Teaching for last two weeks at the Ukrainian Bible Institute was one of the most challenging things I’ve done in quite a while. It’s not that it was especially difficult, it’s just that the preparation and execution of it all really stretched my abilities in a way they haven’t been stretched for a long time.
I think one of the reasons why the task was so formidable was because this particular class—Introduction to Exegesis (or Effective Bible Study, as I prefer to call it)—was a very important class in my own spiritual growth during my days at Sunset. For me, it was a paradigm shifter. The world of Bible study never quite looked the same after the time I spent with my own instructor, Charles Speer. Because it was so important to me, I wanted it to be important to them. The thought that my poor job teaching the material could sour them to the subject was frightening. One friend on Facebook, upon hearing I would be teaching this class, said, “I took that class years ago. Don’t remember a thing!” I really didn’t want my students to be able to say the same.
Preparation was the first big hurdle. I spent a couple weeks just reading and sifting through any information I could find, and I’m so grateful for those who guided me along the way. Even though this subject is extremely important to me, I’m certainly no expert. I poured myself over books and articles and other teachers’ materials, trying to find my own direction. As my own teaching outlines began to take shape, I realized I had no idea how to prepare for a three-hour-a-day teaching schedule, especially since it would all be filtered through an intepreter. I had no idea how talkative my students might be. I had no idea how many things would come to my own mind I would want to share while I was presenting the material already prepared. I eventually decided on a general page count for my daily material and prayed for the best.
The class got off to a fine start, but I wasn’t mentally prepared for the responsibilities which took place outside of the classroom. Even though I was only teaching for three hours a day, I would get up a couple hours early to go over my material and Keynote slides. After my class, I would prepare the next day’s slides (which were being translated into Russian and needed to be placed and formatted each day), as well as go over with a translator the homework that had been turned in. That was really an interesting experience because, for the most part, I could understand what the students were saying without the need for a translator. But, I could not, for the most part, read their handwriting. So I sat with the ever-so-patient Katya (and eventually, with Natasha), who would read the students’ responses to me out loud while I sat and listened.
The students were wonderful, and we were glad to have had the opportunity to stay with them in the dorms. They were all excited to have us, and we enjoyed getting to know them. They are all from very different walks of life, and have all come at different stages in their lives. One man is a doctor from Perm, Russian, and we realized sometime during the first week that Katie and I had worked with his sister in the AIM program many years ago. Another is a recently-converted Ukrainian Orthodox priest. Some students had spent time in a rehab clinic before becoming Christians. Others were older ladies who were just excited to spend their time studying the Bible. One man had become a Christian and decided to come to the school even though his wife wasn’t a Christian and wasn’t excited about his decision. She and his two older daughters are now disciples and they are all planning to do some big things in their hometown when he finishes his studies.
They were all so beautiful, and it was all so humbling.
It was also a gift to be able to spend time with the administration of the school. The interpreters, the office staff, the Ukrainian instructors, and the director and his wife are all wonderful people who believe very much in what they are doing. I’m blessed to have known them all for many years now.
And I of course couldn’t have done it without the support of my most amazing wife. Though our hearts ache to have children, we don’t pretend not to see the occasional blessings which present themselves simply because it’s just the two of us. Katie’s organizational skills were a huge help to me and to the students. Her honest advice made the class better every day. Her thoughtfulness, smile, and Russian skills drew everyone to her.
And I’m not sure why exactly, but we enjoyed a lot of time laughing together over the last two weeks. I love it when she laughs.
I got a lot of compliments on the class, and it looks as though they want me to return next year to teach it again. It was good to hear the students share a little bit about what they were taking with them after our studies together, but I have to say that my favorite compliment I got was from one of the students who really struggled in the class. He told me he could see that I really cared about what I was teaching and that I wasn’t just going through the motions. Knowing at least one person saw my heart in that classroom makes it feel worth it.
It really does.