Baptist beginnings in Lithuania
Baptist beginnings in Lithuania
On the second of October, 1841, in the late evening, 16 women were gathered on the bank of the river Danė just outside the modern daycity of Klaipėda (then Memel). These women were the first to be baptized by full immersion and constituted the first Baptist church in Lithuania. The next day at the other end of the city, in the Kurisch Lagoon, 9 men were baptized. The baptism was performed by a German Baptist missionary Johann Gerhard Oncken upon the invitation of E. Grimm, a resident of Memel.
Soon after that Baptist missionary work among the settlements of ethnic Lithuanians began and resulted in the establishment of 6 small rural churches. By the 1875 the Memel Baptist Church had started 27 mission points, with the total membership of 2200 members. In Vilnius (today's capital of Lithuania) the Baptist Church was planted in 1912.
After the Second World War one of the few remaining buildings in Klaipėda was the Baptist Church. The congregation, primarily German, had immigrated to Germany. Because of their foreign roots, most of the Baptist communities simply disappeared and the work was recovered in a few decades of the post-war period.
Mission work at present
Lithuania is an independent state in the geographic centre of Europe. It is populated by 3,65 mln - about 80% profess Roman Catholicism, 10% are Orthodox, and 4% Protestants.
The Baptist Union of Lithuania was registered in 1998 and received new status for a fair legal treatment according to the Law of Religious Associations. However, Baptists still struggle to execute vested upon them equal rights when compared to majority churches - especially with regard to acquiring land or tax exemption. Important concern in the life of Lithuanian Baptists is a need for a clearer identity among other Christians and society at large.
Today there are seven churches belonging to the Baptist Union of Lithuania with the total membership of 400 baptized believers. There are several mission points in different parts of the country.
For the first time after the collapse of Soviet Union an indigenous missionary began his ministry in 2001. Initially it was a part time work which included several mission points. Mission work in their circumstances is not an easy effort. The general secretary of the Baptist Union – Linas Andonovas reckons that it takes about 15-20 years of hard mission work until a self supporting church may be established. Mission work in Lithuania is not spectacular, nor is it a mass movement.
New Lithuanian church plant in Rokiskis
Rokiskis is a small town of about 20 thousand inhabitants. It is located in the eastern part of Lithuania, near the border with Latvia. Before the Second World War there was a Baptist congregation there. Church planter Nikolay (38) has decided to revive this work. He studies theology by extension, is married and has four children.
The Rokiskis mission station comprises 6 baptized members and 15 children. They meet in a rented building every Sunday. Services are held in Russian and Lithuanian. Fellowship runs a small library which helps them initiate new contacts. Their basic method of outreach is through personal contacts. Nikolaj’s wife Nadiezhda has organized a theater for children, which attracts new visitors. Baptists are the only evangelical group in the town.
The Rokiskis group is a part of the Lithuanian Baptist family; at least once a month they are visited by a pastor who brings spiritual encouragement and support. The Baptists of Rokiskis also cherish ties with the mother church of Daugavpils, Latvia.
- The mission group is both Russian and Lithuanian speaking. Pray that they will be particularly successful among the Lithuanian speaking people.
- That the mission group would find its place and identity among the Rokiskis community.
- For the better integration of the mission group into larger Baptist work in Lithuania.