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BPC president, chair, students open doors in Russia
By Terry Gaston
BPC Public Relations
In the past two years, Bob Hartman International Ministries has paved the way for Brewton-Parker College to help open previously closed evangelistic opportunities in the former Soviet Bloc.
Most recently, Dr. Hal Ostrander, chair of Brewton-Parker’s Religion and Philosophy Division, led a group of four students into southwest Russia for a week of ministerial opportunity during the college’s spring break of March 4-12.
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 in seeking academic partnerships unprecedented with any American institution.
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 1 million in Russia’s Kuban Region by the Black Sea.
Hartman also arranged the Ekaterinburg trip and originated its idea with Smith, who wrote the funding grant.
The class originally was planning 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, and Ostrander said arrests were still being made following the elections earlier in the month.
So the group of four instead was directed to the Kuban Evangelical Christian University, during which Ostrander lectured on intelligent design one evening and drew not only the theology students but other Russian students as well including atheists.
As a result, one KECU student will now write her 30-page bachelors thesis on the topic of intelligent design.
The other students shared their testimonies at the university and Chip Taylor of Sylvania, a recovering alcoholic for nearly 19 years who takes the Apologetics course along with studies at Georgia Southern University, spoke at an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center.
“There were 20 to 25 people there and one guy said he had vaguely heard of there being a 12-step program,” said Taylor, who was ordained as a Baptist minister in Aril 2005 and recently was named director of missions at Wades Baptist Church in Cooperville in Screven County.
Because of his past experiences of working in alcohol and drug recovery for six years, Taylor said he feels a definite call of returning to Russia in the late summer, and asked that donations be sent to the church in care of Becky Anderson, 596 Scarboro Highway, Sylvania, Ga. 30467.
“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 the 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 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.’”
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.
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.”