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Q & A: Coalition Head Outlines Plan for Christian Education in Russia

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Earlier this month, "The CoMission,'' a consortium of 60 Christian education groups, launched a five-year campaign to prepare educators in the Commonwealth of Independent States to teach Judeo-Christian principles in over 120,000 public schools there.

With the cooperation of the Russian Ministry of Education, the alliance intends to train teachers, solicit private U.S. contributions for school supplies, and assist in rewriting textbooks, said Bruce Wilkinson, the chairman of the CoMission. And he said some 12,000 training volunteers are expected to travel to the former Soviet Union by the end of the campaign.

Mr. Wilkinson talked with Staff Writer Joanna Richardson about his group's "people to people'' program.

Q. What has the CoMission done so far to implement this program?

A. We've already made several trips over to the C.I.S. I think we've probably done 18 convocations all across the former Soviet Union, from Siberia, to Moscow, to St. Petersburg, to Kiev. So we are in the midst, over the next few years, of giving a convocation in every single school district in the former Soviet Union.

We send teams of 40 to 60 people over for these. They could be college professors, school teachers, or Christian education leaders. Most are from the various groups that are members of the CoMission.

For instance, the Association of Christian Schools International, the largest component of the private schools in the world, sends nine of its teachers and principals to each one of these convocations.

In a school district of approximately 2 million people, we have between 400 and 600 [C.I.S.] teachers come for training on the Christian world view and its distinction to the Marxist world view.

Now that Communism is dead, they don't have a world view to consider. There's a real void there. For 70 years they've been so indoctrinated and their textbooks have been totally rewritten.

In addition to lecturing to the C.I.S. teachers, we've also developed a basic course on Christian morals and ethics as a foundation for society. The teachers are instructed in this so they have the opportunity, if they so desire, to teach [the course] to their students.

Q. Some of the C.I.S. teachers have already begun to teach these principles to schoolchildren there. What kind of reaction are you getting?

A. It's been absolutely incredible. Even the Deputy of Education of Russia has said himself that the state had taken [religion] out of society, with all the values that would accompany that, and it had absolutely destroyed the society. There was a lack of hope there. And I think we would all say that values of kindness, truthfulness, and loving and forgiving other people would be a help to any state.

We believe that these ethics would help any country, without being sectarian in any way. It's just the basics.

Q. What kinds of obstacles have you faced since launching the campaign?

A. One has been from the hard-line Communists who remain and who do not want any Christian ethics. In the educational field, they are opposing anything but Communism.

But the [hard-liners] are in the vast minority. I would say 90 percent of the people we have met there have been antagonistic toward Communism. They realized the vast betrayal that occurred. Their society is in shambles economically, politically, and socially.

And the real tragedy in the school system there is that all the textbooks are Communist indoctrination.

The [school system] has no money for other books. Here are the teachers saying they don't believe any of this stuff, but they don't know what to teach.

So they've asked the CoMission to help them rewrite the textbooks. We formed a partnership with the Russian government and the department of education to help guide them in bringing back morals and ethics.

Another obstacle has been the financial challenge. There are 43 million children in school in Russia today. And they want us to help rewrite and underwrite the cost of textbooks for all grades. That is a lot of money.

Q. How is the CoMission getting financial aid? How much do you expect this project to cost?

A. For the second part of this program, we're trying to move 12,000 people over there to actually live in a community and conduct classes for teachers and parents that would help them relearn how to parent their children. These volunteers will work with [the groups] to try to rebuild the soul of that society.

But each volunteer that goes for a year has to raise $20,000. They talk to their friends, churches, and social groups.

We just sent the first 25 people to Russia, as the prototypes for this part of the program. And those 25 people raised their $20,000 in less than six weeks.

When we send all 12,000, we're talking about a quarter of a billion dollars. And that is individuals rising up from our country to help another country because they believe in the request of the people of Russia.

Q. There has been a fierce debate in the U.S. over religion in the schools. Have you faced any criticism from groups here for undertaking this campaign in the C.I.S.?

A. Yes, we had that at our press conference. One of the people who was covering it asked the Deputy of Education of Russia, "Do you realize these are Christian groups coming over?'' And the Russian man was absolutely profound. He said, "If you were drowning in a waterfall and somebody extended their hand to help you, would you reject the hand?'' He said the CoMission is the group coming to help them and they endorse it.

And the U.S. Department of Education has endorsed our effort in the C.I.S. also.

It's important to understand that this is not a religious movement. It's an educational movement.

The C.I.S. needs to keep separation of church and state, just like we do. We're just teaching the universal principles of right and wrong.

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