some of us may dislike the fact, the world is shrinking. The space between us – people like us and people very different from us – is diminishing and will increasingly continue so. Just over this past year, unexpected encounters with Muslims have become a reality for our brothers and sisters in Bulgaria, as they are grappling with the consequences of the Syrian crisis and the refugees who have ended up there.

Sorry, just couldn't resist this one!

I wonder what those refugees will be doing during this Christmas.

But it’s not Christmas yet. It’s still Advent – that often unknown or neglected season of waiting. I cannot get away from the feeling that it may be a much more significant and meaningful time than December 24th and 25th. It is a time of longing, of waiting, and preparing for the coming of Christ and the fullness of God’s knowledge, so full as the waters cover the sea.

Let the Avent continue until that Day comes.

Wishing you all a truly blessed Advent time – and hoping it will guide us all into 2014.

– Lina




Do leaders grow colleges?

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

A thoughtful reflection on the challenges facing theological schools today, by our good colleague from the European Evangelical Accrediting Association, Graham Cheesman, here.

Advent/Christmas Greetings

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Here’s one from our CAT graduate and former librarian, Viktoria Shults (Arnaut):

Dear Parush and all my friends from IBTS!

I just want to thank you for all years what I spend at IBTS. The best moments of my life connected to you. My student years, my first serious job :), my wedding and of course my first child. I wish and pray that God will bless you in everything you do, and He’ll go with you wherever you will go. IBTS and all of you were real blessings for my life. Thank you!!
With prayers,
Merry Christmas!!
From Alex, Vika & Levik

Relax, everybody!

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

We have just gone through a fire alarm drill! Feeling completely safe after seeing our alert fire brigade in action!

Czech Rectors‘ Conference meeting

Monday, December 9th, 2013

On Thursday 5 December, the IBTS Rector attended the 123rd Plenary Meeting of the Czech Rectors’ Conference in the Congress Centre in Prague. After the traditional introduction of the hosting university (The University of Business in Prague) and reports by the chairpersons, a few quite heated discussions took place.

First, the possible clash of interest in case of simultaneous political and academic function was discussed, as some of the public universities’ deans were elected in recent parliament election. The points of view taken were very different – from the opinion that it is a personal concern of everybody and the universities have no right to intrude, to the opinion that nearly all politicians actually work in more functions at a moment so there is nothing strange about that. However, the majority belief expressed in a Resolution of the meeting was that the political and academic functions are incongruous.

In the afternoon part of the meeting, the outgoing Minister of Education, prof. RNDr. Dalibor Štys, CSc. took part as a guest. The discussion was led in a very tense atmosphere – the higher education sector in the Czech Republic is currently going through a kind of a “state of war” between the universities and the President, as the President is refusing to sign the professorship decrees for over 70 new professors even though it is his constitutional duty. The Minister of Education is maintaining this status quo by not acting in any way, taking more the side of the President instead of the universities, and the rectors were expressing their indignation with this long-lasting, unsatisfactory situation. No common language was found and the discussion finished without any joint conclusion or mutual understanding.

The next CKR meeting is planned for February when a new chair will be elected.

– Katka


Thursday, December 5th, 2013

We have already shared our joy of having Olexandr/Sasha back with us on our Jeneralka campus – Sasha who is an IBTS graduate and who wanted to come and give two months of his life to help us out in surviving this winter as a volunteer. Here are some of his thoughts, and pictures.

A decade ago my family and I left IBTS heading to Ukraine, to our home country. It had been nice to be a Master student and spend hours, days, even weeks and months in the library reading books and periodicals, studying different theological approaches to common life situations. A process of learning seemed more difficult than applying what had been learnt.

However, in real life – I mean, outside of cozy and warm classrooms or comfortable and quiet library – this is different. Many obstacles and challenges, misunderstanding and hardships, or even hatred come and test your ability in applying knowledge gained from your studies. And you begin doubting in what has been read and studied, well-known things start to look inappropriate, impracticable or undoable. And we tend to forget of what Jesus told to his followers, namely not to be afraid in what they were going or supposed to do since His power, His comfort and spirit would dwell withing them.

We often see things as they always are and nearly forget of many other ways of looking at the situation or issue from another perspective, distance, or a different angle. In certain circumstances in order to understand the crux of the problem it is necessary to get closer to the issue, perhaps, even to go on knees and place yourself in an awkward and maybe unusual pose. Once it’s done you suddenly begin seeing well-known things differently, in a new way. Such a lesson was offered to me once again in the fall of 2013, as I came to IBTS, but not for the lectures this time. On my knees I learnt that things can be viewed differently from a tiny wild camomile covered with crystal frost but full of life and determined to struggle among dead leaves fallen off the trees and hardly noticed by those who happen to walk by and look at the nicely cut lawn from a distance.

The plant brakes its wisdom; in harsh environment of winter cold it continues blossoming and producing life-giving nectar, and waiting for the needy – bee, hornet or other insects who have already fallen asleep till better times in spring – to come and be fed.

– Sasha

Advent Time

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

The Advent is here, urging us to look again at the nature of our hope and ultimate loyalty.  Sasha, one of our MTh graduates who’s now helping out for a few months as a volunteer, has taken some pictures of the life of the seminary and Sarka Valley Community Church – hope you’ll enjoy them and will continue to keep us in your prayers.

May during this Advent season our longing for the fullness of the knowledge of the Lord, of peace and justice, be rekindled. May we see some new real-life expressions of God’s Realm.

– Lina


Baptists and Baptistries

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

I recently stood in the chapel of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in West Yorkshire. The Community of the Resurrection is a high church Anglican community. It has produced fascinating theological writers such as Harry Williams and dynamic missionary bishops like Trevor Huddleston.

The Community chapel has recently been re-ordered and as you enter the first thing you see is a beautiful circular marble baptistry. There is a metal trough in the top of the baptistry into which water is constantly running, with the powerful symbolism of the living water. However, more noticeable is the fact that the shallow metal tray lifts out to reveal a full scale plunge pool for submersion/immersion – and it is used! So, here is a high Anglican infant baptizing tradition making a positive affirmation about the baptism of believers with a very visible baptistry.

I contrast that with most of the Baptist churches in my home city in Yorkshire where  the baptistry well and truly hidden under floor boards often covered with the Communion table. I have preached in churches in eastern Europe where a baptistry is visible, though often out of reach of the congregation behind the pulpit and communion table.

The one church building I had a hand in designing and developing was at Barnoldswick Baptist in the north of England were we did incorporate a baptistry at the entrance to the worship room.

In north America there is a tendency to have a visible baptismal tank, often high up on the wall behind the pulpit, but such a remote positioning seems to argue for baptism as something of a spectacle, rather than a participatory liturgical action involving the whole congregation.

So, here is a plea to open up the baptistry, make it more central to our gathering, intentional, missional communities. Let’s have baptism as a more visible focus of the believing community because we claim that baptism is important to us and let’s make sure the  event involves not only the candidate and the baptizers, but the whole community of faith.