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Much of the world’s attention is focused on the border of Russia and Ukraine after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March. Meanwhile, NATO is concerned that Russian forces on Ukraine's border could carry out an "incursion" into the country. What is it like to live and minister in this part of the world?
Located a short drive from the Russian border is Zaporoxhye Bible College and Seminary (ZBCS) founded 20 years ago by Joanne Schmidt Mackey, a 1986 graduate of Columbia International University, and her husband Mark. For eight years the school’s president has been another CIU alumnus, Vladimir Degtyaryov who graduated from CIU in 2001.
ZBCS has 110 students. Its mission is “the formation of Christian ministers capable of planting churches or carrying on ministry so that effective and faithful witness to Jesus Christ is heard throughout all Ukraine and beyond."
To gain insight into what it is like to minister under such political tensions and uncertainty, ZBCS President Degtyaryov answered the following questions in an email Q&A:
What is the reputation of Zaporozhye Bible College and Seminary in the community?
In the nearly 20 years since ZBCS first opened its doors to students, the school has developed a respected standing among those in government and society in general with whom we have had dealings on multiple levels. We have an excellent relationship with the public schools of Zaporozhye, where we have conducted special programs (children's camps, English programs, seminars in "ethics") during these years. The college has hosted a special two-week intensive course in English every summer since our founding and, while in the beginning it was only for our students, for the past decade or so it has been open to the general public and has won great respect in the community. Necessarily having to interact with government offices on various matters (e.g., land purchase), the college has a reputation for honesty and integrity, as an institution serving Christ, which is vital to our overall witness.
In light of the political tensions in Ukraine, what is the atmosphere like at Zaporozhye Bible College and Seminary?
Naturally, we all feel very, very deeply about what is going on right now. Let me be clear that we experience no "tensions" in the sense of conflict between anyone among our faculty, staff or student body. We certainly feel, however, the prevalent tension over the political and international situation. We are committed to prayer, and to maintaining our fundamental peace, and joy, in Christ, even though there are moments for tears and mutual comfort. Life is going on "as normal" in spite of the situation. We work, we teach, study, joke, laugh, eat and relax together, but of course the national crisis is constantly pressing on our hearts and frequently bringing us back to prayer.
Your city and school are not far from the Russian border. Do you feel threatened?
I will say that we are "aware" of the sense of a threat. Mostly the feeling is one of great uncertainty, a vague set of varying possibilities. Zaporozhye is only about a five hour drive from Crimea in the south, which Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces have taken and occupy. We are not much further than that from the Russian border in the east, where the Russian army has amassed perhaps 50,000 men. It is impossible to imagine Putin attempting a complete military takeover of Ukraine, which would certainly be a disaster for Putin. It is more realistic to imagine him trying to take the southeastern sector of the country, which, they say, mostly feels greater loyalty to Russia. The Zaporozhye province is historically right at the divide, politically, between "east" and "west." The current feeling in our province seems to be more strongly pro-Ukrainian unity than ever, in reaction to Putin's aggression. So I will say that we feel the general threat that all of Ukraine now feels from Russia, which is already significant and will affect us all if Putin invades, and we also feel a greater immediate threat, to our province, than they would feel in the west of Ukraine--though we think perhaps we are just too far west, and too "Ukrainian" for Putin to seriously think of trying to take our province.
What have you and your colleagues been praying during this time?
We have been praying for God's protection for our country, for unity in Christ's Church, that He would give His people special power in the Spirit to hold out the Name of Jesus to all who are experiencing anxiety, confusion, anger or fear. We have been praying for peace. We have been praying against deception, violence and evil and for the vindication of truth in all areas of this situation.
How should believers pray for Zaporozhye Bible College and Seminary at this time?
We will be very grateful for your prayers! Please pray for our people--the students, staff and faculty--that the Lord would continually guide and imbue us with His power, to learn, know and do the Truth, and that His Spirit would powerfully keep us continually united and direct us in the development of the school's ministries. Please pray for our student enrollment - that God would bring us all the new students who He knows will have a life-changing experience at ZBCS. And please pray for our school's continued financial backing by many friends and supporters in Ukraine and in America.
How should believers pray for Ukraine?
Please pray for peace, and for Ukraine's leaders to be truly led by the wisdom of God. Please pray for God's power to defeat every evil and lie aimed at our nation. And mostly, please ask the Lord for a very special, powerful time of spiritual revelation, of Christ, to the hearts of multitudes of Ukrainians, while there is still time!