By Andy Rist in Ukraine — Nikolai’s* journey began in central Russia, where he was born into a strong Muslim family. Throughout his youth, he embraced his heritage and was quite radical in his belief system. After his service in the special forces unit of the Russian Army, the Lord brought Nikolai to a small village in western Ukraine. There he met his wife and started a family.
While Nikolai was living a very worldly lifestyle, God used a local pastor to invite Nikolai’s children to a Bible day camp. Over the next few years, Nikolai’s children, then Nikolai and eventually his wife all trusted in Jesus.
Nikolai quickly developed an insatiable thirst for the Scriptures and a desire to serve in the local church. This former Muslim and military man now desired intensive training in God’s Word and greater discipleship and exposure to mature believers — all difficult to find in his small village. So, two years ago, he entered the Pastoral Leadership program at Kyiv Theological Seminary.
Nikolai is like a sponge in the classroom, where he interacts with all the concepts and ideas presented in the lectures. His spiritual growth has been fostered through mentoring relationships, pizza fellowships, one-on-one discussions, and prayer with his professors.
As Nikolai’s seminary program director, I have especially enjoyed getting to know him. I was intrigued by his testimony and desire to serve in the pastorate, but sensed that Nikolai wanted more than just an academic understanding of the Bible — he wanted to be more Christlike in his daily life. This is our goal: transformed hearts and lives.
Over the years I’ve learned that true discipleship is more than a series of discussions and conversations. It means leaving the “ivory tower” of the seminary campus and getting involved in our students’ lives. We travel all around Ukraine to connect with students where they live and serve.
Last summer my family, as well as a team from the US, joined Nikolai to conduct a youth camp in his village. The banner photo above shows how many young people attended and heard about Jesus.
“I would never have imagined my professor and program director playing with these kids and serving alongside me,” Nikolai said. He added that through our relationship with him, he better understands how to apply the principles he learns in the classroom to his life in the village.
What a privilege it is to walk together with Nikolai, passing on what God has entrusted to me as Nikolai passes on to others what God has entrusted to him.
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will be able to teach others also.” — 2 Timothy 2:2
Be disciples. Make disciples. Let’s do both, together.
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*To protect Nikolai’s ministry, we’ve changed his name.