International MB educators convene in June
By Myra Holmes
This month, Mennonite Brethren educators from around the globe will delve into the working relationship between church and school at the International Community of Mennonite Brethren’s Higher Education Consultation in Winnipeg, Man.
Among those present will be representatives of LCC International University (LCC) of Klaipeda, Lithuania. When Lithuania, like other former Soviet countries, gained independence after decades under communist rule, the country—indeed the whole region—began rediscovering individual freedom, market economy and faith. At the same time, a small, Christian liberal arts university with Mennonite Brethren connections opened its doors, ready to be a voice of hope and a catalyst for positive transformation in a rapidly-changing society. This year, LCC celebrates 20 years of preparing students to make a difference.
“Transformation is at the core of our mission,” says Marlene Wall, who has been involved at LCC since its founding and currently serves as interim president.
And because LCC is one of about 30 institutions of higher education around the world connected with the larger Mennonite Brethren family through the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB), U.S. Mennonite Brethren are part of that transformation. ICOMB is a fellowship of 19 MB conferences from five continents.
While Lithuania’s independence has opened new opportunities, “filters by which to judge those opportunities” haven’t necessarily kept pace, says Wall. Business is ruled by ruthless competition rather than cooperation, the country suffers from “brain drain” as many leave for work in other parts of Europe and human trafficking takes its toll on hope.
While Lithuania has no shortage of universities, LCC is the only Christian liberal arts university in the region. Wall says this uniquely positions the school to make a difference in the culture. LCC’s educational approach is based on interaction and critical thinking, unlike much of what is offered in Eastern Europe. It is relational—a community which fosters life-changing bonds. And it is Christ-centered, so that students gain not only excellent job skills but also a solid Christian foundation. “These are transformational and set our graduates apart from others who enter the job market,” says Wall.
The international educational experience LCC offers is also unique. About 60 percent of LCC’s 650 students come from Lithuania; about 40 percent are international students from 20 countries. Many are from nearby former Soviet countries; about 35 study abroad students come to LCC each semester from North America.
LCC graduates return to their homes throughout the region and the world equipped with degrees and with changed lives. LCC offers bachelor’s degrees in business, English, psychology and theology and a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The most popular major is business administration. “Certainly we teach the basics of accounting and finance and marketing and economics,” says Wall, “but we also want to be sure that our students get a strong foundation in ethics, integrity and Christ-centered values.”
Graduates find jobs in everyday places like banks, schools and local businesses and begin sharing the transformation they have experienced at LCC. And because Eastern Europe is still in transition, these students are poised to impact not only their local communities, but also the entire region.
Like the other ICOMB schools, LCC does its work of transformation in partnership with the church. “As a Christian university, we see ourselves as co-laborers with the church,” Wall says. She points out that church and school have unique roles—a school cannot replace the church nor can a church do the work of a school—but when they work together, the potential for transformation is greater. “Hand in hand, the church and the academy, when committed to the same kingdom-building goals through their individual design and purposes, can carry the good news in word and deed to the nations,” Wall says.
Wall is one of the LCC representatives attending the June 13-17 consultation that is a follow-up of a similar consultation hosted by ICOMB in Fresno, Calif., in 2007. The theme for the 2011 event is, “Church and School: Companeros (co-laborers) in Growing People of God.” Because ICOMB will hold its annual meeting in connection with the consultation, national conference leaders will participate with educators in the consultation.
“Throughout Christian history the schools of the church have been important contexts for training the next generation of Christian leaders for both the church and society,” says consultation organizer Dalton Reimer, Fresno, Calif. “This consultation is particularly significant in that it will bring together both church and school leaders to explore how the relationship between the two might be strengthened.”
Reimer, former dean of Fresno Pacific University and current educational facilitator for ICOMB, partnered with David Wiebe, executive director of ICOMB, in organizing the event. Reimer also spearheaded the 2007 consultation. The two were assisted by a steering committee comprised of Victor Wiens, MB Mission; Victor Wall, Paraguay; and Elmer Martens, Fresno, Calif.
Throughout the four-day event, attendees will hear and learn from other educators and church representatives from around the world. Wall says it’s easy to become “myopic”—focused on internal concerns and issues—and lose perspective. “It is at events such as this that we can connect and reconnect with our brothers and sisters in Christ who share a common mission and from whom we can gain fresh ways of articulating the vision of Christian higher education,” she says.
An opening banquet will feature two U.S. presenters, Lynn Jost and Valerie Rempel, both of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, the MB school for graduate-level theological education in Fresno, Calif. Other scheduled speakers include Wall; Alfred Neufeld, Paraguay; Mukawa Nzuzi, Democratic Republic of Congo; Johann Matthies, Germany; David Wiebe and Gerald Gerbrandt, Canada; and Arthur Duck, Brazil.
The 20 afternoon workshops will feature an interactive, storytelling approach. Workshops aim to result in specific recommendations for participants to take home to their various schools and church constituencies. Like speakers for the plenary sessions, moderators and storytellers for the workshops will come from around the globe.
Opportunities for informal sharing also abound as participants room together, share meals and explore Winnipeg during free times.
For more on LCC, visit http://www.lcc.lt/