History: Faculty Teach in Siberia after Fall of Soviet Union

July 9, 2020

This year, as we celebrate Emmanuel’s eightieth anniversary, we will be posting monthly articles on the history of the College.

Emmanuel Bible College has always had a focus on missions and over the years has developed many important international relationships through the work of faculty, students, and alumni. One of the most fruitful and meaningful of these many relationships was built through a friendship with a Toronto pastor and led to faculty members travelling across the globe to minister to those proclaiming the gospel in a post-Communism society.

In the early 1990s, Emmanuel president Dr. Tom Dow became connected with evangelicals in South Korea through his friendship with Pastor John Yu of the Korean Evangelical Missionary Church in Toronto. In 1993, Tom and his wife, Carolyn, travelled to Korea and visited some of the country’s famous megachurches, including one with seven hundred thousand members. Through Tom and Carolyn’s trip, Emmanuel established a relationship with a Korean denomination, resulting in some Korean evangelicals coming to Kitchener to study at the College. Several went on to serve in churches elsewhere in Ontario.

The year after the Dows’ trip to Korea, Emmanuel’s relationship with Korean believers opened up an avenue for missions activity and kingdom-building in Russia. This was a tremendously significant time for Christianity in that nation, since the atheistic USSR had dissolved only a few years earlier, giving believers religious freedom that many had never experienced before. The Russian Orthodox Church was the dominant church organization in the country, but there was a Protestant presence that was encouraged by missionary efforts, including a substantial Korean mission. This mission involved less of a geographical and cultural leap than some Westerners might realize, since Russia stretches to the very eastern edge of Asia and shares a small border with North Korea. Jim McDowell, who was the academic dean at Emmanuel Bible College during this time, believes “God used Koreans very markedly in the days following the revival of Russia out of the former Soviet Union.”

Through Pastor John Yu and Resurrection Presbyterian Church of Seoul, South Korea, Emmanuel Bible College was invited to send faculty members to teach at St. Paul Seminary, a theological school that Korean missionaries had established in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. Tom Dow made an initial two-week trip that was profoundly meaningful for him. In the following years, Tom and a number of others in the Emmanuel community travelled to Novosibirsk to provide further assistance to the young school.

In June 1996 Academic Dean Jim McDowell travelled to Novosibirsk to teach two courses at St. Paul. On his first Sunday in the city, the church’s usual meeting place was used for proceedings related to the presidential election, which was eventually won by Boris Yeltsin. The congregation decided to meet in the old house where they had gathered secretly during the Soviet era. Jim found worshiping in this building to be a moving and humbling experience.

When Jim taught, he found that the students enjoyed sharing their knowledge and experience and also liked to pray aloud together, often in tongues. He also noted a strong desire among the Korean missionaries to train leaders who could plant evangelical churches. In addition to the enthusiasm, however, were some ongoing struggles. He found that “the spectre of fear of persecution amongst Christians was lifting but still discernible,” and the topic of discipleship and family life was a difficult one for people to discuss.

On the weekends, students participated in the field-education aspect of their training, travelling to locations where graduates of the school were serving. Jim joined students in one such trip, to the city of Angersk, about five hours northeast of Novosibirsk. At this time of year there were only about three hours of darkness each day. The students participated in street outreach on the Saturday, and on the Sunday Jim preached. All these experiences in Russia were deeply meaningful for Jim and were useful in later ministry activity.

At the end of Tom Dow’s 1994 trip to Novosibirsk, he was given a translated letter that was written by a St. Paul student and addressed to Emmanuel Bible College. In the letter the student speaks of her conversion and her journey of learning how to pray. Her daily routine, she says, includes three or four hours of prayer and two of Bible reading. She also thanks Tom Dow for his service and offers some words to the Emmanuel student body, in one place giving this admonishment: “Friends, soon I will graduate from this college and the Lord will call me to labour for Him in the place he has prepared for me to serve. Perhaps some of you will soon graduate. In Jesus name I ask you—work with a pure heart in the field of God.” Surely the student would offer the same words to those who are studying at the College today.

The featured photograph, courtesy of Dr. Tom Dow, shows a graduation class of St. Paul’s Seminary. We would like to thank Tom and Jim McDowell for providing information for this article. Other details come from Tom Dow, “President’s Reminiscences,” in 60 Years of “God with Us, by Kevin Oates (n.p., n.d.), 80.