One morning we were sitting at the table at breakfast and the mood was particularly lively. Obviously, as it was only a few days before Christmas, which is especially eagerly awaited at Lithuanian Ark.
‘Santa Claus carries gifts to children only,’ Julija said half jokingly half seriously, when the conversation turned to a Christmas tree and all the beautiful things that accumulate underneath.
‘OK, but I also need Santa Claus. For a lot of things!‘ seriously replied Deividas, a twenty-one year old boy with Down syndrome, who lives in the community for almost four years.
‘No, Deividas, it’s only for children, wait and see for yourself…’ Julija repeated.
‘If Santa is not bringing me a thing,’ Deividas was determined, ‘then someone here will get in trouble.’
Of course, Santa Claus visited the Ark as well. Everyone found what they wished for under the Christmas tree. This year, the Christmas celebration was really a special experience for us.
The twelfth birthday
The Ark community opened in 2004 and now celebrates its twelfth birthday. Its beginnings were particularly interesting, very different from the protocol, which goes for the international Ark in France.Community, born in prayer Click To Tweet
When there was no community yet in Lithuania, many young Lithuanians were volunteering in other European countries, where the Ark already existed. In addition to working with people with intellectual disabilities, this provided them with excellent opportunity to learn the language and discover new cultures.
And like many people elsewhere, these young volunteers were addressed by Ark’s spirit and spirituality of Jean Vanier. Or in other words, they are infected with the Ark virus, which is incurable and leaves lasting effects. 🙂
It all began with a prayer
The desire to open Ark community in Lithuania has been strong, but the conditions for this have not yet been met. They decided to start praying for this purpose, so they established a prayer group.
Young boys and girls were gathering for this purpose for ten years, as long as a young couple decided to take the initiative and begin assembling the team responsible for the launch of the project.
It started to roll…
They got the investor who bought the land in a place where the community is currently placed. At that time, there was only an old wooden house, in need of renovation, but it was good enough for a beginning.
The house accepted first members Martinas and Aneta. Ark officially launched the so-called ‘project’, i.e. the very beginning of the first community that has been developing and growing alongside reconstructing and repairing the old house.
Rimas, who is still responsible for Lithuanian Ark, in 2010, received a mandate to expand and update the community. With the help of EU funds, in addition to the old house where first members dwelled (Aneta, Martynas and a few assistants), he managed to build a significantly larger and modern facility.
Community was finally able to invite new people with intellectual disabilities. In 2010, Gintaras joined, two years later, Lina and next year Deivydas. In 2015, the family accepted Julija, and in 2016 Darius and Arturas came along as well.
What touched both of us extremely in this community, is the incredible harmony and close relationship of boys and girls (persons with disability) with assistants, who live under the same roof.
This is particularly evident at Christmas time. We had an opportunity to experience this live.
Like every year, this year in early December, they started the so called Hidden Friend game.
Each member of community was blindly pulling out a name of the person, written on the paper roll inside a basket, to whom one will have to be specially attentive up until the Christmas Day gift giving ritual.
Receiving gifts and other friendly gestures, this way each member got many attention without knowing exactly the source person.
Hidden friends were revealed only at Christmas Day, while opening gifts from beneath the Christmas tree.
Traditional Christmas Ewe dinner
On Christmas Eve, all together, persons with disability and assistants were preparing Kūčios – a typical Lithuanian Christmas Ewe dinner, consisting of twelve typical dishes, as much as there were disciples of Jesus. Meal contains no meat and fatty foods, because in fact fasting applies for this day.
The Christmas wafer ritual
In the center of the evening meal there was a bowl with Christmas wafers made of flour and water, similar to communion wafers. After dinner, each got their own and started the special ceremony.
We stand up and came with a slice of wafer to one another. When you approached the other, you should offer one a slice, the other person would tore off a piece and eat it.
Meanwhile, everyone was expressing good wishes or just about everything that came from the heart. In the same way the other person repeated the ritual.
This went on as long as you have not meet every single person in the room. A wonderful introduction to the Christmas Eve.
Together in front of the crib
Christmas morning was of course marked by joy, treats and gifting with presents.
First, we went in front of the house on the lawn, where a crib was set up. Hand in hand, gazing to Joseph, Mary and a new-born Jesus, singing Christmas carols, reading from the Bible and praying.
After a heavy breakfast, we sat down beside a Christmas tree, opening presents and finally identify each-one’s hidden friends.
The atmosphere was unique and everyone could feel the luck of boys and girls, when they held their boxes and took out their gifts – items that were only letters on their wish cards a few days ago.
Deivydas’s face was shiny, smiling all along – nobody here will get in trouble. 🙂
The power of faith
Personally, I was very addressed by the strength and depth of faith, seen at any member of the community in the time before Christmas. A holiday, being so commercialized nowadays unfortunately, is still celebrated here on the Ark by focusing on what’s most essential: the arrival of our Savior.
Community born in prayer
Ark community in Lithuania was born in prayer, which everyone can feel strongly.
Every night before sleep, we gather in the house chapel to deliver our requests and thanks to God. Both boys and girls with disorders and assistants, in their own way express their feelings to the Lord.
And when we hear Martynas and Lina ask for the people in Syria and Ukraine, we cannot help ourselves to travel back in our minds from Vilnius to Kiev and Odessa, to people with whom we spent more than a month, to those who spent their Christmas so differently than we did.
For the homeless in Kiev we recently opened a ‘Piggy Bank’, which by the end of 2016 collects your donations. We have raised more than € 500, which will come very handy to the missionaries, who are trying to help the homeless.