From Sunday, April 22, to Friday, April 27, two pastors from Oregon spent the overnight hours teaching theology over Zoom video conferencing to Ukrainian seminary students, made possible through International Theological Education Ministries. Classes began at 10 p.m. and finished at 2:30 a.m. Pacific Time (8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in Ukraine).
Originally this class on Christ-centered preaching was intended to be taught in person, but the current situation in Ukraine meant Robert Toornstra and Bill Wilton, Christian Reformed pastors from Classis Columbia, couldn't travel to meet the students in person. The students, who are nearing graduation, didn’t want to delay the coursework, so Toornstra, of SunnySlope CRC in Salem, Ore., and Wilton, of Sunrise Church in McMinnville, Ore., made the switch to an online format. Both had previously taught in person in Ukraine, with Toonstra making five previous teaching visits and three to Romania, and Wilton more than 10 teaching trips to Ukraine. They volunteer with International Theological Education Ministries, a nonprofit serving the countries of the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe with no-cost biblically based Reformed teaching and training. Toornstra has been on ITEM’s board since 2017. This session, with five enrolled students, was provided to the Evangelical Reformed Seminary in Ukraine.
Toornstra said that Ukraine has been unstable for some time now, and the threat of Russian aggression has been lingering in the area since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, but no previous teaching trips had to be canceled until the invasion of Ukraine by Russia this year.
Wilton and Toonstra worked with the Evangelical Reformed Seminary in Ukraine to set up the online classes. Toornstra said teaching lectures to students in an active war zone was not something he had ever envisioned himself doing. “During some of the lectures, we could hear air raid sirens going off, and some of the students had to leave the lectures to find shelter and safety,” he said. The five students and one translator who participated in the classes were mostly still in Ukraine, though a few had already been evacuated to other locations in eastern Europe.
“The future remains unclear currently,” Toornstra said, “but we do know that God is working, and all we can do is trust in him and his timing.” The students who joined Toornstra and Wilton for the April class expect to graduate at the end of May.