War rages. Could theological education be part of the solution for trauma? Leadership at Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary thinks so.
Sirens cut the interview short. The familiar alarms began to blare in her ears as she wrapped up a Tuesday morning Zoom call explaining how the seminary partnership between Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina and the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary in Lviv, Ukraine, had personally impacted her life and ministry.
Iryna Los, chief of staff for the president of the Ukrainian seminary, ended the Zoom call abruptly. She is used to these alarms. It was time to shelter in the basement of the newest facility at the seminary — a basement that doubles as a bomb shelter. She was calm as she ended the call, explaining that the siren might not mean Lviv is actively being bombed, but does indicate danger somewhere nearby.
Maybe she was calm because she knows her mom, dad, grandma, one of her sisters, nieces and nephews are safe. They’re in another region of Ukraine, nestled in the mountains four to five hours by car away from Lviv and near the border of Romania. Los is thankful for their safety since it took convincing to get her parents to pack themselves and her grandma up and leave their military city near Kyiv at the beginning of the war to move to Lviv. It was another hard decision for her family to further evacuate, making them some of Ukraine’s internally displaced population.
Los could have chosen the same safety and the familiarity of being with family. As a single 33-year-old woman, no one would have blamed her.
“When the war started, I decided I would not leave Lviv,” she shared. “I wanted to be a part of the ministry the seminary does.”
So, she took this Zoom call from a third floor, open concept office in Lviv, acutely aware of the danger she could be in, even in a relatively calm area of Ukraine, because she knew she wanted to be a part of the solution for her people.
Because she stayed, she’s now a key part of the leadership team for the seminary’s WeCare program, as well as a student coach, a leader in the women’s ministry of the seminary, and her role as the chief of staff to seminary president Yaroslav Pyzh.
WeCare centers are the seminary’s strategic approach to helping the millions of internally displaced Ukrainians with humanitarian needs, spiritual care, trauma care and educational activities. They also foster dialogues between churches, city authorities and volunteer organizations. These centers are in 14 cities across the country, and the goal is to help these institutions interact and serve the city together.
She’s been well-equipped to be part of the solution for her people partially because she chose to finish her Master of Theological Studies through UBTS’s partnership with SEBTS, even when she, her professors and the rest of her cohort knew war was imminent, and this time, the conflict with Russia wouldn’t be localized. This program is a component of the Global Theological Initiative of Southeastern Seminary.
Anna Daub, director of special projects and partnerships for GTI, describes this program as one of “Southeastern’s best kept secrets.” Knowing that Southeastern Seminary cannot fulfill the Great Commission alone, GTI focuses on language curriculum and leadership training in partnership with other seminaries and higher education institutions around the globe, Daub explained.
In fact, most of this Ukrainian cohort decided to finish their degrees amid the raging conflict. And as they did, the 21 leaders in Ukrainian biblical and theological education were able to strategize during their leadership class, via Zoom, how they were going to lead well during and after the impending war.
They began thinking through how to turn their facilities into a refugee center, knowing that their proximity to the border would bring thousands through their campus. With the newer facility’s bomb shelter-type basement, the school paused classes and focused on that for a time.
This cohort, who started their program in 2017, graduated in May 2022. They were recognized in absentia at Southeastern’s graduation ceremony, and in October, they were able to host their own graduation ceremony, complete with diplomas from SEBTS and video greetings from faculty.
In May, however, the seminary resumed classes, with the goal of continuing their mission and re-establishing some form of normalcy for students.
While the partnership paused during the first year of war, it has pivoted now, and the focus is on offering sound biblical counseling courses and a program that will help Ukrainians in the country and outside the country minister to their broken countrymen and women. Trauma is and will continue to be a growing concern, as millions have been displaced, leaving behind fathers, brothers and other loved ones. Training is offered for leadership and lay counselors to share hope and healing amidst the trauma.
As the Ukrainian diaspora grows, the goal of this program will be to equip them to serve those who need the love and care of Jesus around them.
For Los, she’s thankful for the program she finished. She sees that it equipped her as she leads the WeCare program.
“For me, this training has been crucial,” Los said.
“War is pure evil, and there is nothing good about this,” she continued. “But at the same time, what we see is that many people are now open to hear the gospel. Many churches have started to be refugee centers. They are now sharing the gospel with people who are trusting the church more because the church helped them in this crisis.”
While Los looks forward to the biblical counseling training this partnership will continue to provide, she knows she and her cohort have been equipped to do ministry now, in wartime, through the leadership and discipleship classes she completed in her Master of Theological Studies through this strategic partnership between seminaries.