Loving our neighbors… overseas
Diakon maintains the Love of The Neighbor fund, which provides additional paid “vacation” for staff members, who apply to the fund to help cover their service-related activities. The fund is one more way Diakon has impact beyond its direct care and service.
I was in the Baltic region in June on a humanitarian-focused mission project, during the summer solstice in both Lithuania and Latvia. Our mission group’s work is with orphanages, appropriate given Diakon’s history dating to two children’s homes in the 1800s.
In the summer of 2014, we built a barn in Zvanneiki, made masonry repairs and completed remodeling projects in Medeikiai, and engaged in extensive fun and educational projects in both children’s homes. This summer we completed additional work and planned and took the numerous steps necessary to organize further building, remodeling, and repair work in the summer of 2016—along with continuing extensive interaction with the children.
The Baltics are located about the 57th parallel north. At this latitude, the sun is visible for 18 hours during the summer solstice, never fully setting at this time. In Lithuania, the holiday called Midsummer Day and St. John’s Day is June 24, but it is also celebrated the evening and night preceding it. The holiday coincides with the summer solstice.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the holiday was observed all over Lithuania; now it is more popular in the northern and central parts of Lithuania and all of Latvia. Although St. John the Baptist occupies a very important place in the hierarchy of saints, the church does not attach any great importance to the celebration of his nativity, which falls on the Midsummer Day.
In fact, it is a festival of simple people, connected with the veneration of fire. Girls adorn their heads with flower wreaths. A tall pole with a wooden wheel soaked in tar or filled with birch bark is hoisted at the top of the highest hill in the vicinity. Men whose names are Jonas (John) set the wheels on fire and make bonfires around them.
In some places a second pole is hoisted with flowers and herbs. Young people dance round the fire, sing songs about rye, and play games, while men try to jump over the fire. The burning wheels on the poles are rolled down the hill into a river or a lake at its foot of the embankment, men jumping over it all along. On the Midsummer Day people weed the rye and burn all the weeds.
This time of year, children enjoy many outdoor activities such as fishing, camping, lake swimming (which was far too cold for me that far north!), and attending summer camp sponsored by the gypsy circus. Many of the children in the orphanage suffer from FAS—fetal alcohol syndrome—or have been placed there because of abuse at the hands of an alcoholic parent.
Though poor and challenged, these children possess the same wonderful capacity to love as any child. Like most children, they love to play. Whether for sports, fishing in the river, or swimming in the lake, their rural setting provides many recreational opportunities. It is always nice to see when a parent receives treatment and the family is reunited, allowing the child to move back home into a conventional environment.
However, some children remain in the Children’s Home until they are emancipated—that is, reach age—but are offered support to begin independent living.
As noted, we made great progress this trip in the tactical planning of next summer’s mission along with development of continuing relationships. Specific physical projects were identified and prioritized, supplies were priced, and project-site translators were interviewed, setting the stage for additional work this coming summer.
And, as always, I had a lot of fun with the kids—at the same time emphasizing to them that many people care about them.
Diakon Senior Living – Cumberland Crossings
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