As I follow the news of Russian troops moving into Ukraine, my heart is broken as I think back on my two trips to the Ukrainian capitol of Kiev. There are many believers in Ukraine today and they have been trusting God during this terrible time. I found myself broken and encouraged at the same time when I saw brothers and sisters singing praise to the Lord while sheltering in underground train stations that I once stood in.
It was encouraging to see a family singing He Will Hold Me Fast while their country was being invaded by Russia.
It was not always like this when Ukraine was under Soviet control. The church was primarily underground during this dark period of time. Then in the early 1990s, the Iron Curtain fell and God did some amazing things — especially within the state school systems throughout the former Soviet Union.
I remember well when three Russian education officials came to an ACSI convention in Anaheim, CA. These leaders included Dr. Alexander Asmolov, deputy vice-minister in the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, Dr. Olga Polykovskaya, the Russian Ministry of Education Chief Specialist for moral education, and Dr. Alexei Brudnov, Chairman of the Russian Alternative Education Department.
They were there to extend an unusual invitation. Speaking on behalf of the Russian Ministry of Education, they asked these educators to join The CoMission–a group of sixty plus evangelical Christian organizations formed to instruct Russian public school teachers how to teach Christian ethics.
When asked why this invitation was being extended to the CoMission, Dr. Asmolov said,
When discussing the possible contacts between Russia and the United States, we usually mention the economic crisis, but this is only part of the problem. The spiritual crisis is more important. It took 40 years to take the people of Judea from the desert. For 75 years we have been in the desert of communism…This philosophy resulted in tragic things for the souls of people. Today we are discussing new things for the souls of people…I want to emphasize that today Russian education is open for Christian values.
Russian Deputy Minister of Education, Eugene Kurkin had earlier made the following observation.
Seventy years ago, we closed God out of our country, and it has caused so many problems in our society we cannot count them…We must put God back into our country, and we must begin with our children.
I will never forget being at that convention along with over 8,000 Christian school educators. Over the next five years more than 150 four-day convocations ministering to over 42,000 teachers were held throughout Russia and the independent countries that once made up the Soviet Union. The theme for these convocations was Biblical Morality as a Foundation of Society.
However, the ACSI conference was not my first experience with the CoMission and teachers in the former Soviet Union. In 1992, I found myself settling into my room in Kiev, Ukraine. This was the first of five trips that I would take to the former Soviet Union with the CoMission. On this occasion, we conducted a convocation with over 400 state teachers in Kiev and then traveled by train to do another convocation in Minsk, Belarus.
These trips changed my life forever. My conviction that every child needs to receive a Bible-based, Christ-centered education was cemented firmly in my mind and heart for all time.
Today, my heart aches for the people in Ukraine, especially in the city of Kiev. My two translators, Helen and Svetlana, graciously helped me share the truth about God and His desire to have a relationship with all mankind through the work of Christ on the cross. I was privileged to witness hundreds of teachers receive the precious gift of God’s salvation. After a public showing of the Jesus Film, I was also able to share the Gospel with six young Ukrainian teenagers.
During the Kiev convocation, I led the group that was made up of Ukrainian school directors. The very first question I was asked made me realize why authentic biblical education was so important. One director asked me how these types of conferences would go in the United States. The man was shocked when I told him that they would not be allowed as it would be illegal to teach public school teachers biblical morality as a foundation for society. His response still reverberates in my mind today. He said,
Don’t your people know that education without God is empty?
These precious people knew the devastating consequences that resulted from a government that was driven by the false ideology of communism. They had personally witnessed the crumbling of their society as Christianity was banned and atheistic evolution was taught to the young people of the country. Even though the majority of these educators told us that they were card-carrying members of the Communist Party and atheists, they soon realized that the only hope one can have comes through redemption from sin by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Throughout the time when the CoMission was conducting these four-day convocations, the church-state issue was always being debated. One of the key leaders of the CoMission was Paul Eshleman who was the director of the Jesus Film Project and the International School Project. Eshleman had a prophetic voice in this debate when he explained his convictions.
The biggest lie in the whole world today is the separation of church and state. It is absolutely the most devastating, wrong thing ever perpetrated on mankind. The very first thing we ought to do is develop our whole educational system around the Scriptures. It’s the principles for how to live life. If you think you can raise children without Scriptural principles, you’re doing it exactly wrong. Every educational system ought to be shot through with the Scriptures…. We need to realize that educators are in a difficult position because they don’t know how to allow Christian principles to be taught and not have to give the same opportunity to people from cults and all kinds of other issues. So it puts them in a bad state. But they certainly can teach the moral teachings of Christ without turning any school into a worship center. (emphasis mine)
Eshleman went on to say,
Should it be open for every other religion in the world? No, I don’t think it should be. That’s because I’m a follower of God and His Word. And that’s why I think the Bible ought to be taught in the public school system.
We find ourselves in a similar situation that the Soviet Union found itself in the 1990s. It is true that we still have many of our religious freedoms in our country. However, it has been 60 years since prayer and Bible reading were removed from our public (state) schools. We are now living in a totally secularized culture where it is declared that there is no such thing as absolute truth. I see many of the same consequences facing us today that I saw the people of Kiev struggling with during my first visit there.
Even today’s Christian schools are no longer completely built around the Scriptures and very few classes are “shot through with the Scriptures.” I continually hear from teachers and administrators that a greater percentage of their parents do not have a biblical worldview and do not understand a biblical philosophy of education. Unfortunately, this is also becoming true for many of their teachers.
I am more determined than ever before that we must challenge the home, church and school to unite under a biblical philosophy of education (Kingdom Education™). We must empower parents, engage the church and transform schools through Kingdom Education™.
I am praying that many Christian school leaders and pastors will join those who have already registered for one of this summer’s Kingdom Education™ Summits. It is my desire to have more schools become KEM Prime Members like several Christian schools in Ukraine are. Through this membership hundreds and maybe thousands of Christian school educators can get the training needed to develop a biblical worldview and embrace a biblical philosophy of education (Kingdom Education™). A school’s membership also gives all enrolled families full access to these valuable resources.
We must grasp the truth that education without God is empty. As Eugene Kurkin said several decades ago, we must put God back in our country and must begin with our children. We must unite the body of Christ in a concerted effort to make disciples of the next generation that will impact the culture. We must have the courage and conviction that we are witnessing in the Ukrainian Christians today. Pray that God will protect them and bring peace to their country.