When God blesses, He often provides a way to act upon and enlarge the good thing that has come to pass. During the past year, a number of Russian Jewish people in Brooklyn received Yeshua as Redeemer and Messiah. In this special blessing we saw a need for immediate action: Jews for Jesus must conserve the good results by training these new believers to be leaders who could help bring others to faith in Yeshua. We could best do that by providing classes in Bible subjects that would challenge and encourage them. And so the idea for a Russian Bible Institute was born in the heart of Mitch Glaser, branch leader of Jews for Jesus in New York.
Mitch approached me about teaching the first classes, and I accepted his invitation. In the fall of 1994 I came to New York to teach new Russian Jewish believers. We began Saturday afternoon classes divided into two sessions: a two-hour lesson in Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and a one-hour lesson in Romans. It would be far different from the way I was accustomed to teaching at Moody Bible Institute. New Russian believers come from quite separate backgrounds and approach the Bible with far different needs.
We began the Institute with twenty students, then settled down to between ten and thirteen at any one session. Those new believers were extremely thirsty for Bible knowledge. After a lifetime of atheism and emptiness, their inner beings had been penetrated and saturated by the Word of God like sponges filled with water. With their first exposure to the Word came an increased hunger and thirst for more of it, and they asked questions.
Then some of the cultural differences between Russians and Americans began to emerge. Whenever one student asked a question, everyone in the class jumped in to provide an answer. It would happen so fast that the translator had no opportunity to interpret what was being said. That happened several times in an hour.
At first I was amused. I said, This sounds like a Russian schoolhouse!” They all laughed and said, “Yes, that is the way it works.” But then I realized that the lesson was being reduced to shared opinions. I had to insist loudly but with kind authority that this stop. I said, “From now on, only one person asks the questions. The translator will tell me what the question is, and I will provide the answer.” Finally we had some order, but still some tried to blurt out answers, and I would have to say, “Niet! Niet!” (No! No!).
In going through the Book of Romans, we had to spend several sessions on the meaning of justification. I had to explain to the class how when people are born again, God can declare them righteous and see each one as though he or she had never sinned. It was a hard concept to get across, but this was one example of the grace of God with which those Russian students had to wrestle. Finally they grasped its meaning.
As we discussed the various sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus, the meaning of the sin offering also came under scrutiny. They wanted to know what the rabbis did with the issue of atonement. I had to point out the differences: (1) In the rabbinical sense, Judaism is now a religion with no substitute atonement. (2) Moses and the Jewish believers of the New Covenant emphasized the necessity for the substitute atonement. (3) Under the Mosaic Covenant, the sin offering was a prescribed animal, while under the New Covenant, Yeshua is our substitute atonement. Once the new Russian believers grasped these concepts, they had the means by which they could evangelize their families and neighbors.
At the end of the first semester, eight students took the final examination. First I allowed them to ask questions for about 45 minutes. They chose to rehearse the meanings of justification, sanctification, faith, the sacrificial system and how Yeshua can take the place of animals and be our sin offering. The teacher-student exchange served as an example of the value of these biblical studies. Everyone who took the exams did very well.
Proof of the effectiveness of that Bible training came just a week later at a Russian retreat. Some 100 Russians attended, about half of them still seekers. The students from the Institute shared their testimonies, took part in some of the sessions and spoke to individuals about their faith with assurance and authority.
I thought to myself, the value of teaching them is already apparent. It is beginning to pay off in the kind of leadership they are presenting even now. One can already surmise what kind of leaders these people will become as they are able to further their studies in Bible subjects and doctrine.
For me it was a special moment. I had enjoyed teaching young people at Moody Bible Institute for years, but the response of those Russians was such an added encouragement to me. I realized that in the Institute we were training future leaders who would not only reach their peers with the gospel but would also be the means to train them.
The Institute has been a joyous task for me of entrusting knowledge to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).