Reaching the Nations

Lithuania

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 65,300 square km.  Located in Eastern Europe, Lithuania borders Latvia, Belarus, Poland, Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast, and the Baltic Sea.  Fertile, low laying plains dotted with small lakes cover most the country.  The nearby sea moderates the climate, producing wet weather and temperate summers and winters.  Soil and groundwater contamination from military bases is an environmental issue.  Lithuania is divided into 10 administrative counties. 

Population: 3,555,179 (July 2009)       

Annual Growth Rate: -0.279% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 1.23 children born per woman (2009)    

Life Expectancy: 69.98 male, 80.1 female (2009)

Peoples

Lithuanian: 83.4%

Polish: 6.7%

Russian: 6.3%

Other/unspecified: 3.6%

Lithuanians form the majority.  Poles primarily populate the southeast near the Polish border.  Russians most likely live in the larger cities or near Kaliningrad.  Other ethnic groups include Belarusians and Ukrainians.

Languages: Lithuanian (82%), Russian (8%), Polish (5.6%), other and unspecified (4.4%). Lithuanian is the official language.  Only Lithuanian has over one million speakers (2.9 million). 

Literacy: 99.6% (2001)

History

In the thirteenth century, Lithuania emerged as a state and added territory for the following century, become the largest nation in Europe by the end of the fourteenth century.  Lithuania allied with Poland in the late fourteenth century and a century later united as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  The union was dissolved and incorporated into surrounding nations in 1795.  Lithuania achieved independence following World War I but was absorbed into the Soviet Union in 1940.  The once large Jewish population was annihilated by the Nazis during World War II.  In March 1990, Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare independence, which was later recognized in September 1991.  Russian troops withdrew remaining forces in 1993.  Since independence, relations have strengthened with Central and Western Europe as Lithuania joined NATO and the European Union in 2004. 

Culture 

Lithuanians tend to be reserved and respectful.  Family structure and responsibilities are traditional and conservative.  There is a rich legacy of Lithuanian literature starting from the Middle Ages.  Alcohol consumption rates are high and comparable to Russia whereas cigarette use is lower than in many Eastern European nations and comparable to Canada.  The rate of divorce is high. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $ 15,400 (2009) [33.2% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.870

Corruption Index: 4.6

Lithuania has achieved economic growth since independence and pursued trade with both Eastern and Western Europe.  Growth in GDP came to a halt in 2009 due to the global financial crisis as the economy contracted by 15%.  Unemployment also rapidly increased from 5.8% in 2008 to 13.7% in 2009.  Services produce 69% of the GDP and employ 57% of the workforce whereas industry accounts for 27% of the GDP and employs 29% of the workforce.  Primary industries include machinery, home appliances, and electronics.  Grain, potatoes, and sugar beets are common crops.  Primary trade partners include Russia, Germany, Poland, and Latvia. 

Corruption rates are higher than many nations in the European Union but lower than most of Eastern Europe.  Lithuania has no courts which specialize in corruption cases.  Most Lithuanians are prepared to pay a bride to resolve an issue and those working in business report that corruption hurt their business.  Customs, police, health care, and tax officials are considered the most corrupt.  Government has had some success fighting corruption but many issues remain unsolved.[1] 

Faiths

Christian: 85%

Other/unspecified: 5.5%

None: 9.5%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  2,808,591

Russian Orthodox  145,762

Jehovah's Witnesses  3,130  43

Latter-Day Saints  900  5

Seventh Day Adventists  867  17

Religion

Catholics nominally form the majority at 80% of the population.  Russian Orthodox members live primarily along the border with Belarus.  Non-traditional religious groups tend to have fewer adherents than traditional religious groups.  There are some small communities of Jews and Muslims.[2] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  Religious discrimination, violence, or interference is illegal.  There is no state religion, but some religious groups receive special privileges including religious teaching in public school and the right to register marriages.  Traditional religious groups require a legacy of more than 300 years and receive greater benefits from the government.  Only Evangelical Baptisms and Seventh Day Adventists have state recognition among nontraditional groups.  Other nontraditional groups register individual congregations, but do not have full government recognition.  Official status can be granted to nontraditional religious group in order to hold bank accounts and own property.  Societal abuses of freedom of religion are primarily limited to discrimination and vandalism directed toward Jews.[3]

Largest Cities

Urban: 67%

Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda, Siauliai, Panevezys, Alytus, Marijampole, Mazeikiai, Jonava, Kedainiai.

Cities in bold do not have congregations.

Four of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  45% of the population lives in the 10 largest cities. 

LDS History

The Russia St. Petersburg Mission included Lithuania until the creation of the Latvia Riga Mission in 1993.  Missionaries first arrived in December 1992.[4]  In June 1993, Elder M. Russell Ballard dedicated Lithuania for missionary work with 27 in attendance.  At the time eight missionaries were assigned to the country.[5]  The previous year there was only one member living in the country.[6]  In 1993, missionaries received media coverage nationwide which helped improve the Church's image and correct misinformation.[7]  The Latvia Riga Mission was renamed and moved to Vilnius, Lithuania in 1996.  Mission headquarters returned to Latvia in 2001.  Seminary and institute began in 1998.  Lithuania joined the Europe East Area in 2000. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 900 (2009)

By 1999, there were 180 members in Vilnius, 150 in Kaunas, and 120 in Klaipeda.  Total membership reached 554 in 2000, increasing to 640 and 735 in 2001 and 2002, respectively.  Slow membership growth occurred between 2003 and 2008 as membership increased to 847. 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 5

By the end of 1995 there were three branches - two in Vilnius and one in Kaunas.[8]  A few years later the two Vilnius branches were combined into one congregation for both Lithuanian and Russian speakers.  In early 1998, branches became part of the newly created Vilnius Lithuania District.  By year-end 2000, four branches functioned in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda, and the Lithuania Vilnius Mission Branch.  A branch was created in Siauliai in the early 2000s.

In 2006, a Russian-speaking congregation was created in Vilnius, bringing the total of branches to five. 

Activity and Retention

In 2000, 200 youth throughout the Baltic States traveled to Lithuania for a youth conference.[9]  In 2009, over 400 throughout the Baltic States attended a fireside with Elder L. Tom Perry in Latvia.[10] 65 young single adults from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania met in Riga, Latvia in March 2010 for a young single adult conference. 

Lithuania historically has had one of the highest activity rates in Eastern Europe.  During the 2008-2009 school year, 30 were enrolled in seminary or institute.  Active membership likely ranges from 50 to 100 per congregation to 300 to 400 nationwide, or 35-45% of total membership.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Lithuanian, Russian, Polish

All LDS scriptures are available in Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish.  Lithuanian Church materials include selected unit, temple, Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, young women, primary, missionary, family history, and institute materials.  Russian and Polish have a greater number of these materials translated.  The Liahona magazine has two issues in Lithuanian, four in Polish, and 12 in Russian a year. 

Meetinghouses

Branches meet in rented spaces or renovated buildings. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

In 1998, approximately 800 young single adults in the United States made 200 quilts for distribution in the Appalachian Mountains, Lithuania, and Yugoslavia.[11]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Missionaries may openly proselyte.  There are no laws limiting the Church's activities and congregations are officially registered.  The Church does not have state recognition and may not receive it for many years as this status is rarely granted to non-traditional religious groups. 

Cultural Issues

Increased materialism and secularism since independence coupled with decades of communism have created disinterest in religion among most Lithuanians.  High alcohol use challenges investigators making lifestyle changes prior to baptism and also increases the likelihood of converts relapsing to former alcohol addictions.  Some forms of proselytism - such as street contacting - may be less effective due to the reserved nature of many Lithuanians. 

National Outreach

A minority of Lithuanians receive mission outreach.  35% of the national population resides in cities with a congregation.  The four most populous administrative countries have mission outreach.  The six unreached counties account for 31% of Lithuania's population, indicating that roughly a third of the national population live in counties with congregations but not in cities with outreach centers. 

Opportunities exist to significantly expand national outreach among the urbanized population.  Eight cities over 30,000 inhabitants, 25 cities between 10,000 and 30,000 inhabitants, and 60 towns between 1,000 and 10,000 inhabitants have yet to receive LDS mission outreach.  The largest cities appear most likely to receive future mission outreach, especially within counties with already established congregations.  The Church likely has some members living in these cities and towns which can help orchestrate cottage meetings and lay the foundation of future Church leadership.  It is unclear whether this is on the current agenda for the Baltic Mission. 

The limited number of missionaries and small numbers of active members and leaders is the greatest issue restricting broader mission outreach.  Full-time missionaries and mission resources must be shared with Latvia and Estonia although Lithuanian-speaking missionaries usually serve their entire missions in Lithuania with the exception of short periods in Estonia or Latvia. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Convert retention has likely improved since 1990s levels, but missionaries report challenges in keeping recent converts continually engaged and enthusiastic about Church duties and functions.  This appears to have reduced the number of new converts serving in leadership positions. 

The Church struggles to attract youth converts and to keep them active.  In Klaipeda, at least 20 youth were inactive.  Many fall into activity due to few active members who they can relate with and a lack of nurturing from older members.  With proper planning, foresight and local member participation, many of these individuals could be brought back into activity and ensure future, steady Church growth in Lithuania. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Cooperation between Russian and Lithuanian-speaking members has allowed the Church to efficiently meet the needs of its membership.  Potential issues integrating these and other ethnic groups into the same congregation may occur, but membership as a whole as placed historical grudges and dislikes aside in the Church.  Very little if any outreach has occurred among Polish Lithuanians, partially due to most living in areas outside of current mission outreach. 

Language Issues

With the exception of Vilnius where language-specific congregations meet, all other branches meet the needs of both Lithuanian and Russian speakers.  Kaunas has few Russian speakers and the majority of members and all missionaries speak Lithuania.  Klaipeda provides translations in sacrament meeting for Lithuanian and Russian speakers.  The Church benefits from the large amount of materials available in Lithuanian and Russian despite the national Church membership numbering less than 1,000. 

Missionary Service

10 Lithuanian-speaking and eight Russian-speaking missionaries served in Lithuania in the late 1990s. Eight missionaries served in Kaunas in early 2009 and four missionaries served in Klaipeda in early 2010. 

Many local members have also served full-time missions in their youth and as older adults.  By 1995, six Lithuanian members were serving missions in Russia, Utah, and Poland.[12]  In early 2010, the former Klaipeda Branch president and his wife were serving a temple mission at the Helsinki Finland Temple.  The limited number of active youth challenges efforts to increase the numbers of full-time missionaries from Lithuania. 

Leadership

The Church has developed adequate local leadership to be self-sufficient in Church administration.  All five branches in Lithuania have local branch presidents.  Increasing the number of men capable of leading congregations will be central to expanding national outreach and ensure self-sufficiency over the long term. 

Temple

Lithuania pertains to the Helsinki Finland Temple district.  Temple trips occur regularly and take longer than Estonia and Latvia, requiring greater sacrifice for members to attend.  Members usually travel by bus to Estonia and take a ferry to Helsinki.  

Comparative Growth

Lithuania has the most limited mission outreach in the Baltic States and is the only nation with a city over 100,000 inhabitants without a congregation, Panevezys.  However Lithuania has experienced comparable membership growth to Estonia and Latvia as all these nations had between 900 and 1,100 members in 2010.  Estonia has the highest percentage of LDS members which is twice the percentage in Latvia and four times the percentage in Lithuania.  Activity rates are comparable throughout the three countries and are similar to or slightly higher than many Eastern European nations.  

Seventh Day Adventists have had membership slightly decrease from late 1990s levels, but congregations have continued to increase.  Less than 30 Adventist baptisms have occurred annually for the past few years.  Jehovah's Witnesses report steady, modest membership growth. 

Future Prospects

Elder M. Russell Ballard prophesized the following in May 1993:

"From this small beginning, you will see the Church grow and prosper here. There will be many branches and then a district and, in the Lord's due time, there will be stakes. Who knows, if we could look out 50 years, perhaps a small temple. That all depends on us, really, and how diligent we are willing to be, and how wise and prudent we are willing to be as we proceed to establish the kingdom of God in Lithuania."[13]

In April 2010, the creation of a stake seemed unlikely in the near future as there are still fewer than 1,000 members and a stake generally has more than 2,000 members and over 100 active Melchizedek Priesthood holders. 

Additional congregations in Vilnius may be organized due to the city's size and large population.  A Russian-speaking congregation may get organized in Klaipeda once active membership increases among both Russian and Lithuanian speakers.  The outlook for additional cities opening to missionary work is favorable.  Cities most likely to open for missionary work include Panevezys, Alytus, and Marijampole because of their large populations and Jonava and Kedainiai because of their proximity to Kaunas.  Greater national outreach and growth in congregations will hinge on local members, leaders, and mission leaders' capacity to organize small units in unreached cities and to inspire local members to share the gospel with their associates. 


[1]  Seskauskas, Tomas.  "Fight against corruption in the Republic of Lithuania," retrieved 16 April 2010.  http://www.lrti.go.kr/repository/eng/data/flaw/lithuania.pdf

[2] "Lithuania," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127321.htm

[3]  "Lithuania," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127321.htm

[4]  "Lithuania," Country Profiles, retrieved 16 April 2010.  http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/lithuania

[5] "4 European lands dedicated," LDS Church News, 12 June 1993.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/23051/4-European-lands-dedicated.html

[6]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 25 November 1995.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/26393/From-around-the-world.html

[7]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 9 July 1994.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/25332/From-around-the-world.html

[8] "From around the world," LDS Church News, 25 November 1995.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/26393/From-around-the-world.html

[9]  "Baltic youth conference draws from four countries," LDS Church News, 11 November 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/38856/Baltic-youth-conference-draws-from-four-countries.html

[10]  Jegina, Inara; Klundt, Jo Ann.  "History visit to Latvian saints," LDS Church News, 26 September 2009.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/57926/Historic-visit-to-Latvian-saints.html

[11]  McCook, Bill.  "800 young single adults tie 200 quilts for needy," LDS Church News, 17 October 1998.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/31079/800-young-single-adults-tie-200-quilts-for-needy.html

[12]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 25 November 1995.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/26393/From-around-the-world.html

[13] "4 European lands dedicated," LDS Church News, 12 June 1993.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/23051/4-European-lands-dedicated.html