What do you do when your Bible school is occupied by the Russians? If they use it as barracks, but also as a crematorium for their own soldiers? It’s unreal, but it happens. The school building is occupied, but the study continues with a new batch of theology students from a safer location in western Ukraine. An interview with Valentin Siniy, he has been committed for decades to the organization TCI (Tavriski Christian Institute), the Ukrainian theology institute.
It is still exciting how things will continue with the occupied Bible school. Valentin gets thrifty brief updates, but knows that on August 28-29, two parts of the five buildings were destroyed by a bombing raid. Because the Russian soldiers have their base there, it has also become a target for the Ukrainian armed forces. His Bible school is not the only one, more than 270 churches and holy places have already been damaged by the acts of war*.
New academic year started
The new academic year has started in a newly rented building in the city of Ivano-Frankovsk. 20 theology students started their new studies instead of the hoped-for 50 students. He notices that the new class of students have more questions about ‘the cause of evil’, about the role of wars in the Bible, about (spiritual) struggle and about the meaning of peace.
Valentin muses back to the good old days. “The TCI organization was founded in 1997 and the Bible School started in 2004. In recent years we have had thousands of children participate in one of the children’s camps, unforgettable moments for them. 140 – 160 students could stay overnight on the five hectares of the school. Since 2019 it has been recognized by the government as an official training center for bachelor theology program. Fortunately that is still the case.”
Where is God?
The whole war is frustrating to say the least. Valentin: “I’m angry at the Russian occupier, I don’t understand why this is happening. During a conference I read the Bible book of Esther and wondered where God was at the time of the attack on the Jewish people? You don’t read the word ‘God’ anywhere. Yet He was there and manifested through actions that people took. War makes masks fall away. Through all the stress, uncertainty and negative messages, your true self emerges. Main and side issues are separated. This results in vulnerable people who are open to help, to words of hope and the gospel.”
Photo impression of the new Bible school location
In addition to running the Bible School, TCI was one of the implementing organizations on Ukrainian soil in the recent seed and food project of Worldpartners in collaboration with Kerk in Actie. TCI has helped thousands of people with food to eat and food to grow from Ivano-Frankivsk and an additional location in Mykolaiv. They were intensive months in which all hands must be on deck to help compatriots in need. Valentin: “And food is still needed because Ukraine is at war. In the future, I would like to provide heated shelters so that they can survive the coming winter. We continue to discuss with Worldpartners how we can work together and answer the many requests for help we receive. The new Bible school students could help practically and spiritually to share God’s blessing in a bitter time.”
*Source Institute for Religious Freedom (IRF. July 16, 2022)