COVID-19 ‘catalyst’ for Ukrainian Baptist seminary

Russell Woodbridge was only supposed to have been in the U.S. for a week, but because of COVID-19, now it’s going on three months.

“We got caught on vacation in Florida — we had just brought some lightweight clothes to visit our daughter and see our first grandchild,” he said.

‘Always challenges’

But even though, like much of the world, the semester didn’t end as planned for the seminary where Woodbridge teaches in Ukraine, the changing times have opened up new possibilities.

Before COVID-19, they were looking at starting online learning opportunities.

“This has been a catalyst for that to happen,” he said.

In recent years, things have been going “really well” at Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, which Woodbridge — an International Mission Board missionary — helped relaunch in 2014.

They’ve grown from around 50 students to nearly 800. They also started an international missions program and a church planting program.

“There are always challenges,” Woodbridge said, noting that sometimes they have needs for more staff, space and funding. A new building was supposed to be ready by the fall semester, but he said he’s unsure if that will happen in light of everything that’s going on. He’s also not sure when he’ll be back in Ukraine.

But in everything, “God has been faithful,” Woodbridge said. “We’re looking at this very positively and looking at how we can accommodate people better.”

During the coronavirus crisis, program directors have maintained meetings with students through technology. It’s been a great way to continue what Yaroslav Pyzh, seminary president, said is the heartbeat of the seminary’s vision — mentorship.

‘Continue trusting’

“Our vision is simple. We want every local church to baptize more people and for that we believe that some changes need to take place — changes in human hearts, in the church and in our attitudes for each other,” Pyzh said. “We are convinced that mentorship is the way for changes to take place.”

The seminary’s mentors help students get ready to live out their mission, he said. “We’re trying to help every student realize he is accountable to God and accountable to his local church.”

While the seminary continues to train ministers and missionaries during coronavirus, Woodbridge said the staff is trying to “take advantage of what’s happening because God is obviously working.”

He asked for prayer for seminary staff and faculty to have wisdom on how to move forward.

“Please pray that we would continue to trust God and learn from the situation how we can better serve people in Ukraine through the seminary [and] through the local church,” Woodbridge said.