An Interview with Lienite Bemere
By Natalie Meeks, BBI Guest Writer
RIGA, Latvia – One crisp February afternoon in beautiful Riga, there sat two women. Two women, in a cheerful 4th floor office over steaming cups of tea, from opposite sides of the world, who share much in common; namely, a love for Christ and a desire to see His daughters know Him. They talked, they laughed and they soberly discussed the singular questions and circumstances faced by Latvian women today.
• • • • •
I was blessed to have the opportunity to sit with Lienite Bemere, Project Director of Partneri (Latvian arm of Bridge Builders International) and practicing counselor/psychotherapist. Lienite’s passion for BBI’s women’s ministry is evidenced in its creative outreach, insight into Latvia’s current situation and powerful handling of the important questions that must be asked by and for Latvian women today.
In her own life, counseling practice and time spent in BBI’s women’s ministry, Lienite has become keenly aware of the unique struggles of Latvian women. Their current situation and spiritual needs are as unique as their beautiful culture. To better understand the burdens faced by Latvia’s daughters, we must start at the beginning.
“What does it mean to be a woman?”
Merriam-Webster defines Femininity as follows:
- Characteristic of or appropriate or unique to women.
What exactly is so unique about a woman? Scripture tells us that God created man, male and female, in His own image. Both bear the Imago Dei, but each is intrinsically different. Man and woman are stamped separately in the glory of God’s creation. So, what does it mean to be a woman? Essentially, it means to carry a specific half of the glorious image of the true and living God, within the unique imprint He has designated. We call this half femininity.
“What does it mean to be a Latvian woman?”
Twenty-five years have passed since Latvia gained her independence from the oppressive rule of the Soviet Union. Yet, while freedom documented may happen in a day, loosening the bondage of cultural tethers takes time. History teaches that the equivalent of two generations is required to reverse the societal impact of oppression. The women of Latvia have carried the burden of provider and nurturer simultaneously for many years. What began by virtue of necessity, as men were removed in war and exile, has continued as culture to the profound detriment of both Latvia’s daughters and her sons.
According to Lienite, the population of Latvia today consists of a marked disparity between the number of women and men. Though more baby boys are born each year in Latvia than girls, the balance shifts dramatically in adulthood. This issue is multifaceted and highly problematic when it comes to creating healthy marriages and raising families. Women struggle to find a good husband. The issue runs deeper for the Christian woman; with so few men, should a Christian woman resign herself to marrying a non-Christian, or to living out her days single and childless?
Further complicating matters, the vast majority of those who have attained higher education are women. There are currently 50% more women than men enrolled in the University of Latvia. This results in a shortage of men in leadership roles and the necessity for qualified women to fill them. Latvian women have risen to the occasion. They have sought and attained education, skill and position. They have been elevated in important leadership roles… including the highest in the government. Of course, we appreciate and applaud skill and leadership in women. We desire equal rights in the workforce and society at large. What then, is the problem?
“Are women respected in Latvia?”
Lienite’s response to this question gives us pause: “Yes and no. In Latvia, women are needed in high leadership positions. In these positions they are respected as long as they behave like men.”
Femininity is seldom understood and frequently rejected in today’s culture. The term itself, so ethereal and hard to pin down, warrants attention. One might define femininity as the essence of authentic womanhood. However, perhaps the easiest way to understand femininity is to contemplate what it is not. Femininity is not beauty, though it certainly highlights that which is beautiful. It is not sex appeal, though it accentuates a natural sensuality. It is neither hairstyle or dress code, household chore list or choice of profession. It is not meekness of speech or weakness. Simply put, it is not external. Femininity is an internal compass navigating how a woman relates to the world around her. It provides her with a natural capacity to nurture and empathize. It forms her relationships, her desires and her identity.
Femininity bears starkest contrast with feminism. The assumption of ideological feminism, perhaps initially well-intentioned, nearly always leads a woman to denial of her true self. The woman who seeks to live by and find her worth in feminism is one who has been set onto parched land to build her house. Here she finds, not her natural resources, those with which she is adept and able, but few and foreign materials. She is told that using her own (feminine) matter would make her house weak. The reality is that the house built on the foundation of feminism does not strengthen her. It traps her. Conversely, the life and home constructed in authenticity makes her free.
Here is the crux of the matter. Latvian women are being asked to carry an undue burden. In the work place women must often play their roles with a false masculinity, all the while hiding any semblance of their stamped Image. They often have tendencies to deny any natural reflex to be caring, sensitive or intuitive. When a woman is aware of and in tune with her femininity, she will nurture. But in Latvia today, Lienite explains, “we are starting to find room for femininity, a balance between masculinity and femininity. At the same time, the external – the pressure to be beautiful – is immense. A Latvian woman must be simultaneously beautiful, strong, competitive and tough. She must carry the burden of mother and provider, dressed for success, building her house with the tools of masculinity. And she must shun her authentic self to play this role. This is a tall order and cannot be daily fulfilled. It leads only to guilt and despair. A piece of her is lost.” As Lienite poignantly states, “This is a woman who is losing herself.” She is trapped.
“Where is Hope?”
If anything may be said of the Latvian woman, it is that she is strong. She endures and she seeks hope. Satiating this fervent soul-desire is the purpose and intent of BBI’s women’s ministry and annual conference. Women across the nation are yearning for spiritual strength. They are thirsty for connection, for life change. We know that the answer, their Hope, comes from one place alone; the One who was there in the beginning and formed their uniquely feminine souls.
On March 5, 2016 women will gather from each end of the country; mothers, daughters and grandmothers; women of various ages, backgrounds, income levels and professions. They will represent a spread of denominations including Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Adventist and more. They will congregate, many with grieved hearts, yearning for news of hope and grace and joy. As Lienite and other Latvian female mentors share, they will find refreshment, encouragement and Good News. Their experiences will deepen as they share their life stories and lessons with one another.
The “I am Loved” Conference 2016 will speak to the issues facing Latvian women. Specifically, these include: relationship, singleness, co-dependency, calling, balance and femininity. Throughout the sessions, ladies will soak in teachings of truth and grace, encourage one another through sharing of personal and common struggles and form relationships to carry into the real world. Women have a meaningful role in Latvia. As Lienite explains, “In Latvia, women are keys for this country and each and every woman is a different key.” Lienite’s passion for counseling, love and encouragement into the daughters of Latvia is humbling and inspiring. She seeks to instill into her sisters the power of Psalm 139:14 which says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
What does it mean to be a Godly Latvian woman?
Strength. Responsibility. Hardship. Hope. Femininity.
Beloved daughter of the One whose Image she bears.
Natalie Meeks is a freelance writer from South Carolina. She and her husband are in the process of adopting a wonderful Latvian boy. During her first adoption trip, she served as a guest writer for Bridge Builders International. Throughout the process, she developed a meaningful new friendship with Lienite.