In Lithuania, God is working through the church and his Word to set young people free from the destructive habits that have entrapped them.
In Charles Duhigg’s bestseller book The Power of Habit, he wrote, “One group of researchers at the Alcohol Research Group in California…noticed a pattern in interviews. Over and over again, alcoholics said the same thing: Identifying cues and choosing new routines is important, but without another ingredient, the new habits never fully took hold.
“The secret, the alcoholics said, was God.
“Researchers hated that explanation. God and spirituality are not testable hypotheses. Churches are filled with drunks who continue drinking despite a pious faith. In conversations with addicts, though, spirituality kept coming up again and again.”
What these individuals were testifying to in U.S. studies was a truth that Edvardas could affirm in his own young life, thousands of miles away.
Life on the Hard Streets
Edvardas was born in the small Lithuanian town of Zarasai. None of his family could be much bothered with religion. After Edvardas lost his father, however, his mother started to experience a change of heart.
When he was eight years old, his mother took him with her to the Baptist church down the road. He read through a children’s Bible, sometimes out loud to his mother, about Old Testament leaders like Moses and Noah. Years later, these stories would return to him, but in the meantime, Edvardas was about to hit his teen years and addiction.
“I started behaving badly at school,” he recalled. “I didn't listen to the teachers. I started spending more time on the streets. When I was 12 years old, my friend and I found a bag of cigarettes in his basement.”
Within two years, smoking was a firmly established habit for Edvardas. He and his mother had moved to a new town, away from the church, and now Edvardas had a new set of friends. He was working out at the gym, drinking alcohol with his buddies on Friday nights and spending more and more time on the streets looking for trouble. Some nights, he didn’t even return home.
“I had problems with the police. I had fines. Therefore, on summer vacation I went to work, to be able to pay the fines,” Edvardas explained. He was working with his uncle who was friends and coworkers with the director of the Lithuania Teen Challenge Center, World Challenge’s partners.
The director offered to let Edvardas stay at the center, find freedom from his growing addictions and grow into a man. Already seeing the trouble he was getting into on the streets and uneasy about where this would land him in the future, Edvardas agreed.
A Home of Recovery and Healing
Prayer and Bible reading are central rhythms of daily life where Edvardas was living. He was back in church on Sundays, and every morning and evening, he went to chapel with the other men staying at the center. He struggled with adapting to this highly regimented schedule after years of street life, but gradually he began to acclimate.
“I didn’t believe in God,” he explained, “but I read the Bible because I was curious. One day, I stopped on Matthew 3:10, ‘Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
“I realized that I was the tree that would be thrown into the fire. Then I read in Revelation 3:20, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.’ I realized that I am a sinful person, that God is knocking and wants me to open my heart to him.”
Shortly afterward, Edvardas repented and asked Christ to take his heart and his life. He was infused with joy and later was baptized.
He still struggled with his old habits of smoking and other addictions, but he felt like he was on the winning side of the battle. He started learning how to play guitar and sing, using these as creative outlets for worship and connecting to God. “Now I am happy to be able to help not only myself but others too. I am happy that God saved me. I am thankful to God there are centers like this one.”