This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Grace connects students at Lithuanian university

Alisha and Joshua Garber infuse two Anabaptist values — hospitality and reconciliation — into the lives of their students at LCC International University in Lithuania.

Joshua and Alisha Garber — MMN
Joshua and Alisha Garber — MMN

The Garbers, mission associates with Mennonite Mission Network, bring their nurturing ministry to the students they mentor at the university. They’re about to start their third year at the Christian university.

Alisha Garber is the director of community life and dean of discipline. Joshua Garber will be the spiritual formation coordinator after two years of being the resident director.

Alisha Garber is excited to implement a restorative justice model for the disciplinary process that encourages mentorship. In her role as the dean of discipline, she noticed that the system, which involved punishment through fines, taught students to avoid consequences instead of making better choices. She said if they had enough money, they simply had a check ready before they threw a party.

This year, there won’t be fines, and when violations do occur, an adult will walk alongside the offenders and talk about what their goals are, and how to redirect energy into positive goals.

“The students really bought into this, so next year we’re going full force with a restorative justice model,” she said. “In a culture where everything is unequivocally right or wrong, and where the students most likely grew up in a place that was corrupt, this will not be easy. So hold us in your prayers for that.”

She understands the struggle that students will go through as they shift from a punitive model to a model of grace. Alisha Garber didn’t grow up Anabaptist and had worked as a military counselor for six years.

“With the soldiers I dealt with before, I was very legalistic in the way that I bossed them around,” she said. “In my time working in Lithuania, I’ve seen that things are never absolutely wrong or absolutely right. You want it to be, because that’s easier, but it never is. Applying grace in radical ways has been a gradual process for me, but a very important process.”

Conversation about faith

In Joshua Garber’s new role as spiritual formation director, he is looking forward to being able to accomplish his goal to be in a position where he can talk more deliberately about his faith.

“I also have five students who are incredibly passionate about this same thing,” he said. “They told me that they wanted to join the team because they wanted to transform the campus. And that’s very exciting to me.”

When the Garbers first arrived on campus, the university was hosting a summer language institute organized by MMN worker Robin Gingerich for students to learn English. They noticed there were only a few people on campus and they were all isolated.

Since they had just moved from an intentional community, their first thought was to organize a potluck so everyone would get together. The potluck gathered faculty, staff and students who didn’t usually do things together outside of the classroom.

One student, Ejike Nnamdi Nwosu, liked the idea so much he started to host his own “Underground Potlucks” once regular classes started.

“As Anabaptists, I think that God is calling us to be a positive voice in this conversation that is happening in Europe,” Joshua Garber said. “We are a new voice, at least to the students, in the faith conversation happening on campus.”

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!