The weather, which around Oklahoma is notoriously subject to change, was predictably cold as OBU representatives and students arrived in the town of Ufa, Russia, in Eastern Europe during a Spring Break Global Outreach trip.
The town, originally a fortress constructed in 1574 under the command of Ivan the Terrible, now boasts more than a million inhabitants and sits as the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan in Russia's Volga federal district. Seven OBU students took this atypical spring-break trip, not to relax from their studies, but to work hard learning about church planting in a foreign culture as a part of Global Outreach. These Global Outreach (GO) Trips allow OBU students to participate on a cross-cultural journey and experience a new society.
The group, which departed for Ufa on Thursday, March 15, included Rebecca Clegg, a freshman from Tulsa, Okla.; Sydnie Gabbard, a freshman from Edmond, Okla.; Gabriel Gordon, a freshman from Tulsa; Mandy De Hoyos, a junior from Fort Worth, Texas; Josh Johnson, a freshman from Hico, Texas; Nikki Kennemer, a freshman from Oklahoma City; and Andrew Nelson, a sophomore from Kearney, Neb. The students, along with Dr. Bruce Carlton, professor of cross-cultural ministry and director of the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach, participated in a one-day training conference upon arrival.
The journey, which served as the finishing piece of a cross-cultural ministry class, provided the students a chance to experience Christianity in a different setting; share their personal faith; develop personal relationships with the both the Russians in Ufa and the students at Bashkir State University; and make an impact for Jesus Christ in a country a world away from OBU.
The group interacted with Russian believers in the local church and were given the opportunity to teach a few lessons, a hands-on approach to what they were learning in the OBU classroom. They returned to the United States on Sunday, March 24.
"We encouraged the local church to share the Gospel and plant more churches in their city," Clegg said. "It was such a blessing to have the opportunity to take our book knowledge and apply it to real life. It helped us get a better understanding of what we learned in class, and we will be able to retain this knowledge much more efficiently."
In Ufa, the OBU GO team met up with Chris and Eileen Carr, two OBU alumni who serve as Bible teachers in Russia, as well as American students studying the Russian language at Bashkir State University. This collaboration was a follow-up on a previous church-planting endeavor by Carlton and Carr. Carlton and the OBU students saw the progress churches have made over the last five years.
"I chose Ufa (for the trip) because I had done some training with Chris Carr and a number of the Russian pastors and leaders in 2008," Carlton said. "Ufa sits at the crossroads between European Russia and the countries of Central Asia. It is a strategic city."
Throughout the trip, OBU students had opportunities to interact with young Russians during the church-related events, such as a training conference, prayer walks, in-home meetings, interviews with Russian church leaders and an all-night prayer meeting on the eve of the students' departure. The conversation and sharing of values that occurred between the youth of the two nations served to strengthen the ties between them and their mission to further the Kingdom of God.
"The Russian young people remarked how they truly enjoyed our students spending time with them even though there were language differences," Carlton said. "When the team went prayer walking, it was Russian young people with whom the OBU team often found itself in conversation."
On one occasion in the streets of Ufa, the group encountered four young women belonging to the three largest people groups in the city. The women -- one of Tartar descent, one of Bashkir descent and two Russians -- struck up a conversation with Carlton, Carr and the GO students. When the women expressed an interest in the group's purpose in Ufa, a team member shared the story of God from Creation to Christ.
"This was the first time these four young ladies ever heard the Gospel," Carlton said.
The trip offered OBU students a firsthand opportunity to engage a diverse world. They integrated their personal faith with the knowledge they gained in a Bison Hill classroom, all while building new relationships and expanding their individual worldviews.
"On this trip to Russia, God revealed to me just how true it is that God is cross-cultural," Gabbard said. "He has no boundaries, no limits, no exceptions. He is the same God here in America, in Africa, in Europe, and, as I saw, in Russia. God isn't only for a particular people group, but for everyone."
For more information about the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach, click here.