Sundoulos - Spring 2008

Dean's Column

Passion & Commitment in Ukraine – Lessons for Western Leaders

by Dr. Dennis Dirks

Spend a few hours with leaders of evangelical churches in Ukraine and you leave with an indelible impression: Ukrainian Christian leaders and others from surrounding countries are passionately committed. They burn with fervor for both parts of the Great Commission – reaching the lost and teaching all to obey. And in living out their passion, they overcome what to us are insurmountable obstacles. Their faith is tough, their commitments strong, tested and strengthened in the vortex of challenge, hardship, and unpredictabilities of life in that part of the world.

Six years ago, leaders of Kyiv Theological Seminary (KTS) asked Talbot to consider beginning a master’s level program at KTS. As we corresponded and visited their campus, it was quickly apparent that convictions were congruent with ours, and that hearts beat along similar paths. Theological commitments and their approach to theological education mirrored our own. It was obvious that leaders and faculty were serious about serving Jesus, not building programs as monuments to swollen egos. Likewise, they were most determined to preserve church leaders in the region, rather than sending them West for theological education only to have them remain, losing them to the needs of Ukraine and the surrounding region.

Before beginning a Talbot extension in Kyiv (Kiev) Ukraine last year, I interviewed potential students. From the moment conversations began, it was unmistakable their that hearts burned for God’s Word, His people, and lost souls. Sacrificial devotion was palpable. As I probed their level of preparation and commitment to the rigor of graduate level study, with imploring lips and eyes locked on mine, they pleaded, “Please give us a chance!”

Nineteen students began their course of study last March with all the determination and fire I had seen in earlier interviews. They came from Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and far eastern Russia (Siberia). Brimming with enthusiasm, students were keenly aware that theological study on the master’s level in Eastern Europe and Eurasia (Russia and surrounding countries) is still a novelty – they are pioneers. Most importantly, they showed their love for probing deeply in God’s Word; they enthused about being stretched in knowledge and understanding. These students cherish visions of the church in Ukraine and surrounding regions being strengthened as a result of what they learn. And they relish an educational process that intentionally pushes them toward further personal transformation through the work of the Spirit. Often, these students are not at all sure how course requirements will be completed. It is not clear how tuition, textbook, and travel bills will be paid. They wrestle with all of this while continuing to serve in full-time ministries that annually pay half the monthly wage of the typical pastor in the West.

In the Kyiv Extension, Talbot offers its complete Master of Arts, Biblical and Theological Studies emphasis (68 semester units of study). The program is held on the campus of KTS in two-week intensive periods of instruction, four times a year for four years. Minimal tuition is charged. But with annual salaries around the equivalent of $3,000, affordability is a primary issue. Still, efforts are underway to bring students from as far as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Leaders of KTS model courage under fire. They are prepared to abandon lifelong associations and relationships to remain true to clear teachings of Scripture. Love for the hearts of Eastern Europeans burns brightly in their own hearts. They are intensely committed to strengthening the church to reflect our Lord’s priorities. Willing to resist culture, even Christian culture, to be obedient to the Lord, they share a profound desire to indelibly mark students to do the same. In my judgment, these are courageous models of fervent, unwavering faith who have much to teach us in the West.

Dr. Dennis Dirks is Dean of Talbot School of Theology and Professor Christian Education. He has been with Talbot for more than 27 years as a faculty member and administrator after serving on the staff of two churches.

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