JEFFERSON CITY — Saulius Karosas reconnected with old friends and made a host of new ones -- a network he hopes will help Christians in Lithuania reach more people for Christ -- during a recent trip to Missouri.
Karosas spent three days in Jefferson City to share about the current ministry of City Church in Klaipeda, Lithuania, and the effect of participation in the Chicago-based Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit. He also met with Future Leadership Foundation board members to discuss plans to offer Crown Financial Ministries' financial training in Lithuania in March.
The Missouri-based Future Leadership Foundation is a not-for-profit that seeks and helps develop Christian leaders worldwide.
Lithuania seems to embody the "worst of both communism and capitalism," Karosas explained at an FLF board meeting Nov. 17. Although democracy has taken hold in his country, its people are struggling with unemployment and unfulfilled expectations, he said.
The country has a low standard of living, with an 18 percent unemployment rate. It has the world's highest suicide rate, a divorce rate at 70 percent and alcoholism five times higher than in the United States.
As freedom opened for Lithuanians, many expected fast-paced economic gain and stability. Expectations were too high, Karosas said. Many people started dealing in real estate and left their jobs. Real estate was "operating in a bubble," which left many in economic trouble when the bubble burst, he added.
Many young professionals have left the country because of economic instability, and because some careers garner higher wages in nearby countries. Some have left their children in the care of grandparents or great grandparents.
Although Lithuanians face hardship, Karosas believes now is "an opportune moment" to reach the lost, and he is "committed to a new vision" of the church in his country. Only 1.9 percent of the population professes to be evangelical believers, with only 250 Christian workers. About 80 percent of the country's Christian population claim Catholicism. There is a small group of Russian Orthodox and a smattering of witchcraft and other cults.
Becoming a Christian in 1990, Karosas sought out leaders across denominational lines as encouragement as a believer and as a leader. In the early 1990s, churches were "building their own kingdoms" by focusing on separate events and worship experiences. But the country's crisis has brought a new openness to work together, he explained.
Karosas hopes to leverage that new openness. In 2007, his church purchased an old hotel, now called the Manna Center, and has been renovating it since then. At the time, the mortgage payment was twice as much as their church budget, he said.
In addition to City Church, Manna Center includes space to house local missionaries, a meeting room, classrooms and guest rooms. So far, members have raised $107,000 of the funds needed for renovations. They need an additional $181,000 to finish the building, including monies for heating.
The church offers Celebrate Recovery, a program to help individuals deal with any kind of personal hurt or habit; marriage retreats; leadership retreats; and Alpha courses, an 11-week program that shares Christianity's basic tenets. City Church assists seven missionaries, including three in Russia.
"When we took the risk [to purchase the building] in the beginning, it was really crazy," Karosas said. "When someone asks why we take the risk, we respond that we must take the risk" because God requires it.
Church leaders and the FLF envision Manna Center as a leadership training ground for Scandinavia. City Church also is developing a leadership network.
Earlier this year, the church hosted the Global Leadership Summit as a way to help business professionals and leaders across Lithuania. Individuals from across denominations volunteered for the countrywide event. For two years, Karosas took people to the Willow Creek event in London, and then he contacted the association to offer it in Lithuania.
The need for biblical stewardship across the country triggered the plan for the upcoming Crown Financial training. City Church and the FLF may offer the training in Lithuania's three largest cities.
During his three-day visit, Karosas also shared at First Baptist Church, Jefferson City. His brother, Arturas, a printing professional in Lithuania, toured Modern Litho and Brown Printing in Jefferson City.
Karosas makes a "friendship building" trip to the United States at least once a year, especially to California and Tennessee, to sustain ongoing partnerships. Now he has added Missouri to his partnership list.