FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and his wife are fulfilling a promise made to the Lord 35 years ago to teach in the former Soviet Union.
In July 1964, Rick Yount and his future wife, Barb, both only 15, dreamed of what possibilities the future might hold while attending a Baptist youth encampment near Waukegan, Ill. Both agreed that marriage was in their future. They also promised that they would one day serve Christ in the Soviet Union.
Today Yount, a professor of educational psychology and principles of teaching at Southwestern, is deeply involved in developing the potential of Russian pastors and Christian educators who serve in many of the newly established Bible schools in the former Soviet Union. He has traveled to Russia 10 times since 1996 to lecture in Russian universities and to speak at conferences held by Russian Baptists.
Yount, author of Created to Learn and Called to Teach, has prepared for his ministry in Russia since he made his promise at Waukegan.
After spending the summer working on his grandfather’s farm in 1964, Yount spent the $75 he had earned on a new study Bible, roses for Barb, and his first Russian language textbook.
In February 1969, Rick and Barb were married. One part of the promise had been fulfilled, Yount said.
According to Yount, keeping the second part of the promise of traveling to the Soviet Union as missionaries in the 1960s and 1970s was both impossible and unpopular.
“She took Russian in high school and I took Russian in college, but we could never seem to find anybody who spoke Russian. And of course, there were no missionaries going to Russia at that time,” he said. “So it just became a closed door for us.”
There was a place for the Younts to minister in the meantime.
“The Lord moved us into a ministry among the deaf, and the more we got involved with the deaf, the more this vision or dream of Russia receded,” Yount said. “We went to Gallaudet College, a four-year liberal arts college for the deaf in Washington, and worked there for three years. We also developed a ministry for the deaf at Columbia Baptist Church.”
Neal Jones, the pastor of Columbia Baptist Church, encouraged Yount to enroll in seminary in 1973.
After completing a master’s degree in Christian education and almost all of his doctoral studies at Southwestern, Yount moved back to Columbia Baptist Church to serve as minister of education and work with the deaf once again.
When Yount was elected to the faculty in the school of educational ministries at Southwestern in 1981, service in Russia had been forgotten, Yount said.
“All of my Russian books were packed up and put in the basement. We had no contact with Russian-speaking people. We even forgot the whole Russian part of our early life. It just receded beyond our memory, and there came a time when we didn’t even think about that decision we made when we were 15,” Yount said.
“All of that changed in November 1995 when Charley Warner came on our campus,” Yount said.
Warner, a missionary with Barnabas International, worked at Odessa (Baptist) Theological Seminary in Ukraine. He came to Southwestern’s Fort Worth campus in order to recruit professors to teach at the Russian seminary.
“I was going through my voice mail messages one day and I heard the announcement that he was meeting with professors who might be interested in going to Odessa, and it turned out that the meeting was just 10 minutes later across the campus,” Yount said. “So I dropped what I was doing, and my heart just pounded. I wasn’t really sure why, but I had to get to that meeting.”
Yount went to the meeting with fellow faculty members Royce Rose and Gary Waller. Warner already had a lecturer for 1996 and Rose had already signed up to go to Odessa in 1997. Waller was not sure when he would go.
Warner invited Yount to teach in 1998. “I thought that was fine because it would give me two-and-a half years to study Russian and write my lectures and so forth,” Yount said.
Yount went home that evening and searched for his box of Russian books.
“In my set of Russian books, I found a Russian hymnal that had been given to me by a Ukrainian woman in New York in 1966. She had fled Stalin in the 1930s, had come to New York, and was a member of an independent Baptist church,” Yount said. “She found out I was studying Russian in college so she gave it to me.”
Yount and his wife spread the old Russian books and the hymnal out on the kitchen table. They opened the hymnal and Barb said, “I can read the hymn.”
The hymnal had fallen open to a hymn written by a Russian Baptist from St. Petersburg in 1907, 10 years before the Russian revolution. It read, “I know. Yes! I know, that my Savior lives; That by him I’m being changed, given life not of this earth.” “We wept,” Yount said. “In that moment the promise of 1964 came back to us. We remembered the dream even as we were witnessing its potential fulfillment.”
It would still be years, however, before he and his wife could go to Russia.
The next week, Yount received an unexpected phone call from the University of North Texas in Denton inviting him to teach a class. He committed to teaching on Monday nights, his only free night in the semester schedule, but did not bother to ask how much the job would pay.
In January 1996, before the class was to begin, Yount received a second unexpected offer — a chance to fulfill his promise. The professor that was scheduled to teach at Odessa Seminary in May was unable to fulfill his commitment. Warner contacted Yount and asked him to come to Odessa to teach in the spring.
“So much for having time to learn Russian,” Yount said.
The real question was just how Yount and his wife would afford such an expensive venture on short notice. Warner said, “God will provide.”
Yount then thought of his class at North Texas. He called the university and was informed that he would be paid $2,200 for the semester. Two roundtrip tickets to Odessa cost only $2,100.
“So the Lord provided the money for the tickets and the open door,” Yount said.
The couple went to Odessa that May.
“We stood on the north shore of the Black Sea in the former Soviet Union and reflected on the promise that God made us in 1964 about going. When we got on the plane to come back, we felt like we were leaving home, rather than coming home,” Yount said.
“Since that time, I go as often as I am invited. So far, every time I’ve been invited the Lord has provided help and assistance. There have always been funds to go over there and teach,” he added.
Yount has traveled to Almaty, Kazakhstan; Bishkek, Kyrgzstan; Odessa and Kiev, Ukraine; Tyumen, Siberia; and Moscow, Russia. Kazakhstan and Kyrgzstan are predominantly Muslim nations.
Most recently, Yount attended a meeting of the Eur-Asian Accreditation Association (EAAA). “There is for the first time in the history of the former Soviet Union an accreditation agency headed by a Baptist — Sergei Sannikov.”
“I met him the first time I went to Odessa. He was the director of the seminary there. But now he is with the EAAA,” Yount said. “They accredited 3 bachelor degree programs in 1999. They believe very much in theological education and the ministry of Christian teaching — my passion for over 30 years.”
Yount and his wife will return to Russia this summer. He will lecture on “Principles of Learning for Pastors and Christian Teachers” at Odessa Seminary and at a Bible institute near Lvov in Western Ukraine. Yount will also lecture at Moscow (Baptist) Theological Seminary.
Whether or not the Younts will eventually be career missionary personnel in the former Soviet Union is uncertain. “I’ve struggled with that a lot,” Yount said. “The struggle is, bottom line, that the Lord hasn’t released us from here [Southwestern] yet and called us there. If he were to tell us tomorrow that we should leave everything here and go, my wife and I agree that we would go in a minute. But he hasn’t done that, and that has been a struggle for us.”
Yount, however, said he is still happy at Southwestern.
“The truth of the matter, and what the Lord has shown me, is that there are things I’m doing here at Southwestern that I could not do if I went there,” he said.
“Right now, the Lord has given me the confidence that I am in the best of both worlds,” Yount said. “I can go for two weeks or five weeks and gather around me leaders that God has already called and equipped to be pastors and teachers who will establish churches. They will themselves then gather young men around them and form Bible institutes and send pastors and teachers all over the former Soviet Union.”
Yount’s influence will be felt in Russia for years to come. His book, Created to Learn, has been translated into Russian and is being published by the EAAA for use in Bible institutes, seminaries, and even in secular universities.
Yount was surprised that the secular universities, still largely atheistic, would be willing to use his textbook.
“The first chapter is on discipleship and the last chapter is on Jesus as the master teacher. Every chapter illustrates psychological principles with scriptural references and examples. It will be a great witnessing tool,” he said.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: RICK BLOUNT.