Special Theme Edition on the Current Ukrainian Crisis:   Volume 22, No. 3  (Summer 2014)

The East West Church &  Ministry Report has issued a special theme edition examining the impact of the current Ukrainian crisis on the church and ministries in Ukraine and Russia.

This theme issue is now available in pdf format in English,  Russian, and Ukrainian.

Read more about the East West Church & Ministry Report  in EnglishRussian, or Ukrainian 

The Christian School Movement in the Former Soviet Union

An Interview with Cindy Le Clair

Editor’s Note: The editor recently interviewed Cindy Le Clair, Associate Regional Director of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI)in the former Soviet Union, concerning the growth of Christian schools in the post-Soviet era.

East-West Report: When and how did ACSI begin working in the former Soviet Union?

In early 1990 evangelical pastors and Christian teachers invited representatives of ACSI to Central and Eastern Europe to help them explore the possibility of starting Christian schools. As a result of those meetings, in July 1991 ACSI, in cooperation with Romanian Christian educators, sponsored the first conference for evangelical Christian educators ever held in a former Iron Curtain country. More than 300 educators from nine countries, including Russia and Ukraine, attended the conference. In Moscow in January 1992, ACSI and Slavic Gospel Association co-sponsored, to our knowledge, the first Protestant evangelical educators’ conference held on the territory of the former Soviet Union (FSU). Because of over70 years of educational discrimination, Russian and Ukrainian Christian teachers with a higher education were very difficult to locate, so early conferences were open to Sunday school teachers, lay teachers who were sharing the gospel in public school classrooms, and a small percentage of non-Christian professional teachers who were recommended by Christian associates. Even with such a small percentage of professional Christian teachers in attendance, that first conference was attended by Vera Vegemite, newly appointed director of the first known Christian school in the FSU – Riga First Christian Gymnasium. She amazed conference attendees with her photographs and her report of the Latvian government’s gift of a run-down building to be used as a Christian school. The seed was planted in the minds of other conference participants.

The second ACSI/SGA teachers’ conference met in Kyiv, Ukraine, in June 1992. By this time the idea of Christian education for children (other than Sunday school instruction) was beginning to take root in the minds of some Christian teachers. Accelerated Christian Education(ACE) was also becoming interested in Russia and offering its English-language material and training for sale in these. In September 1992 ACSI opened a field office in Moscow staffed by two half-time American missionaries and two Russian assistants.

As early as Fall 1992, Christian schools opened in Russia in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar, and Khoums (Sakhalin Island) and in Ukraine in Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk. In many cases in these early days, a school was a single class that gathered in aspire room at a church, in a teacher’s apartment, or in a single classroom rented from a sympathetic public school principal, but the intention to provide a bona fide Christian education was there  In most republics of the FSU at that time, no legislation permitted even secular private schools, so parents registered their children as home-scholars(externat) and were required to have them periodically tested in public schools.

East-West Report: What is the current outreach of ACSI?

According to our records, over 4,000 teachers from 11of the 15 former Soviet republics (excluding Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Tadzhikistan) have attended our “Christian Teacher” conferences. However, since some teachers attend every year, the total number is less. In the former Soviet Union 42 schools (including a few Christian daycare centers) currently are members of ACSI. The largest number of member schools is in Ukraine (21); followed by Russia (15); Lithuania (2); Moldova (2);Belarus (1); and Armenia (1). These figures do not include schools for the children of missionaries in Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia which are also ACSI members.

Total student enrollment is just over 2,400. We have also provided some services for non-member schools in Estonia, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Most of our work with schools is with Protestants because almost all of our schools have been founded by Protestant churches. Concerning work with teachers, we see somewhat more diversity. We invite all Christian teachers to our conferences: including Orthodox in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and in Lithuania, Catholics. At every conference, however, the majority are evangelical Protestant Christians.

East-West Report: What is the extent of your publishing efforts? Can you discuss to what extent translated works have to be adapted for purposes of contextualization? And have Russians, Ukrainians, or others been recruited to write pedagogical materials for publication?

In our publishing program we generally try to choose books for translation that do not have to be greatly adapted. One of our principles of selection is to find materials that have appeal across cultures. In the case of anthologies, such as Philosophy of Christian School Education(ACSI) or Entry Points for Christian Reflection within Education (Christian Action Research and Education –CARE) we translate only the most appropriate articles. If a particular concept or example would not readily be understood by an average reader because of cultural Differences, we may add an explanatory note.

Our two most popular publications have been 99 Ideas That Work! Discipline in the Classroom by Sharon Berry (almost 16,000 copies distributed in five languages) and Understanding the Times by David Nobel (approximately 6,000 copies distributed in Russian). Probably because it is very inexpensive, practical, and it makes an attractive gift,99 Ideas has sold well. We know that quantities have been purchased by Christians working in public schools as giftsfor colleagues. Understanding the Times is a serious worldview book, purchased not just by Christian teachers, but by Christian universities, colleges, and seminaries.

For Christian schools in Ukraine we are currently working on curriculum projects in physics, mathematics, and Ukrainian life and culture, that in American terminology would be called a series of “scope and sequences,” with suggested reading materials. All the authors are Ukrainian. We previously published a Russian-language journal for teachers called Traces. The general editor and most contributing authors were Russian or Ukrainian. Next yearwe hope to launch a Russian-language electronic journal of methodology for Christian teachers. Our intention is for contributors to be Christian teachers from the former Soviet Union.

East-West Report: Can you speak of steps you have taken towards the development of indigenous Leadership

Presently about 50 percent of our conference and summer program lecturers are specialists or professors from the FSU. In March 2005, for the second time, we scheduled a Christian teacher conference in Minsk, Belarus, but because of political considerations we decided it would be better if North American and European lecturers did not participate. As it turned out, the conference was run entirely by Byelorusians and Ukrainians. We had all Russian, Byelorusian, and Ukrainian speakers, and our Ukrainian staff handled all conference arrangements.

As for indigenizing leadership, we have created regional advisory board of Christian school directors elected at our annual school directors’ conference. Unfortunately, to date, this board has been less active than we had hoped it would be.

East-West Report: Have there been steps taken towards eventual financial self-sufficiency in the ministry?

In January 2005 the ACSI board of directors decreed that, in principle, the various ACSI regions must become financially self-sustaining; the amount of time suggested for each region depends on the perceived difficulty of making it happen. The timetable for the former Soviet Union is ten years.

East-West Report: With what other Christian ministries, NGOs, and denominations have you worked most closely? Can you briefly describe several instances of collaboration?

ACSI is open to working with any organization that has an interest in promoting Christian school education or in teaching and learning based on Christian principles. Mainly on a person-to-person level, we have collaborated with scores of North American, European, and national organizations here in the FSU, including Bibles for Everyone (St. Petersburg), Lithuania Christian College (Klaipeda, Lithuania), Latvian Christian Mission (Riga, Latvia), European Educators’ Christian Association (EuRECA),Christian Schools Charitable Trust (England), Summit Ministries (Manitou Springs, Colorado), and professors from many Christian colleges in the U.S. and Canada.

One of our longest cooperative relationships has been with Summit Ministries. In our early years Dr. David Nobel gave permission to translate and publish his Understanding the Times in Russian, with Summit Ministries providing the funds for us to do so. Dr. Noebel himself participated as keynote speaker in several Christian teacher conferences and has continued to send a lecturer for the last several years to teach in our summer training program for teachers in Christian schools. Another extremely fruitful relationship has been with EurECA, as a source of knowledgeable contacts and potential speakers, but especially in the person of Dr. John Short, EurECA Traveling Secretary. Dr. Shortt has generously volunteered his time over the last decade to teach at many of our conferences, various seminars, and summer training programs. He has been an advisor and encourager in the development of other valuable contacts and resources.

A newer association is with Lithuania Christian College in Klaipeda, Lithuania. We have provided a platform for them to advertise their programs at our annual Baltic Christian Teacher Conferences and have helped with logistical support in TOEFL testing in Ukraine for their prospective students. In turn, they have generously provided facilities and staff support for two of our conferences held in Lithuania. The Lord has blessed us with a multitude of talented authors, speakers, and advisors, more than can be listed here by name.

East-West Report: Has ACSI worked with orphans?

Not specifically, but one of our member schools, “Father’s House,” was founded on the basis of a Christian orphanage outside Kyiv. Interestingly, the founder of that orphanage, Roman Korneiko, attended our first ACSI teachers’ conference in Moscow in 1992 while still medical student. He has told us many times that he felt God  called him to work with street children at that first conference! Other member schools that have a ministry to orphans and street children are “Rainbow Way” (Klaipeda,Lithuania) and “Elim” (Chisinau, Moldova).

East-West Report: Have you faced opposition from any governmental authorities or churches?

As an organization, we have not faced any particular opposition from anyone. We were registered very early in both Russia (1993) and Ukraine (1994).However, some of our schools have faced intense opposition from government authorities or local traditional churches or their representatives.