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Russian American Christian University helps train Christian leaders for new Russia

By Jonathan Warner, Professor of economics

This summer, for the third time in the past four years, I had the privilege of traveling to Moscow to teach a summer course at the Russian American Christian University. My wife, Lynda, was able to come with me and taught English part-time. Also there were recent Dordt College graduates Nathaniel and Emily Wilson, who spent the year after their graduation from Dordt working at RACU.

Jonathan Warner

Jonathan Warner

Few people were prepared for the rapid dismantling of the Soviet state and economic apparatus in 1991. Its collapse presented opportunities for new leadership but also great challenges. Dr. John Bernbaum, who has been involved in Christian higher education for the past twenty-five years, perceived the need and the opportunity afforded by the collapse of communism and, with support from eleven CCCU member schools (including Dordt College) and a board of eminent Russian trustees, raised the finances and support to start a Christian liberal arts college in Moscow to train Christian leaders. The Russian American Christian University (RACU) changed that and enrolled its first students in 1995.

During the Soviet period, Christian believers were discriminated against, and getting a place in a university was almost impossible. In addition, Bernbaum wanted to train leaders in two particular areas-business and social work. Neither of these disciplines was taught in Soviet universities, so both skilled practitioners and teachers were lacking. Added to which, no institution in Russia was attempting to articulate a Christian perspective in these areas.

The planned Soviet economy had no need for skills in marketing, market economics or finance, or accounting. Managerial skills were not considered a high priority either. But given the rapid growth of "mafia capitalism" in the 1990s, Bernbaum believed that Christian values were sorely needed in business. RACU now aims to prepare Christians for work in the various branches of business, and in government.

Corruption, my students told me, abounds in Russia. Part of the problem is the lack of clarity in the law; property rights are not well-enforced, and many businesses have schemes of dubious legality to overcome the complex local tax code. Encouragingly, a reform of the federal income tax code two years ago has paid huge dividends. A flat tax of thirteen percent replaced a set of rates and regulations almost as complicated as the U.S. tax code, and, to everyone's surprise, the government's income from tax revenues soared. Mafia bosses presumably figured out that the cost of bribes to evade the tax was greater than the cost of actually paying it. But much remains to be done, and a generation of Christian businessmen, well-versed in the theory and practice of business, and able to articulate the way their faith affects their work, should be agents for change.

Officially, the Soviet Union had no need for social work. Problems caused by unemployment or poverty, for example, simply could not exist, as everyone was guaranteed a job (indeed, had an obligation to work), and those too old or too disabled to work were provided with a pension from the state. Of course, severe social problems did exist, and continue to do so-the high incidence of alcoholism in Russia is symptomatic of underlying problems. (The large number of empty beer bottles lying around public parks is mute testimony to the heavy consumption of alcohol in Moscow.) Christian social workers are sorely needed to bring hope and comfort to the city and to demonstrate the skills of the Western social work profession to their Russian colleagues.

Each time I have been to Moscow, my classes have been held in a different location. This year, RACU is renting a building near the Novodevichy convent and cemetery (final resting place of many second-tier leaders, such as Khrushchev and Raisa Gorbechev, wife of the last Soviet president). But land for a permanent home has been secured in northern Moscow, and building will start after sufficient funds have been raised.

Russian students are keen to learn, and it was wonderful to be able to interact with them. Many of RACU's graduates have gone on to responsible positions. One I met on my first visit is at present in the United States learning to fly a plane-he wants to take the Gospel to remote areas of Siberia and, together with his wife who is a doctor, establish schools and clinics, and teach business skills to the people. But that's another story.

For more information about RACU, you can visit http://www.racu.org/