From March 8 to 17, I visited Zaporozhe (or Zaporizhzhia, or any number of other Latin transliterations of Запоріжжя) and taught at Zaporozhe Bible Seminary (ZBS).
Zaporozhe is located toward the southeast of Ukraine, on the Dnieper River. It is a decent-sized industrial city, with a dam that provides hydroelectric power. When I told Ukrainian LCC students that I was going to Zaporozhe, they often responded with some polite variant of, “Why would you want to go there?!” Even my hosts at the seminary admitted that it’s not a tourist mecca with great museums and Old Town, like Kyiv or Lviv.
But I didn’t have much time for sight-seeing, anyway, as my main tasks were teaching for over 21 hours on the book of Chronicles; class prep; preaching at a local church and in chapel; and talking with the students as much as possible. Most of the staff members at the school spoke some English, and the students had English class as part of their studies. My teaching and any dialogue was translated into Russian by Vlad, a graduate of ZBS and Tyndale Seminary (Netherlands). (Incidentally: the first four male staff members I encountered at the seminary were all named Vladimir/Volodymyr, so I came to appreciate the function of patronymics.) Classes began at 8:30, followed by a coffee break from 9:45-10:15. Then we had another class period, and chapel and lunch. The third period was 13:15-14:30. This was the schedule for Saturday, and then Monday-Friday.
Except for my February 10 all-day stint at Evangelinis Biblijos Institutas in Šiauliai, this was my first long foray into teaching in translation. I’d preached before through an interpreter, but teaching was different. Of course, it meant that I only actually taught for about 10-12 hours, because everything I and the students said had to be repeated. But I actually found myself enjoying the process. I kept my sentences shorter and avoided run-ons and filler words. I had to complete my ideas, or else Vlad couldn’t translate them. Slowing down also helped my thought process. I’m certain that I taught more clearly and effectively in those 10-12 hours than I would have in 10-12 hours without translation.
The students were very sharp, interested, and gracious. In contrast to my undergrads at LCC, most of these students were adults–probably half were older than I am–who are already involved in ministry. Some have preached in churches many more times than I have. So it was a great opportunity for me to dialogue with folks full-time ministers and “meet them halfway” in terms of knowledge and practical experience. The conversations over coffee, lunch and dinner were also invaluable–I learned a ton about the history and current situation of evangelical churches in Ukraine.
I also found some interesting fodder for my ongoing research theme of evangelical theological responses to OT textual plurality. The students and their churches use the Russian Synodal Version of the scriptures, which perhaps is most comparable to the KJV in terms of authority and longevity. the Synodal Version follows the Textus Receptus in the NT, and contains a mixture of MT and LXX in the OT. So, we were not always working with the same base text behind our Bible translations. This was not so much of a problem in Chronicles, where the MT and LXX align quite closely, but we found some portions of Samuel and Kings that are textually messier. Interestingly, these Protestant students (all Baptists, I believe) had no uneasiness with this diversity, even though some had studied Hebrew and Greek and were clearly aware of the issues. I will need to take some time to digest their responses and clarify my own thinking, but I hope to publish something more “theological” on this subject at some point.
I learned a great deal, and I think that the students learned something as well. It is a great feeling to have made a contribution to something bigger than oneself. Beyond the value of providing a resource in the Russian language (I recorded all the teaching), simply serving as an instructor with a PhD in their master’s program helps the school, and I was thankful to be able to provide that service. (Most of their regular instructors do not have doctorates, only master’s degrees.) I’m grateful to our supporters back in the USA and Canada who gave extra funds for me to be able to teach this course at no cost to ZBS.
Overall, I enjoyed the trip very much, except that I was away from Corrie and the kids for nine nights. If I am invited back, I would like to take them along if possible, and then do more visiting and sight-seeing in the afternoons.
Here are some pictures from the trip: