Washington Post article
October 19, 1991

U.S. Scholars Help Soviets Weave Christian Values Into New Economy

by Carey Kinsolving

Their task eased by the failed coup in the Soviet Union, 12 professors from the Washington-based Christian College Coalition say they are helping Russian academicians incorporate Judeo-Christian values into the new market economy.

“Not only has Marxism collapsed as an economic system, but it has collapsed as a moral system, and the Russians recognize that,” said John Bernbaum, coalition vice president.

“The Russians are asking, ‘How can we build a social and political order on some kind of moral foundation?’ These are profound questions. The kind of questions we are not asking in our own culture and state universities.”

The coalition includes 81 Christian colleges. The professors, representing nine member schools, met in Moscow this summer with 40 counterparts from six Russian universities to develop a master of business administration curriculum for next fall.

The MBA project is part of a broader package that includes student and faculty exchanges, textbook translations and development of Russian and English language courses.

A student-faculty exchange last month brought several Russian students from Nizhny Novgorod State University to spend three weeks at Taylor University in Indiana.

Bernbaum said that during the coalition’s 18-day conference in the Soviet Union, the Americans told the Russians that they feel the Christian belief that people are created in the image of God leads to greater respect for employees.

This can translate into better management-labor relations, stock ownership by employees and development of corporate plans that engage workers in management, they contended.

At a state-run souvenir shop, Bernbaum related, a private entrepreneur opened his briefcase and sold the U.S. educators identical souvenirs at a cheaper price.

When they asked the manager why he permitted a competitor in his store, he said:

“What difference does it make to us? We don’t care how much we sell. The store is owned by the state.”

Linwood Geiger, graduate dean of Eastern College, said, “Concepts like consumer demand are foreign to them, and it will take time for them to get a sense of how the dynamics of a market economy work.

“They believe that a market economy can produce great prosperity, but it doesn’t offer much for the poor. But they also believe that Christians do care about the poor.”

Bernbaum, in an interview in his Capitol Hill office, said that during his trip to the Soviet Union a year ago, Russian students peppered him for more than two hours with questions such as: What does it mean to relate your faith to education? What’s this business about love? What’s love got to do with education?

“They don’t know about the kind of Christianity where you have a vision for serving the world,” Bernbaum said. “They think of Christianity as abstract and mystical. Most of them have not had access to a Christianity that makes a real difference in the world.”

On their most recent trip, coalition members arrived in Moscow just hours before the coup attempt on Aug. 19.

The next night, Bernbaum summoned his colleagues. “We were all expecting a massacre,” Bernbaum said.

Despite the fears of some of the professors, they decided to stay until the U.S. Embassy ordered them to leave.

In the end, they stayed for the entire 18 days as planned, confident that the failed coup had resulted in much greater receptivity to their suggestions.

The U.S. educators unexpectedly found anti-communist feelings among the 40 Russian professors they counseled.

Only two or three of them were avowed Marxists, and the other Russians laughed at them, Bernbaum said.

According to Bernbaum, the rector of Nizhny Novgorod State University, Aleksandr Khokhlov, responded: “The values which are affirmed by the Christian college are valuable in the Soviet Union, although they were lost in the last few years.”

Khokhlov had seen students searching for values the year before when Bernbaum, 47, visited the university (formerly University of Gorky).

Between 500 and 600 students packed a meeting room in response to a simple notice: “American guest to talk about Christian education.”

The State Committee of Higher Education for the Republic of Russia and an anonymous donor jointly funded the 1990 conference.

The interest in Christian education had taken hold last month when 11 students, two professors and the rector from the university, which is about 200 miles east of Moscow, traveled to Upland, Ind., to visit Taylor University.

After spending three weeks at Taylor, the Russian students arrived in Philadelphia with only two hours to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

To their astonishment, who should appear but four students from Taylor.

They had driven 14 hours just to spend another couple of hours with their Russian friends.

It was a simple act of friendship that is marking the U.S.-Russian exchange program sponsored by the Christian College Coalition, of which Taylor is a member.

The Russians also visited Chicago, Indianapolis, New York and Washington, D.C.

Alan Winquist, a Taylor professor who was their adviser and guide, recalled the lump in his throat when, at Liberty Island, he thought: “Here I am taking Russians to see the Statue of Liberty. This would have been impossible five years ago.”

Anna Stepanova, a biology student, visited the United States two years ago. Things were different this time, she said.

“I’ve never seen so many smiles,” she said during an interview in Washington in which she reflected on her experience. “But now I see that Christians are very friendly. I was so surprised that they wanted to speak with us all the time. They wanted to help us.”

Bella Gribkova, an English professor, said that she and the students had been changed as a result of their visit here.

Stepanova agreed. “I’ve never been a Christian before,” she said. “And now I think I’m very close to becoming a real Christian. I didn’t believe in God before, and now I think I believe. I’m sure.”

Winquist said he didn’t try to shelter his visitors. In addition to showing them historical sites, he showed them inner-city poverty.

One of the highlights of their tour occurred at the World Gymnastic Championship in Indianapolis. The Soviet men swept the first three places. Even the Americans were clapping for the Soviets at the end, Winquist said.

When asked why a Russian university is cooperating with a small Christian college in Indiana, historian Oleg Kolobov said: “We now have an empty box of ideas, and we must understand Christians abroad. Why not? It is very useful for students in our country during the transition period.”