Bear Valley Bible Institute of Ukraine
Article written by Terry Harmon
The Progression of BVBIU
When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, countries that were once a part of the Soviet Union began to seek their independence. At the same time, American Christians realized that God was opening the door to evangelize in places which had been forbidden for nearly seventy years and began traveling in large numbers to these various places. Due to the friendly religious laws, many congregations of the Lord’s Church were established as literally thousands of Ukrainians became Christians. Largely in part to campaign work organized by Eddie Cloer (Editor of Truth for Today magazine), the Church was established in a great manner from 1992-94 in the city of Donetsk and areas surrounding it. In one campaign alone, some 1,500 souls were baptized and to this day, the Church is strongest in the eastern part of Ukraine.
After this time, many Americans continued to come to Ukraine to teach Bible to the locals in churches and in special seminars but no Preaching Training Institutes had yet been established. In 1997 Dr. J.J. Turner, the then Director of Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver, had an opportunity presented to begin such a program in Kramatorsk. Dr. Turner met with Lee Tse Gao, Director of KEGI (Kramatorsk Economic-Humanitarian Institute) and together they developed a plan for using this facility as the meeting place for men and women who were interested in Bible training. In September of 1997, the first Bible training institute in Ukraine was begun, that being BVBIU (Bear Valley Bible Institute-Ukraine). Both men and women were enrolled in the classes but those men who wanted to be preachers were given special training. Additionally, students who were interested in the Bible from KEGI were also enrolled in the Bible classes.
Location of the Facility
While in Kramatorsk, the BVBIU program grew but it was limited due to the amount of available classroom time and space at KEGI. When Dr. Denny Petrillo became the President of BVBID in 2004, a decision was made to find a facility for BVBIU, so that there would be complete freedom to meet at any time and to structure the program in a different manner (more about this later). A search then took place in the towns of Kramatorsk and Slavyansk for nearly two years but nothing compatible was available. Finally after this, communication transpired with brother David Fletcher of Montgomery, Alabama, and the operation of a completely renovated building located in Gorlovka, Ukraine was turned over to BVBIU. Thanks be to God, not one penny was paid for obtaining the building! BVBIU now operates out of this location and currently maintains the regular monthly operating costs.
This facility is far superior to anything that could have been bought and restored because it had been overhauled at a time prior to skyrocketing inflation costs in Ukraine. It provides plenty of classroom space for the two-year undergraduate program and is able to accommodate graduate courses when they are in session. The library is quite large and the building itself hosts a local congregation of the Lord’s Church (the preacher is a graduate of BVBIU and teaches in the program) and often allows for special seminars and/or Youth Meetings.
The BVBIU Program
As stated earlier, the BVBIU program initially began in Kramatorsk, attempting to train men to preach alongside students from KEGI. Sometimes this was successful and sometimes it was not. When the transition was made to Gorlovka in September 2007, a decision was made to focus solely on training men to preach (or women to be able to teach women/children in the Church). Due to the new facility and unlimited time constraints, the focus has been given to training men to become preachers, which mirrors the Bear Valley Bible Institute in Denver and all other Bear Valley extension schools. This means that in a two-year period there are more than 1,800 hours of Bible training and the students participate in four campaigns, spread all over Ukraine. Nearly 75% of the classes are taught by Ukrainians and just a handful of Americans still participate in this process. The goal of all BV extension schools is to eventually “turn over the reigns” to the locals and now at BVBIU, Ukrainian brethren are in the main leadership roles. Our belief is that the locals will be more successful in reaching out to their own people, rather than having too strong of an American presence.
Dean / Director
The first Dean of the program was Brother Buck Hall, who served from 1997-2002. Buck was vital in establishing many contacts in Ukraine and served as the mediator for American brethren. Buck also had many years of preaching experience and was an accomplished instructor, therefore the program moved forward during his tenure (until 2002), the first of two-five year contracts for BVBIU, at which time he relocated back to America full-time. [Buck later went home to the Father, after contracting cancer, and passed on in 2008]. In 2002, Terry Harmon assumed the duties as Dean since he had previous mission and language experience working in Moscow, Russia from 1995-98 and also had grown up at the Bear Valley congregation. Terry served as Dean from 2002-10, but has since relocated back to the States due to a rare medical condition which affected his youngest son.
As of September 2010, the current Dean is Dennis Sopelnik, a very godly, bright, and energetic Ukrainian who has been groomed for this position. After graduating from BVBIU in 2005, Dennis began participating more and more in the program and was showing a lot of potential. He then went on to obtain his Master’s Degree from BVBIU and soon began teaching full-time. As a natural-born teacher (God-given ability) who has a Christ-like attitude, Dennis has earned the respect of the students at BVBIU. His stable presence also is a big plus in the Church and has proven himself as a very capable leader / recruiter / preacher.
Extension Coordinator / Sponsors
Back in 1997, in the initial stages of BVBIU, there was not an official Stateside Coordinator. Buck Hall maintained most of the duties of attempting to serve as the Dean in Ukraine and coordinate with the brethren in America, so as a result, he did a lot of traveling back and forth. In 2001, David Hamrick was assigned as the Extension Coordinator for all of the Bear Valley extension schools worldwide and placed Pat McIntosh as the Stateside Coordinator for BVBIU. At that time, the Main Street Church of Christ in Pikeville, Kentucky served as the sponsoring congregation. All of these brethren worked hard in furthering God’s Kingdom in Ukraine during this time.
In 2007, Bob Turner became the Worldwide Extension Coordinator of BV Extensions and Howell Ferguson soon followed as the Stateside coordinator for BVBIU. Bear Valley Church of Christ (Denver) is now serving as the sponsoring congregation but funds are collected by brother Dennis Curd in Christiansburg, Virginia. Since 2005, Howell has made many trips to Ukraine with his wife Mary and spends each fall and spring on site in Gorlovka, up to three months at a time. Howell and Dennis Sopelnik are in contact with each other on a regular basis regarding the work and if you should have any questions, thoughts, or would like to donate to the working funds of BVBIU, please contact Howell at 731-345-0023.
Howell Ferguson - BVBIU Coordinator
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