Deaconess Grace Rao, director of Deaconess Ministry for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), recently taught her fourth deaconess-women course to members of the Evangelical Church of Lithuania (ELCL). The classes were held in Vilnius, Lithuania, November 14-19, 2019.
A decade ago, The LCMS World Relief and Human Care deaconess ministry established a professional diaconal relationship with the ELCL. This relationship was initially coordinated with Lithuanian Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis. The goal then, as it still is now, was to encourage the growth of women’s ministry within the ELCL.
Deaconess Grace Rao was the first deaconess educator ever sent by the LCMS to Lithuania. Her first teaching visit to the ELCL was in April 2010.
Teaching the Confessions and the Small Catechism
This year, for the first time, Rao taught an LCMS-based course on the Lutheran Confessions—”Lutheranism 101,” as she calls it. She also taught a crash course on Luther’s Small Catechism. This was a formidable task over a five-day class period. Twenty-five women attended the sessions.
Rao considers her style of teaching more discussion-oriented, or ‘table talk’ in nature. “We both keep learning from the questions and the discussions. The more interactive the discussions are, the more we learn and the deeper we go into God’s Word,” said Rao.
A course for women leaders in the church
All of the participants were church volunteers, diaconal leaders or other professionals. The women came from many different congregations throughout several provinces in Lithuania. The training offered by Rao afforded these women help and guidance in counseling and mentoring their own clients, families, youth, children, and adults—especially other women. At times, the focus was on women to women conversation—on confidential matters. “It is a unique situation where Christian women are able to focus on concerns specific to them, their contacts and their families,” said Rao. “The conversations often result in tears of sadness and tears of joy.”
Mrs. Vilama Sabutiene was Rao’s interpreter and translator for the course. Sabutiene has been helping Rao in this educational initiative for the past three years .
Rao’s deaconess-women course would not be possible without the help and support of ELCL Bishop Sabutis, Rev. Mindaugas Kairys, ELCL director of the National Association of Diaconia, and Rev. James Krikava, LCMS Office of International Mission regional director for Eurasia.
Rao is passionate about her deaconess work and her role in uplifting women. She is committed to helping them explore and impart the gifts and talents the Lord Christ has bestowed on each of them.
A passionate work with plans for the future
Rao anticipates the program will continue over the next few years. Rev. Kairys has already suggested the next course might focus on “Diaconal Skills” and “Understanding the Lutheran Theology and Practice.” The goal will be to integrate an LCMS course on deaconess foundations with an application component on performing diaconal tasks. Kairys and Rao are considering a two-part course with the first half offered in 2020, and the second half in 2021.