ABILENE, Texas (ABP) — With a ministry field spanning 11 time zones, the task facing Alexander Kozynko and his Russian Baptist seminary is enormous. So he is looking for help from Baptist brethren in the United States.
Russia is home to 147 million people but only 1,400 Baptist churches. That's a ratio of only one Baptist congregation for every 105,000 people.
The tiny Moscow Theological Seminary of Evangelical Christians-Baptists has produced only 72 graduates in its 10-year history, but that number is expected to increase rapidly. The school's location limited enrollment for most of its first decade, the president said. Housed in the Russian Baptist headquarters building, the seminary couldn't accept more than 25 students, limiting the number of graduates.
Now a newly renovated building provides room for about 200 students, enabling the seminary to increase enrollment and produce many more pastors and teachers who will spread the gospel across Russia and Eastern Europe.
“Our goal is to train many more students for the ministry, not only for the Russian Baptist churches,” Kozynko explained. “We train many ministers from Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia and some from Kazakhstan.”
Creation of the school fulfilled an 88-year dream for Russian Baptists. “The first prayer for this school was said in 1905, at the first Baptist World Alliance meeting in London,” Kozynko reported.
The first seminary class in 1993 consisted of 17 students. Now the enrollment has grown to 57 students, and 29 of them will graduate next spring. The seminary offers three academic programs — the two-year master of divinity and three-year bachelor of theology degrees, plus a certificate for youth leadership.
“For Eastern Europe, our seminary is pretty important. Some of the smaller [Baptist] unions don't have a seminary. They have Bible institutes. Some of their students can be trained at this seminary.”
The biggest obstacle for most students is the cost — $3,000 a year per student for tuition, books, room and board. That figure is beyond the grasp of many Russian and Eastern European ministers and the churches that want to help them get an education, Kozynko reported.
“We require the students to pay tuition,” he said. “But the churches who are recommending them, they really are not able to provide scholarships. … We still look forward to increasing the number of students if we can get enough churches to provide financial and prayer support.”
That's why Kozynko has been visiting the United States, seeking churches that will commit to “adopt a student for three or five years and also support them as they begin ministry,” he explained. “I am really glad to extend our contacts to several places in the United States,” he said.
Kozynko's proposition — adopt a Moscow Seminary student and help launch a lifetime ministry — provides churches with a chance to impact Russia and Eastern Europe with the gospel, said Ronnie Prevost of Abilene, Texas, a member of the Moscow Seminary board of trustees.
“It's going to prove to be the mother seminary of Baptist work for the foreseeable and long-range future of Russia,” said Prevost, professor of church ministry at Logsdon School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene.
The impact of that reality is more far-ranging than Baptists familiar with U.S. schools might imagine, he added. “Not only is the seminary producing ministers — pastors and youth ministers — for the churches, but graduates are going out and starting Bible schools, Bible colleges and seminaries in their home regions.”
For example, one graduate who went back home to Minsk, in Belarus, to become a pastor, but he also started a Belarusian Baptist seminary.
“They are expected to start schools that will be doing the training of ministers,” Prevost said. “It's almost an accelerated paradigm of what we've seen as Baptists in the United States. … The ideal for any country is for the ministers to be trained within the context of their culture. They know their people best.”
When the young ministers land in their fields of service, they find unimaginable need but also incredible openness, Kozynko said. “In this way, we can affect society in a positive way,” he said. “Drug use and alcohol are destroying our society. … They are empty in their souls.
“But the Slavic people — Russians as well as Ukraines and others — are open to the good news. … Many people are after the truth in their lives.”