Openingstoespraak Erik van Alten bij seminarie


bron: Facebookpagina ERSU (@ersupartners)

Dear guests,

I still remember that cold December day in 2014, at the house of our former colleague, Scott Andes. Clay Quarterman, Scott Andes, Alister Torrens and myself. We had a two-day brainstorming-session about the vision for the next 5 years of ERSU (thus, until the end of 2019). At that stage the staff still wrote the policy plan – this responsibility has, since then, been taken over by the Board of ERSU, which is where it belongs. And I remember well our excitement about the idea of having our own building. Today, almost 5 years later, we conclude this 5-year policy plan with the realization of that vision in 2014. But let me tell you, it’s not been an easy road.
To start with, there were the three aborted projects. Firstly, the project at the Reformed Church, Blagodat. Secondly, the so-called Gorchak-project – mr. Gorchak was a former member of the communist party, who did not only want to sell his building to us, but also his newspaper company. And thirdly there was the Nyvki-project. At that stage, having been stopped in our tracks three times, we were all wondering: is an own building really God’s will for ERSU? But finally, in October 2017, we were able to purchase this building. A day of joy and thankfulness. However, as we were about to learn, it was not the end of the road. It was merely the beginning…

Veel aandacht vanuit Oekraïne, maar ook vele andere landen.

As with so many things in life, looks may be deceiving. What we thought we bought, turned out to be less than we expected. To mention just three examples: the roof was rotten and had to be completely re-done (in hindsight it was a blessing in disguise, as it gave us the opportunity to raise the roof and create more space); the walls were thinner than expected and had to be completely insulated with these grey panels (which, by the way, will still be painted); and the sewerage, we found out later, was not connected to the city sewerage, which meant that we had to build two huge septic tanks. It was a painful process to have this feeling that, after we bought the building, we were initially actually going backward rather than forward. But isn’t that often the case in life? Often we first have to break down before we can build up; first backward before we can go forward.
But slowly, surely, we started moving forward, thanks to the hard work of some very dedicated people. I want to mention two people in particular. I know it is always dangerous to make exceptions when you thank people, but I think nobody will blame me for these exceptions. The first is Vera Agarkova. After we bought the building, we soon realized that if we, three male staff members, were going to design this building, it was going to be a square box in a round hole. Vera did a wonderful job, not only of designing the beautiful result that you now see, but also of planning all the detail that you do not see, but that is still necessary for the good functioning. Vera had to work with a bunch of men with little aesthetic feeling, and she always remained patient. Thank you for your work and help, we really appreciate it. And the second person is Yura Stryzhakov. Humanly speaking, without Yura, this project would not have succeeded. I thank him for his tireless work, his continuous communication, and his faithful service, beyond the call of duty. It’s been a pleasure working together.

For myself this has been an incredible journey in learning to really trust God, both in terms of money and time. Yes, we often talk about trust, but learning to completely leave it in the hands of God when there is almost no money left, is much more difficult. There were several moments during the past year and a half when I thought we would have to stop the process. But every time God has provided in his unique way. Our Dutch sponsors have come to the rescue at times when things looked desperate. And our American friends have been wonderful! I remember visiting the US in April of this year. One Sunday after the service we had lunch with the missions committee of the church we visited. One brother, whose wife is on the missions committee, asked us: “So, how much do you still need?” I gave him a rough figure, which I had in my head. He said: “Well, if you don’t reach your goal, call me.” About a month later, after having received some money, I wrote him and said: “You told me to get back to you when we don’t reach our goal, so here I am.” Within one hour he replied: “How much do you need?” I said: “$20,000”. He replied: “I will send you the check today.” No fuss, no ooha about what he just did. Simply: Here you go! And these have been the ways in which God has provided every time again. There was not one moment that we had to stop the process, not one. I want to thank all these supporters from the Netherlands and the United States for their trust and generosity. And I want to thank them, in particular, for their prayers. You need money, it’s true, but you need prayers even more.

We are not here together to celebrate a building. Although this building is an incredible gift from God, it’s about much more than brick and mortar. This building is an instrument – and this we have said from the very beginning. An instrument, which we hope to use for three specific purposes. Firstly, this instrument enables us to have our library at hand (you have seen our beautiful library). For almost 20 years we were seldom close to our library. And as you know, a theologian’s food is the books around him (although some students still think the food in the dining room is better than the food in the library). Now we have our books around us. Several students have already indicated that they cannot wait to start working in the library. Secondly, this instrument helps us to reduce our overheads – something we are desperately trying to do in order to reduce our dependency on foreign money. To our friends from the Netherlands and the US: full financial independence won’t happen overnight; to be honest, it will probably not happen for a long time, but this is an important step in the right direction. And thirdly, this instrument helps us to be visible in the context in which we work – the Ukrainian and Eastern European context. We want to present ourselves as an institution of Reformed theological training, not somewhere in the forest, but in the middle of society. As the lady was painting our logo on the front entrance, she said that at least 10 people stopped and asked whether they could enroll. I’m not sure that that is exactly what we had in mind, but it’s a good start.

This building is an instrument given to us by God. We praise Him for it. We are deeply thankful for his guidance in carrying us through this process. And we intend, through the Board and with the help of all involved, to take good care of it. I hope that it will serve us for many years to come in spreading God’s Word and the reformed doctrine in Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Slovenia, Poland and other countries. Please continue to pray for us as we slowly let go of the building process, and again return our focus to a much more important building process: building students in their knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, building pastors who love the Lord, and building churches who remain true to the healthy doctrine.

I want to thank all of you for coming, for joining us in this joyful event. I pray that we have great time together, and that God will continue to bless this seminary.