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LCC: Building a culture of hope

Students at LCC International University come from 57 countries, some of which are in conflict with each other. This offers the university a unique opportunity to help students learn the skills of reconciliation and peacemaking. Photo: LCC

I traveled to the Soviet Union in 1991 together with 18 others from the United States and Canada to teach English for the summer. I viewed it as a bucket list adventure. Instead, I found my calling.

That Summer Language Institute in Klaipeda, Lithuania, has developed into the only fully accredited Christian liberal arts university in a region twice the size of the U.S. By comparison, 140 Christian colleges and universities in the U.S.—including Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University—make up the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

LCC International University was born because of the inspiring vision of two Mennonite Brethren couples—Art and Leona DeFehr, Winnipeg, Man., and Dennis and Rene Neumann, Abbotsford, B.C.—and a Lithuanian pastor and his wife, Otonas and Raimonda Balciunas. LCC was created to bring a western-style educational model with a decidedly Christian distinctive to the emerging democracies of the former Soviet Union.

This was a bold decision, moving into uncharted territory in that region of the world. At the time, there was not even a category for private institutions in the Lithuanian higher education system. Not surprisingly, LCC was frequently misunderstood by educational and political leaders, creating some significant challenges for the university.

Over time, however, LCC’s alumni have demonstrated the university’s unique mission and the quality of the student learning experience. Today, a common critique of LCC is that we do not produce more alumni!

LCC International University is located in Klaipeda, Lithuania, on the Baltic Sea shore. Photo: LCC

LCC is unique when compared to other universities in the region. Most universities in Eastern Europe and Centra Asia focus on disseminating knowledge. Class attendance is optional. There is very little concern about what happens outside of class.

Educating the whole person

LCC, by contrast, focuses on developing critical thinkers, competent communicators and servant leaders. It is intentional in addressing the whole person—engaging students in inter-culturally relevant experiences through a residential campus community—all within a Christian worldview.

This will sound familiar to those of us who have attended or worked at Christian liberal arts institutions in the U.S. It is not familiar to most LCC students. This fall (2021), LCC welcomed 781 students from 57 countries. Eighty percent of our students come from outside Lithuania; 63 percent of our faculty come from the U.S. and Canada. LCC is an intentionally international university that happens to be located in Lithuania; it is not a Lithuanian university that claims to be international.

Being international means that we have become skilled at things that some universities never have to worry about—things like processing hundreds of visas each year. We help interpret local culture to new arrivals from other nations and different backgrounds. We work hard to ensure that students from different cultures can live, study, learn and communicate peaceably together, even when their own nations are in conflict with each other.

For example:

Lithuania is a member of NATO. Over the past three years, LCC has had several visits by NATO officers who noted that LCC is doing the peacekeeping work of NATO. With the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, peace and freedom were re-emerging in Lithuania. Today, LCC welcomes students from countries that are desperate for that same peace and freedom. LCC not only offers education; it provides hope.

Building a culture of hope

Given the many challenges within this region of the world, LCC will soon be launching the Center for Dialogue and Conflict Transformation as a part of building a culture of hope. It will engage people in conversation where there is conflict, teach the skills involved in reconciliation and promote a culture of collaboration and peacemaking.

As an initial step, Naomi Enns, the new director of this center, together with a team of colleagues and students are planning a conference for March 2022 with the theme of “Stories Shaping Peace.”

LCC is calling out and preparing a new generation of leaders for a world that is desperate for peace, hope and trust.  Alumni like these are making a difference:

Over the past 30 years, LCC has mobilized literally thousands of faithful people on behalf of the vision for a Christian liberal arts university that would bring higher education and hope to the former Soviet Republics—and beyond.

These include professors, researchers, chaplains, student life staff, construction workers and other volunteers. These supporters have brought their skills and talents to the Christ-centered mission of the university. Others have also helped provide the financial resources that have made the original vision a reality.

We have seen what has happened during these first 30 years. We pray that LCC’s vision will become a reality—to be a leading Christian liberal arts university “renowned for its flourishing academic community, spiritual vitality and global impact.”

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