Our Mission: Ukraine

ERSU: Celebrating 20 Years of Training Church Leaders and Four Gifted New Graduates

 

On May 29 the Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine (ERSU) celebrated its “20th” anniversary (really 21st since COVID delayed the celebration). Since 2000 ERSU has been training pastors and other church leaders for Ukraine and surrounding countries. That was the year that ERSU united the work of Odessa Presbyterian Seminary (organised by PCA missionaries) and the informal “kitchen seminary” in Kyiv (organized by missionaries from the Reformed Church of Netherlands (liberated)).

ERSU is the official seminary of two national Ukrainian denominations – the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine (EPCU) and the Ukrainian Evangelical Reformed Church (UERC) and is governed by a Ukrainian Board of ten men appointed by (and from) each denomination. While during our first ten years of existence, almost all of our faculty members and guest lecturers were from Western countries, in the past ten years we have gradually and increasingly been able to find well-qualified local men to teach. In 2019 we appointed our first Ukrainian voting faculty member, and our latest good news is that, God willing, we expect to appoint two more local men to faculty by the end of this year. All of our lecturers subscribe to the Reformed Confessions (Westminster/3 Forms of Unity), but we welcome applicants from any evangelical denomination, as long as they desire to serve the church in some capacity. Indeed about 60% of our 33 students are from other denominations (or countries).

 

During our ceremony on May 29 the academic lecture was given by Dr Willem VanGemeren, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He taught our course in Wisdom Literature and Poetical Books the following week. The previous week I taught our course in Acts and the Pauline Epistles.

 

ERSU’s graduates to date include at least 18 men serving as pastors, 5 as seminary lecturers, 2 as chaplains, 2 as consultant Bible translators, one as a biblical counselor and one as a missionary.

Indeed, for those of us on faculty, the main reason for joy on May 29 was not so much in marking a round date as celebrating the graduation of four of our best students and sending them on into new stages of ministry in God’s Kingdom! Unfortunately, Sergei and Ben, who were due to fly from Minsk for graduation could not attend in person as planned due to the cancellation of all air travel from Belarus after the recent “plane-jacking”! They joined others via live online broadcast. As Academic Dean (and incoming president from September) I had the privilege of giving the charge from God’s Word to these men to “keep on keeping on,” despite all challenges, until the end, for the honour of Christ. In many ways, these men’s graduation is the real fruit of ERSU’s existence, insofar as God has allowed us to contribute to their preparation. I would like to share with you their brief stories in their own words of how God has been calling and using them already.

 

Alister Torrens, ITEM Missionary to Ukraine

Meet ERSU's Graduates

Vasilii Agarkov (MDiv) from Kharkov, Ukraine - Student Ministry Leader, Preacher

 

“Hello, I’m Vasilii Agarkov, 29 years old and married to Viktoria. I graduated Kharkov National Automobile and Highway University with a Masters in Systems Engineering and Robotics. I’m a member of Kharkov Presbyterian Church, and came to faith at the age of 15. After university God called me to serve students in CCX (the Ukrainian version of InterVarsity) and then opened up the path for me to begin seminary. I’m a missionary, who co-ordinates the work of staff-teams throughout the whole Kharkov region. My main task is discipling and sharing the Gospel with students. My wife and I also minister to foreign students, and organise various projects and meetings.

 

 When I became a Christian I wanted to serve God, study in seminary and become a pastor, but I didn’t know how. My church and family both instilled in me a love for theology and the Word of God. I remember hearing at one conference about the great need for pastors in our country and I decided to try applying to ERSU. My session recognised God’s call on me and recommended the same. I thank God for the opportunity to study at ERSU. With all my soul I desire to share my knowledge with God’s people and to plant and develop presbyterian churches in Ukraine! Each day I praise God for His faithfulness, mercy and love, which he demonstrates through the faculty and lecturers!”

Rok Banko (MDiv) from Slovenia - Bible Translator

 

 “Hello! I'm Rok Banko from Slovenia. I'm a member of the Reformed-Evangelical church of Ljubljana where I sometimes preach. I was brought up in a devout Catholic family, but when I was 20 years old, I heard the gospel of salvation by grace through faith from American Internet preachers and I converted to the Reformed faith. I started reading the Bible then and was especially interested in the original Greek text of the NT. So for a few years I explored the Greek with the help of computer programs, and made a translation of the NT into Slovenian for myself. Afterward, I felt I needed to put more of my talents to practical use, to bring the gospel to majority Catholic Slovenia. I am immensely grateful to God that I found ERSU on the Internet. The support from the professors and the fellowship with the schoolmates has always been brilliant. I have some of my best memories from the student years here, and I think I got a broad outlook of theological knowledge that helps me to serve better and to know better where God could use me. As of 2020 I have also started studying for a MTh degree at Union School of Theology, Wales. Most of all I enjoy working in Bible translation, and have worked for the Bible Society of Slovenia as an assistant in Bible revision. I'm happy to say that I will participate in another revision which will start this June. Lastly, I also help out with a Baptist church plant near where I live.”

Benjamin Hornback (MDiv) from Kentucky, US – Missionary, Assistant Pastor, church-planter

 

 “I was born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky and first confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in university through a student ministry in 2005 after many long years of trying to be ‘good enough’ for God. I took a call to ministry and moved to Minsk, Belarus in 2013 to serve as a missionary. I began attending ERSU in 2016. I currently serve as an elder at Trinity Church in Minsk, Belarus.”

 

Ben was our first student from the US and is under care of a PCA presbytery (and licensed to preach by the EPCU). Committed to ongoing ministry in Belarus, and speaking fluent Russian, with the permission of his presbytery, Ben took the strategic decision to pursue his seminary studies at ERSU in Kyiv (next door to Minsk) instead of pursuing an MDiv back home in the US. This meant he could remain in the area and even continue ministry between studies.

Sergei Sudakov (MDiv) from Kharkov, Ukraine - Pastor, Lecturer, Conference Speaker

 

Sergei was born and grew up in Kharkov, graduating from Kharkov National Pedagogical University with a Masters in History and Law. He is married to Anastasia and they are expecting their first child, a daughter, this year.

 

He came to faith in 2000 while still in school and became a member of Kharkov Presbyterian Church in 2003. He has long been a ruling elder there (and licensed to preach), and for the past several years he has been assisting and often filling in for the pastor; preaching, teaching Sunday school and offering pastoral care. He has since graduation been ordained as a Teaching Elder.

 

Sergei is a very gifted and knowledgeable teacher. He has lectured in several countries in many subjects including Systematic Theology, Church History and Apologetics. For many years Sergei has been in high demand as a speaker at Christian conferences.

Alister Torrens

has been ITEM’s Missionary to Ukraine since 2006, involved since then in theological education in various contexts and since 2013 as a faculty member of ERSU. He has been Academic Dean since 2015.

 

He also works alongside the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine, and is involved in organising a new church-plant on Kyiv’s ‘left side’ (of the Dnieper river). In all these things he is ably supported by his wife Sarah.  They have two children, Saphira (11) and Thaddaeus (9).

 

 

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