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Professor Trip Reports

November 2019 - Bob Beasley

I calculate that this November 2019 trip was my 22nd trip since I began teaching with RITE in May, 2008. What a great joy to see men and women come from all over Ukraine to study with us, then to go back to their home churches to teach and serve others! 

 

I taught the “Sermon on the Mount” to the newer students, as I often do. They, like most everyone who enrolls at RITE, were bright, alert, asked good questions, and were eager to learn God’s Word. The students thrilled to the great themes in the Sermon, and particularly at Christ’s teaching with the authority of the God who penned His Law at Sinai. The Sermon is, of course, aimed at Christ’s followers; those who have been chosen out of this world—who they are in Christ, and what they are to look like—little Christs. 

 

For the more advanced students, I taught “The Doctrine of Man in Relation to God.” What happened to mankind in Adam’s rebellion is foundational to the biblical doctrine of salvation. We are made in God’s image, but that image in one respect has been terribly corrupted and twisted by sin. Our reason, emotions, health, desires, and the like were badly damaged in the Fall. Spiritually—our friendship with the living God—was totally demolished. We died in Adam the very day he sinned and became God’s enemies. God must resurrect us from our spiritual graves and give us new life in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. Most, if not all, of the advanced students understood these things foundationally, but the class gave them more insight into its biblical testimony.

 

I was joined in Kiev by Pastor Bernie Van Ee from Alaska. Then, for the final week, my wife, Amy, joined me to celebrate our 26th anniversary. She brought along one of our grandsons, Gabe Anderson (14). They joined us for classes one day, and for the rest of their week, enjoyed the sights and museums of the Ukrainian capital. 

June 2019 - Dr. Jim Benecke

Dr. Van Ee with Bob and Students

I am safely back home from Kiev, praise & thanks be to God.  And to those of you who prayed for me—especially my wife Barb—I give you my humble thanks.  To say that my time at the Reformed International Theological Seminary in Kiev was great would be a monumental understatement.  This will stand out as one of the most important journeys of my life. I will never forget this experience and I have been deeply moved and changed by my time teaching, my time with these wonderful students, and my time with Van and the staff.  I must say that the most difficult aspect of my trip was being away from Barb, and so very far away at that.  I refer to her often in these Wednesday e-mails and in our Saturday morning studies.  She is my greatest earthly treasure.  When I am apart from her, I am impoverished.  The students learned quite a bit about my wife from my comments, especially about the impact of the loss of a child on a marriage.  They all asked if she would come over some day.  They felt as if they knew her.  Several gave me gifts to bring back to her.  One student, Vadym, wrote her a note thanking her for allowing me to come to Kiev.  It is written in Ukrainian (they use the beautiful Cyrillic alphabet), so one of the translators read it to me.  It was a very moving and powerful expression of love & gratitude.

 

Most of you know that my assignment was to teach the following:   A Biblical Perspective on Suffering and Affliction—humbling for me to address this topic to  a group who had lived in the crucible of suffering.  In the course of my teaching the students, translators, and faculty learned much about Andrew.  I was most encouraged for their questions regarding his life and accomplishments.  Were it not for his death, I certainly would not have this level of interest in suffering and affliction.  And to think that Andrew’s life and death has now touched lives in an area beyond Eastern Europe is something that I never could have imagined.  God is indeed good.  He will use suffering to ultimately bring glory to His name and to His children who have endured the dark night of the soul.  Clearly Andrew’s life was not cut short; it was complete, and it continues to be used of God.

 

Intentionally I did not inquire much about what to expect, other than details of my teaching assignment and the necessities of life I needed to bring.  I did not want to have any biases or preconceived notions and this was most helpful.  My very first day in the classroom—rather basic, much like my elementary school classrooms—I knew that God had placed somewhere very special.  Many of the students were from the Donetsk area in eastern Ukraine.  Ukraine gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, but Russia has always had a deep interest in Ukraine.  In 2014 Russian troops invaded the Donetsk area killing thousands and destroying homes and buildings.  The students from that area escaped with nothing but their clothes on.  They have lived in poverty ever since and their needs are vast.  That said, the joy I witnessed in their hearts because of their relationship with Christ was very moving and humbling.  I have never truly known material need.  These students love Christ.  They have a proper and high view of Scripture which they devour and memorize.  And they have a high and proper view of God.  The evangelical church in America could definitely learn from these materially impoverished yet spiritually enriched students. As I fondly recall my time with these students, I am reminded of a wonderful statement from A.W. Tozer:  “The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One.  Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be the source of his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after one, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the Source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight.  Whatever he may lose he has actually lost nothing, for he now has it all in One, and he has it purely, legitimately, and forever.” 

Dr. Jim Benecke

March 2019 - Dr. Van Lees

Dr. Lees with Vlad and Lida

In March, I was back in Kiev, Ukraine for another teaching session. Dr. Merle Messer was my teaching partner this time and, as usual, we had a great time together. Dr. Messer taught courses in hermeneutics to both classes.

I taught church history from around A. D. 300 to A. D. 750 to our Bachelor of Divinity I students. When I was in Kiev in September, I taught the first part of early church history to this class so we picked up where we left off then. We covered the ecumenical councils, the issues involved in each one and the results. Therefore, this was also a quick overview of Christology. The last section in the class dealt with the beginning of Islam and the Islamic expansion throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain.

I taught a class on the sacraments to the Bachelor of Divinity II students. We spent a lot of time on baptism dealing with the mode of baptism and the proper recipients of baptism. We looked at the various debate points between the Credobaptists and the Paedobapists and presented arguments for the Reformed view of baptism. We also examined the various views on the Lord’s Supper: the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, the Zwinglian, and the Reformed views. Since these students are third and fourth year students, they’ve had some material on these subjects in other classes and we addressed various questions that had been in their minds from hearing some of the material before.

As always, it was great to be with our students and translators there. Our students are always very attentive and eager to learn. Listening to translated lectures for around seven hours a day is not the easiest thing to do, but they are always focused on what is being taught.

One nice thing is that the weather was generally pretty mild. When I was in Kiev in March last year, there was about ten inches of snow and a lot of ice on the sidewalks. Anytime it would get warmer and melt some we had small ponds on the sidewalks and roads to navigate. This time it was pretty much in the 40s F. the whole time. That made things easier and generally more comfortable.

November 2018  - Bob Beasley

I was delighted once again to be joined in Kiev by my good friend, Bob Drake, of Asheville, North Carolina. Bob retired recently as pastor of Covenant Reformed PCA where he served for 35 years. It was our fourth trip to Ukraine together. This time, Bob taught Biblical Theology to the newer students and Christian Philosophy to the more advanced group. My only regret of the time there was that I was unable to sit in on those classes!

            I taught Judges to the advanced group and Sermon on the Mount to the new students. According to Merle, this was the first time Judges has been taught at RITE. I believe the book is foundational to our understanding of human depravity and what the Church would be without the power of God’s indwelling Spirit. Judges also contains a treasure trove of portraits of Christ and His wisdom working through weakness. It is also thrilling to teach Jesus’ Sermon to new students. For most of them, this is the first time they have seen the Sermon as indicativeof who we are in Christ, and containing principles of how believers are to live in this world. It is a description of Christian character, not a code of ethics or morals. 

            On our final day, we drove Bob to the airport and said our goodbyes, then I waited for my wife, Amy, to arrive for a week together. She came over to celebrate our 25thanniversary. We enjoyed visiting friends and seeing the sights, not bothered at all by the cold November winds in the city.

Bob with Student Bogdan

October 2018 - Win Groseclose

Tom and Win at the WWII War Memorial in Kiev

In 2009, while speaking at a conference in Moscow, one of the American speakers told the Russian pastors: “You need to learn English so that you can read all of the wonderful theological writings available in our language.” While I understand his point, there was a part of me that recoiled at his statement. And so, when it was my time to speak, I told the pastors there what I have told our students at RITE since I began teaching in 2005 — I long for a day when people will say, “You Americans need to learn to read Russian so you can read all of the great theological literature available in that language.”

After 13 years of teaching and preparing students through RITE, I think that we may be closing in on a time when our students are going to be writing and publishing Reformed theological texts in Russian and Ukrainian. What a joyous day that will be when some of our students begin to instruct the churches in the west — and given the state of the western church, we are in desperate need of such instruction.

Many things have changed since I began teaching in Donets’k in 2005 — the location has changed and our students come from a broader geographic region, but much remains the same. The students are hungry to learn, they aren’t content with simplistic “canned” answers to questions, and Natasha and Yana are still walking alongside of those of us who teach, ensuring that we communicate truth to the students. It is a good place to labor in God’s kingdom and I am eternally grateful for the privilege of doing so.  Win Groseclose

October 2018 - Tom Smith

Well,I survived teaching in Kiev with Win. My time there was good. It was better than I expected.

Natasha & Jana were very good translators. The students were kind, considerate, polite, attentive, studious, inquisitive and eager to learn. I taught apologetics to the 2nd year students, which I perceived to have gone well. It will be interesting to hear Natasha's take on it.

I taught pastoral theology to the new students. They were generally more quiet and shy than the 2nd year students.  Despite my preparations to teach this class, I was not satisfied with it. I would like to revamp how I present the material. If one is going to have a course/class on "pastoral theology", then to me the key word is 'theology' and pastoral is the adjective describing it.  But from what I can find out there, others take pastoral practices or clinical practice and re-label it as "pastoral theology".  It took Jana & me about a week to hit our stride in terms of lecturing and translating.

The apartment was comfortable and convenient for Natasha to pick us up and close to a metro station, as well as to shopping and restaurants. Overall, my time in Kiev was pleasant. I probably chewed on Win's ear a bit too much. We had great conversations every night and did not get into any arguments (not that I recall). Time with Win was one of the biggest blessings of the trip.Thank you for the opportunity to teach. I hope it works again for me to go and teach again.

Yours in Christ, Tom Smith

September 2018 - Kirk Swanson

            This trip was special in that my son John accompanied me to Kyiv.  He had some time off from work and wanted to meet his Ukrainian ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ. Classes started Monday at 10 with introductions, room assignments and translator assignments. John attended morning classes with me and afternoon with Dr. Lees, then switched at the start of the next week so he could meet the other class. Dr. Lees taught two history classes and I taught An Introduction to the New Testamentto the first and second year students in the morning and the third year students in the afternoon.  

            We first looked at what the New Testament revealed to the church. The stated purposes of the Gospels was to reveal Jesus Christ as Savior so that sinners might repent and believing have eternal life. We studied the Doctrines of Inspiration, Prophetical Fulfillment of Messianic promises, how Jesus fulfilled the Covenants of Grace, and the change in Covenantal Signs.  Obviously, we just touched on these important doctrines and not without some class discussion.  We looked closely at Jesus’ revelation of the Persons of the Trinity and how hard it must have been for the Jews of Jesus’ time hear Him claim to be God’s Son, clearly making Himself God. The God who revealed Himself as I AM that I AM, and “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is One,” the power, glory and authority of God was revealed before the disciples’ very eyes. Jesus also revealed the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. We looked at the failed history of the Jews to faithfully follow God under the ministry of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and John the Baptist. In looking at these Old Testament prophets we heard God declare the hearts of the people were as hard as flint. For 500 years nothing changed and so it should not have been so surprising that the majority of Jews rejected Jesus.  

We also touched on Biblical Criticism. After the Gospels, we discussed the book of Acts, the continuation of the Gospel of Luke in Acts as the Holy Spirit takes the Gospel message to the world.  The Epistles followed and finally, Revelation. By the time we got to Revelation it was the final hour of each class, which only allowed a general overview, but as I had promised, I solved none of the mysterious signs or events. However, the more advanced class had already had Dr. Lee’s class on Revelation.

            It was a privilege to introduce John to everyone, old friends in the third year class, good friends in the second year group and we both met seven of the eight new students. We had some rather ‘open’ discussion with them about election, baptism and the covenants. It is easy to forget how strange these doctrines sound to new students. The strangeness was solved for the most part by stating, “this is the Reformed view,” and then taking questions between classes. 

            We had seven of eight new students in attendance. Tatiana and Bogdana were the new ladies to the class. Bogdana’s parents Sergei and Anna are in their third year. She and Ninel (second year) did most of the Scripture reading in class. Impressive for a new student. Tatiana is very quiet but completely attentive in class. 

            Dimitry is from the church where our graduate Vadim ministers. Again, he is a knowledgeable and serious student who it appears has a good grasp of the basics of being Reformed. Vladimir, another solid student comes from the church our Pastor Eugene used to be associated with in Donets’k.

            Sasha is a younger man seemed to understand some English and seemed to be enjoying this new atmosphere he has joined. He did not speak to me much but did with my son John, enjoying the English practice.

            Younger Sasha is a thin and serious student. He asked few questions but they were good questions and showed a good grasp of the topic. He also normally wore a smile when he wasn’t sitting taking notes. That’s a plus at any time.

            Older Sasha came from a difficult life and is baptistic for the most part. A serious student, we had several good conversations between classes and during the lunch break when he could find a translator and me out for a walk.

            As always Dr. Lees provided a jazz recital after lunch most afternoons. If you haven’t heard Dr. Lees play, the students have him on Facebook. My son John also followed two sessions playing a borrowed guitar and singing.

            As always it is a blessing to serve the Ukrainian Church through sharing the richness of God’s Word.

NOTE: See the “Current Students” page for photos of the new students.

June  2018 - Dr. Van Lees

     In June, I was back in Kiev, Ukraine. This time I was teaching part 2 of a class on the book of Revelation. I did the first part of the book in March. My teaching partner was Greg Roig. Greg was teaching the theology of John using John’s Gospel, Epistles, and Revelation so the two classes went together very well. Like usual, our students were very focused on the material and had good questions. It’s always enjoyable for a teacher to have such attentive and interested students.

     We also had our annual graduation. A couple of days before the scheduled graduation, the students graduating give an oral presentation and defense of their final thesis paper. They then answer questions we ask them about their work and then any questions other students may have. These papers average around 40 to 50 pages each. Sometime in the spring before this session, they submit their papers to Yana, one of our translators. She and I go over them on Skype. Often we give the students corrections or suggestions on how to make the paper better. This becomes a part of the learning process both in how to write a larger paper and the subject of the paper itself.

     This year we had three graduates. Through the years, I find our graduations to be a bittersweet experience. I’m very happy for our students’s graduation and their accomplishment of finishing our program. On the other hand, I’ve gotten to know these people very well through the years and I miss seeing them in the school after they graduate. However, we always tell them that they are welcome to come back and take any class they are interested in hearing again or one that might not have been offered during their time with us. Often our past graduates come back just to say hello and tell us details about the ministry work they are doing. In fact, this last session one of past students, Eugene Grinishin and his wife, Yana, came to visit. They are working to start a church in the Donetsk region not far from the war area. It is gratifying to see our past students at work evangelizing and teaching.

  

Graduates Vladimir, Sasha, and Valery

Mark, Dean of Students Sasha, and Oleg

March 2018 - Jim Carmichael

And the deed was done. We finished everything about 45 minutes early for which I think all of us were thankful to the Lord. I think the students will do well on Van's and my exam. My class went very well as far as I can tell and the students were very appreciative. At our seminary, it is the custom for the

students to buy small gifts for the professors and present them to us as their way of saying thank you for coming. I always feel awkward because these students only have the money we give them to spend. On that note, most of the students wear the same clothes for two weeks straight. They are most thankful for whatever we do for them. It is said that the one who teaches gets more out of the material than the students. This has been the case with the counseling curriculum and me. A study of Romans six, our death to sin, and being raised to newness of life has been a breath of fresh air for me. I've sensed the Spirit of Jesus at work in my life in some interesting ways because of this class.

Last night it snowed a little and that made it colder this morning. When driving on the four lane divided highway to school (25 minutes one way), the solid middle line is more of a suggestion than a deterrent. Passing a car on the right can be a bit hairy if an oncoming vehicle decides to move into our lane a

couple of feet. It's best to study your notes & not concern yourself with such incidentals as crashing. God is good. The sun came out one time in the past two weeks, so I’m looking forward to seeing it when I get home. So please don’t borrow it for a couple of days. Van and I need to get up at 2:30 AM this morning in order to be ready for Natasha to drive us to the airport by 3:30 AM. Cabs are unreliable at that hour of the morning. Needless to say, we will be

poooooooped by the time we arrive home. Please pray that we can both sleep on the plane so the transition back home won't be so severe. The students will take their finals tomorrow so pray that they do well. Thank you all for praying for us. Semper fi in Jesus, Dr. Jim Carmichael.

(Ed: Jim’s article was taken from his Facebook post the evening before he and Van left Kiev for home . I thought it spoke for all of us who go over to teach.)

Dr. Van Lees with RITE Class

Jim Carmichael with Alexander

October 2017 - Dr. Van Lees

Last June I taught part 1 of a systematic theology class on eschatology. In October, I did part 2 of the eschatology class. In this part, I addressed a series of questions that our students had and had the goal of giving them the tools to evaluate various eschatological perspectives. I’ve taught this class several times in the past and have always had a very good response to it. Similar to the United States, the most common eschatological viewpoint is Dispensationalism. During the class, we look at that perspective and examine the major flaws in the system. This ties in closely with the class on God’s covenants that I’ve taught regularly in school 

We were able to give each of our students a copy of The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson in Russian and in September we gave each of them Berkof’s Systematic Theology in Russian. I was able to give reading assignments from each work that related closely to the class. We don’t have any place to store a school library in Kiev like we did in Donetsk, but we are able to find some good theology books and give them to each of our students. They are very inexpensive compared to U. S. prices.

It’s hard to believe it has been almost twenty years since I first went to Ukraine in 1998. During this time, I’ve seen Reformed theology grow in the country. The basic biblical knowledge of incoming students has also increased from what it was just a few years ago. From just my causal observation, the gospel and good theology is spreading in the country. Your prayer and financial support of this ministry is greatly appreciated and is having good results.

Students in the Lunchroom

October 2017 - Kirk Swanson

Van and Kirk with the Two Natashas, Graduate Nickolai and Valery, (An Earlier Photo).

I left the evening of October 4th on an all-night flight to Amsterdam and then Kiev.  In Amsterdam I had time to grab a cup of coffee.  Starbucks of course, where I met a Canadian Teacher who taught at a private High School.  He was a biology teacher but also planned and accompanied the students on yearly field trips to overseas locations.  He was currently rejoining a group in South Africa.  The school was church based he said, but any or no religion was acceptable.  He said he had no religious beliefs.  He asked about my trip and was surprised that I was teaching from the Bible (2 Peter) in Kiev.  I asked him about his classes and some honest questions I had about evolution from a DNA- mutation perspective.  (My BS is in Physics/Oceanography and have always wondered about this area.)   He said quite frankly, he’d never bothered to consider those aspects of biology and had no answers for me.  It might not sound like it, but it was a very friendly and engaging conversation that went on for nearly an hour.  He started out very skeptical of a creation view-point but in the end said it had some valid points, that biology didn’t have answers for.  He also admitted after our discussion that he should examine the life of Jesus.

I arrived a few days early to adjust to the time change (Kiev is 7 hours ahead of Atlanta).   It was 85 degrees when I left Atlanta and in the 40s and 50s in Ukraine.   Cool, especially in the mornings, since there is no heat or hot water until mid-October in the large apartment complexes built in the Soviet era.  We were fortunate and had a small water heater over the refrigerator.  You could shower if you only used water to lather and rinse or you could do the dishes. 

I taught one combined class to all 29 students in the afternoons.  As we had to travel together the 45-55 minutes to the Seminary, I prepped in the morning.   The class went well and I have always appreciated the depth of Peter’s two Epistles.  Passing on Peter’s understanding of the churches’ need for defending her precious faith and doctrines was a delight.  The students had to produce a sermon outline (men) or Bible study (ladies) of 3 points.  Their focus had to be found in a text from 2 Peter or Jude (we never got to Jude in the class discussion but we allowed its use).  They had 20 minutes to present an oral introduction to their sermon or Bible study and the first point with its supporting arguments.  These presentations took up most of the afternoons of our second week.  I would teach one hour then had 3 hours of presentations.  Dr. Lees sat in on the presentations and remarked that, as a group, they were the finest he had yet heard from the students.  They were quite pleased to be so recognized. 

One note, if you noticed there are fewer students in October, down from my trip in June.  4 of our students have had to drop out of Seminary to find full time work.  They could not find enough part time work to add to the stipend we give them to continue their studies.  They were all good students, including one couple.  They are finding work in Poland!  It bothered me a great deal at first.  They were so near graduating this spring but are having to leave before finishing.  But as I considered this further, I realized they were going to be taking the Gospel to Poland!  A place, I, in all probability will never visit much less teach there.  They are well prepared for their new lives in Poland.  I got a picture yesterday of two of the men meeting in Poland for fellowship!

Our translators were fantastic as always.  Natasha, our lead translator, Registrar, driver, event planner, purser and guide is the Pearl of great price.  So when we heard her apartment had no hot water, Dr. Lees and I purchased a hot water heater for her apartment, $400 installed.  All our staff are refugees from Donetsk where the Russians took over. Indeed, that meant heating water on the stove from April to October.

Finally, the trip home.  We had to get up at 3 a.m. to catch our flights at 6 a.m.  My flights went through Amsterdam, my favorite airport in Europe.  The best airport omelet period is found at the Dutch Kitchen.  On the flight home I sat next to two young ladies and their mother.  They were returning from a mission trip to Kenya.  Their church visits an orphanage there every summer.  One of the places they get orphans is a remote lake island where HIV is prevalent.  They were told by the Kenyan who runs the orphanage this is the last year he is taking women to the island as ISIS has moved on to the island and is gaining a foothold there.  He believes by next year it will be too dangerous for Kenyan or foreign women to visit.  There is much need for Jesus’ Gospel throughout the world.

           

I wanted to thank you for your prayers and support.  Again, I was a fill-in Professor, this was my second trip this year, I was not thinking of going.  Yet the need is great.  In Matthew chapter 9 Jesus said, “36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  As I pray that prayer, it’s hard not to respond and go when the task is laid before me. 

God Bless, may He give you grace and peace