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Class credit for real-world experience: BPC’s Spring Break in Belarus

Group picture
BPC students and English-as-a-second-language students, who were also nonbelievers, visited with each other to share cultural experiences while enjoying an American transplant, McDonalds. BPC students are Kasey Lewis, back row; Becky Barnes and William Kilpatrick, third and fourth from left in the middle row; and Kimberly Kline, front.


By Kelley M. Arnold

BPC Director of News and Public Information

MOUNT VERNON—Instead of taking a break from school during Spring Break 2007 (March 2-11), four BPC students stayed in school – well, almost. “School” may have been almost 5,200 miles away, but it was still school.

These juniors and seniors attended a five-day, seven-hour-a-day combined class session with students at Minsk Theological Seminary in Belarus. The course, taught by BPC Religion & Philosophy chair, Dr. Hal Ostrander, as part of a college spring mission trip, gave both BPC students and the Belarusian seminary students a chance to not only earn college credit (3 hours of credit for BPC students) but to learn valuable lessons and insights into differing world views.

William Kilpatrick (in yellow shirt), Becky Barnes (front left)
William Kilpatrick, left in yellow sweater, leads a debate with his Belarusian classmates during an Apologetics Practicum course taught by BPC’s Dr. Hal Ostrander over Spring Break 2007. BPC students received three course hours for the intense five-day class held at Minsk Theological Seminary in Minsk, Belarus.

“As far as apologetics is concerned, these students will be better able to defend what they believe (from this course), but being able to utilize that in another nation with an altogether different world view than ours gives them a completely new, exciting experience. It’s both knowledge and experiential,” said Dr. Ostrander. “Also, having been somewhere else and experiencing what they did, it will help them all the more here in their life’s work, whether that’s ministry or something else.”

During the day, the Russian and English-speaking students worked together on class assignments in mixed groups with interpreters. They also challenged each other in debates about aspects of their faith. Other course requirements were to write two book reviews, keep a journal and take a final exam on Friday, the last day of class.

 “The camaraderie that developed by the end of the week between the Belarusians and our students was pretty remarkable,” said Dr. Ostrander. “They connected as brothers and sisters in Christ; it was a unique experience. It makes you realize there is this universal body of Christ. Wherever you go in the world, God has his people there.”

Jesus Saves
“Jesus saves” in English and Russian are bold on a projector screen used in a contemporary worship-style service in Minsk, Belarus. BPC students and accompanying advisor and professor, Dr. Hal Ostrander, attended the Sunday afternoon service in one of a few evangelical Christian churches in the country. (Photos by Dr. Hal Ostrander)

In Belarus, the government tolerates the Baptist faith but thinks of it as a “cult”, grouping it together with the Mormon and Jehovah Witness movements, explains Dr. Ostrander. The Minsk Theological Seminary is the only evangelical Christian seminary in the nation of Belarus, and it has been “sanctioned” by the government as “safe”.

Senior Kasey Lewis saw the class experience as a needed witnessing tool to “enable the people there with answers to defend their faith when nonbelievers presented questions or doubts to them.”

After class ended for the day, BPC students also visited with other college-age students who wanted to learn “better English but who weren’t saved”, said Dr. Ostrander. These students were from another college in an English-as-a-second-language-course. Monday through Wednesday night about three or four of these students, mostly females, would meet with BPC’s group and go out to dinner – at McDonalds. One night, senior Becky Barnes, an early childhood education major, got the rare opportunity to share her testimony with one of the young ladies.

“One of the questions I asked her, in talking about her life and culture, was ‘Do you go to church?’ She asked me if I meant Christian, which means Russian Orthodox to her, or Baptist. I said I was just curious. She said that she went to the Baptist but only because she wanted to learn English. I didn’t ask her anymore about her faith because I didn’t want to press her, but she brought up my faith two more times.”

Baptist church in Belarus

A new Baptist church is being built in a village west of Minsk, Belarus. Only 1 percent of the nation is evangelical Christian, and the Baptist faith is considered a “cult” by the government.

In the end, Barnes was asked by the young woman to explain the difference between Barnes’ faith and what her peers, and 99 percent of the country, as Russian Orthodox, believe. Essentially,

Barnes put her class experience to a real-life test.

“That shows you God was working. She kept asking me questions,” said Barnes. “And I answered her. I did ask her if she would like me to get her a Bible, but she said no in the end.”

The experience on this trip has encouraged Barnes in both her faith and her career plans.  She decided “just after this trip” to pursue an international church planting masters degree in seminary, and eventually return to Belarus to serve in their small evangelical Christian community.

“There aren’t people in Belarus claiming that they can cast out demons like here in the U.S., but the devil doesn’t need that to cause confusion. The structure of their religion breeds ignorance. It’s a war. I feel like they need workers (missionaries) even more,” added Barnes.

Other students attending the course/trip were senior Christian studies major and pastor of Blockhouse Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Ga., William Kilpatrick; and, junior ministry major Kimberly Kline, who describes the experience as “the best week of her life.”

To learn more about the annual mission/course trip, contact Dr. Ostrander at (912) 583-3116 or e-mail him at



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Updated on: April 15, 2010 8:26 PM