SILUTE, Lithuania (BP)–“My father killed himself.”
Rimas Celiauskas, pastor of Šilute Evangelical Baptist Church in Šilute, Lithuania, waited with International Mission Board worker Milton Magalhaes for Rimas’ father to arrive. The men regularly had been meeting for coffee to encourage Rimas’ father, who suffered from depression.
“He kept telling me, ‘Pastor Milton, I cannot live through another winter. I can’t do this. It is too hard for me. I am going to end my life before the next winter,'” Milton recounted.
Milton urged Rimas to check on his father after about an hour had passed. Minutes later, Rimas entered his dad’s home to find him lifeless, hanging from the kitchen door.
“I knew why we came to Lithuania, but until then I had not seen the urgency of preaching the Gospel to everyone as fast … and effectively as we can,” Milton said. He and his wife Lara moved to Lithuania 12 years ago. Today they and their two children are the only IMB workers living in the country.
Milton and Rimas rejoice in the fact that Rimas’ father accepted Christ one week before he took his life. However, less than 2 percent of the country’s 3.6 million people ever hear the Gospel message, according to missions researchers’ estimates.
Lithuania, located between Poland, Latvia, Belarus and the Baltic Sea in Eastern Europe, currently has the world’s highest suicide rate at 38.6 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. In comparison, the U.S. suicide rate is 11 per 100,000.
Suicide is not the country’s only sign of hopelessness. Some estimate that the average Lithuanian female has seven abortions in her lifetime. According to 2006 statistics, about 23 percent of all pregnancies are aborted in the country.
Gitanas Savanoris, a member of Šilute Evangelical Baptist Church, laments that Lithuanians “continue to lead the world in suicide and alcohol and in drunk driving. [Lithuanians] still see abortion as an assurance of not having more children, not murder.
“There is a lot of work to be done in Lithuania,” Savanoris said.
Milton noted that believers in America are vitally important to Baptists’ outreach in Lithuania.
“The day Southern Baptists stop praying for us, I know we won’t be able to carry this load that Christ has given us,” Milton said. “Their prayers are what is most necessary so we can be here and be able to do what we are called to do.”
Mindaugas Stonys was 19 and a young believer attending services at the Šilute church when he was the first person to find that his mother had hanged herself. Now 26, he prays for the salvation of his father and brother.
“I had big support from this church,” Mindaugas said. “I am very thankful. I also know Jesus was always with me during this very hard time.”
Today Mindaugas lives in Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, and opens his apartment to a weekly Bible study, in what Magalhaes’ hope will be their third church plant in the country. Milton and Lara praise God for the ability see Him at work through multiplying communities of believers and have a goal of helping establish 12 churches within the next 12 years.
“Our vision is to see a church in every town … where [people] can encounter the person of Jesus — the only one who can change the despair, the lack of hope,” Milton said.
Milton and Lara ask for prayer for a strong family unit, health, safety and that Southern Baptists would continue to give through the Cooperative Program and to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Milton also noted the need for both long- and short-term workers to join them in Lithuania.
“The best thing they can do is come, see for themselves where their money is going to, so they can … be a part of this in a physical way, and love on the people,” he said. Volunteer opportunities in Lithuania include working with Vacation Bible Schools, youth camps, choirs, witnessing campaigns and evangelistic/theological training.
Natalie Kaspar is a writer with the International Mission Board based in Eastern Europe. Milton and Lara Magalhaes can be reached at [email protected]