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College builds on Communist rubble

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Celebrations marked two decades since the walls came down separating Communist Eastern Europe and the West. And a celebration is just on the horizon for a remarkable institution in Lithuania – it, too, owes its existence to walls that came down.

Lithuania Christian College, now LCC International University, had its genesis in 1990. Meetings between the country’s deputy minister of education Aurimas Juozaitis, German Mennonite leader Johannes Reimer, Winnipeg furniture maker Art DeFehr, and Lithuanian Christian leader Otonas Balciunas led to an English language summer school in 1991. After facing local opposition and the challenges of relocation, the school landed in Klaipeda.

Today, LCC International University boasts a 20-acre campus and a 650 student enrollment from 21 countries. The full-time faculty equivalent of 35 increasingly includes LCC alumni. (There are 50–60 teachers, but several are volunteers for single semesters or specific courses.)

Most of the students come from former republics of the Soviet Union. Others come from Poland, Hungary, Romania, Albania, and as far away as West Africa and Canada. They come with evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, or even Muslim heritage. Some are self-described atheists.

New president

LCC International University’s new president, lawyer-academic Kyle Usrey, formerly dean at Friends University, Wichita, Kansas, took the reins from Jim Mininger in 2009. Founding board members like Leona DeFehr (wife of longtime chair Art DeFehr) and Dennis and Rene Neumann (of Bakerview MB Church) are hoping the new generation will assume the responsibility to shepherd the institution into the challenges of the future.

The school’s program is virtually unique within a large region. Entirely in English, the liberal arts program requires that students take foundational courses in Western civilization, Christian theology, and philosophy. Usrey says the school attempts to “prepare students for a changing world, [for] problems that haven’t been identified as problems yet and careers that we don’t even know exist.”

The most popular major is business administration, but students can also study English, psychology, theology, sociology, conflict studies, and general studies. LCC’s students have gone on to graduate studies in schools like the University of Toronto, Yale, and the London School of Economics.

The recent decision to rebrand the school, by adopting “International University” in the name, reflects the “expansive” reach from which students come as well as the real content of the program.

Its students are known, says Usrey, for the transformation that happens in their lives. “When I talk to the business community, the government, the churches in that entire region, they all say the same thing, ‘Your alums are different,’” Usrey says. He describes it as an ability to think critically and “integratively,” and to communicate well.

New civil society

One of the benefits LCC brings to its students is the experience of discovering community as they live together with others from a range of different backgrounds. “We’re very intentional and hardworking in how we do that student life piece,” says Usrey.

This social capital is helping build a “new civil society.” The potential impact is huge, not merely in Lithuania, but through central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. “It’s amazing to see the impact of young, well-educated Christian young people in that region.”

LCC was founded by Mennonites who wanted “to give back to those areas in which they had a heritage but also experienced loss,” says Usrey. “The gift of giving back to the former Soviet Union has multiplied in many different ways.”

Harold Jantz is former editor of the MB Herald and founding editor of ChristianWeek.

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