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Division of Religion & Philosophy / BPC opens doors in Russia
BPC opens doors in Russia:
Missions, ministry and educational exchange
By Terry Gaston
BPC Public Relations
In the past two years, Bob Hartman International Ministries has paved the way for Brewton-Parker College to open previously closed evangelistic doors in the former Soviet Bloc.
Most recently, Dr. Hal Ostrander, Chair of Brewton-Parker’s Religion & Philosophy Division, led a group of four students to southwest Russia for a week of ministerial opportunity during the college’s spring break of March 4-12, 2006.
As that trip was ending, Brewton-Parker’s president, Dr. David R. Smith, and Dr. Evans Whitaker, president of Anderson University (S.C.), traveled beyond the Ural Mountains to the Asian side of Russia, to the city of Ekaterinburg, seeking academic partnerships unprecedented with any American institution.
|Brewton-Parker College senior Frank Bowden, Dr. Hal Ostrander, senior Daniel Peavy, junior Becky Barnes and junior Chip Taylor stand in front of the tomb of Vladimir Lenin in Moscow following their mission trip to Krasnodar, Russia, and Kuban Evangelical Christian University the week of March 4-12. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Hal Ostrander)
Dr. Bob Hartman, a former consultant with LifeWay Christian Services’ student ministries division, arranged for Ostrander and members of his Apologetics Practicum class to visit Krasnodar, a city of about one million in Russia’s Kuban Region just north of the Black Sea.
Hartman also arranged the Ekaterinburg trip and originated its conception with Smith, who wrote the funding grant.
The class originally planned to visit the former Soviet republic of Belarus, where Ostrander took a group during Spring Break 2005. However, the U.S. ambassador there discouraged travel by Americans during the March elections. Ostrander said the potential for arrests was still very real following the elections earlier in the month.
So the group of five was directed instead to the Kuban Evangelical Christian University (KECU). While there, Ostrander lectured on intelligent design one evening, an event that drew not only theology students but students from other universities as well, some of whom professed to be atheists.
As a result, one KECU student will now write her 30-page Bachelors thesis on the topic of intelligent design.
Other BPC students shared their testimonies at the university. Chip Taylor of Sylvania, a recovering alcoholic for nearly 19 years who took the Apologetics course along with studies at Georgia Southern University, spoke at an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center. Taylor was ordained as a Baptist minister in April 2005 and was recently named Director of Missions at Wades Baptist Church in Cooperville, Ga.
“There were 20 to 25 people there and one young man said he had vaguely heard of there being a 12-step program,” said Taylor.
|Chip Taylor (left), a member of Dr. Hal Ostrander's Apologetics Practicum course at Brewton-Parker College, shares through an interpreter with a group of Russians in a an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in Krasnodar, Russia, how God has turned him from alcohol and drug abuse 19 years ago into an ordained Baptist minister during the class trip to the Kuban Region near the Black Sea from March 4-12. (Photo courtesy of Becky Barnes)
Because of his work experience in alcohol and drug recovery assistance for six years, Taylor said he feels a definite call of returning to Russia in the late summer.
“They said 60 percent of the men in Russia are suffering from alcoholism and only 1 percent are saved,” Taylor said. “God has blessed me with so many things and I want to make myself available and take advantage of those opportunities when I can.”
Becky Barnes, a junior Early Childhood Education major from Savannah, was the only female member of the Brewton-Parker group but was quickly embraced by several KECU coeds and several other women at the rehab center.
“At the drug and alcohol center, one of them asked, ‘Do you know Jesus?’” said Barnes, who was invited to have tea with some of the university students and shared in the national Women’s Day celebration on March 8.
The Brewton-Parker delegates were guests of International Mission Board missionaries Luben and Rhonda Mliakoff, who served as the group’s liaisons.
“Another missionary couple lived above them and we would get together with (all of) them,” said Daniel Peavy, a senior Communications major from Warner Robins.
Frank Bowden, a senior Christian Studies major from Columbus, recalled a seven-course feast they shared with friends of the Mliakoffs, “and we basically had church in a bedroom they had converted into their living room.” The group sang hymns, the Americans in English and the Russians in their native tongue, and Bowden said it was “like a koinonia experience in the book of Acts.”
“Anywhere you go you can find brothers and sisters in Christ,” he added, with Peavy adding, “They would say in what little English they know, ‘We are brothers in the faith.’”
|Dr. Hal Ostrander, chair of Brewton-Parker’s Religion and Philosophy Division, ministers through music while at a multi-cultural gathering during their March mission trip to Russia. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Peavy)
The group visited Sochi, a port city on the Black Sea, and on their way home they stopped in Moscow and visited the famed St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square along with the GUM or “State” Mall. They tried visiting the tomb of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, but it was closed because of the Russian Orthodox Sabbath.
Peavy’s somber observation of most Russian citizens – “they were gloomy, dark with frowns, lots of orphans, and alcoholism, they said, was estimated at 40 percent” – received an uplift, even in Red Square, when the group met some missionaries from Life Aid Ministries.
Peavy also said he visited with a man from Macon on the flight home who had served as a missionary in Russia for the past six years, and Bowden said they also encountered a group of 20 Christians from Illinois and others from South Carolina, Michigan and Colorado on their way to Moscow.
“It was comforting to know that we were not alone and that the body of Christ is reaching out to Russia,” Bowden said.
En route from Atlanta to Moscow, they also met and visited with two Presbyterian ministers, and while waiting for their flight to Krasnodar, the entire group met a Muslim and shared Christ with him.
“So in our first hour in Russia we had the chance to witness and Sasha heard the gospel,” Bowden said.
|Brewton-Parker College senior Frank Bowden (center) and junior Chip Taylor share their faith with several Russians in their homes during the mission trip. Dr. Ostrander said there were many opportunities to witness during discussion at the dinner table. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Peavy)
Although it was not as planned as President Smith’s mission, Ostrander said he got to talk with the KECU president, Dmitri Lavlov, and that he was very curious about the prospects of beginning an exchange program with Brewton-Parker.
Preliminary dialogue produced discussions about having student exchanges along with either Ostrander or Christian Studies professors Dr. Jerry Ray or Bryan Cribb teaching for a week during a summer.
“There is a lot of hopelessness there, but we are opening doors for Christian academics to be introduced,” Ostrander said. “Their facilities are very sophisticated and impressive. They have flat-screen monitors and their Internet access is as fast as ours.”
The presidents’ trip to Ekaterinburg – a city of 1.2 million people in the Ural Federal District named after Catherine the Great – was funded by a grant from the Consortium for Global Education, a group of 44 Baptist colleges representing about 60,000 students.
“They focus on taking Christian higher education to the rest of the world,” Smith said.
The presidents spent six 12-hour days working with International Mission Board personnel and visiting with city officials and the presidents of six provincial universities.
“They were very receptive,” Smith said. “Each of the colleges was interested in creating student, faculty and cultural exchange programs.”
While the universities in Ekaterinburg have developed partnerships with European and Asian institutions, Brewton-Parker and Anderson are the first American colleges to attempt to develop working exchange partnerships with the institutions there.
They also met with the curator of a prestigious art gallery in Ekaterinburg who was interested in exchanging student art with the American institutions. In addition, they met with officials from a secondary school who were interested in using American pedagogy to strengthen their curriculum.
“We hope that through such exchanges, we can not only develop cultural opportunities but provide Christian testimony that might lead to evangelism and discipleship,” Smith said.
They also met with 12 pastors of small evangelical churches and shared a meal with a Russian Baptist congregation.
“My respect for Russian higher education has increased considerably,” Smith said. “The academic programs that I investigated were equal in quality to American programs. The difference is they do not have as many academic programs and student access is limited. And, of course, all higher education there is secular.”