January 14, 2015
Dear friends of the Russian-American Institute (RAI – formerly the Russian-American Christian University (RACU)),
It has been a long time since we sent you an update on the ministry of RAI in Moscow. The reason for this extended delay in communication is that the Institute has been going through some dramatic changes which, when done in the context of the Russian Federation, always take much more time than expected. Let me fill you in on what has happened.
An Update on RAI
In November 2010, the Board of Trustees of RAI made a decision to close down the Institute’s undergraduate program because of a series of Russian government policies that made it impossible for the school to continue. It’s a long and complex story, but the Kremlin’s decision to remove the tax-exempt status from private colleges in Russia caused major increases in our property taxes, which made it very difficult to compete for students because of our increased operating costs. In addition, the Russian Ministry of Education refused to recognize the Ph.D. degrees of more than 120 American faculty who taught at the Institute over the years, preventing re-accreditation. These and other major changes in Russia made it clear that the formal undergraduate program had to be discontinued, although the program was extended through the end of the 2010-11 academic year, enabling 40 students to graduate.
Once this decision was made, the Board decided to sell our new campus facility. It was first offered to Christian organizations at a substantial discount, but none had the resources to buy the building or even cover our existing construction debt. We eventually sold our 50,000 square foot facility to a quality international corporation for the full asking price and immediately paid the taxes owed to the Russian government.
We had been warned that transferring the remaining funds out of Russia might be difficult because of sanctions related to the Ukrainian crisis, but (by God’s grace) we were able to do so. All of RAI’s construction debt has now been paid, so we have much to celebrate!
It has been a joy to see how the legacy of RACU/RAI has blossomed. When the decision was made to close the undergraduate program, we decided to “spin off” the school’s Department of Social Work & Christian Counseling and help the program get licensed as a Russian educational entity. This new institute is actively engaged in educating Russian Christians, offering specialized certificate programs for professional Christian counselors and pastors, as well as online courses. The school’s Department of Language & Linguistics created a Russian-American Language Program and is now licensed as a Russian institution. Students are trained in English and the institute provides an opportunity for faulty to share the Gospel. Several hundred students are enrolled in these programs, which are outgrowths of RACU/RAI.
In addition, a bi-weekly businessmen’s Bible study with senior business leaders, hosted by RAI Trustee Bob Foresman, is a direct result of the relationships we built with these men, who also meet periodically with Metropolitan Hilarion from the Russian Orthodox Church. They are engaged in raising funds for faith-based projects, including the printing and distribution of Russian Bibles that include the film “Jesus” (from Campus Crusade) as an enclosure; these Bibles are being placed on military bases and in Russian hotels.
Several other groups of young professionals, including many who are RACU/RAI graduates, are meeting periodically to study how to live out their faith in the marketplace. These groups are another legacy of RACU/RAI.
During the last few years I have been in touch with many RACU/RAI graduates and their expressions of thanks for their experience at our school have been so encouraging. I recently received this message from a husband and wife who both graduated from RACU: “Our family is very thankful that we were able to graduate from RAI. It changed our lives and it’s still helping us to build our future. Thank you for your inspiration and hard-working example.” To me, these Russian graduates are RACU/RAI’s greatest legacy.
RAI’s New Mission
Once the building was sold and taxes and construction debt paid, the Board decided to pursue a new mission for RAI. Frankly, I thought the Board might decide that the situation in Russia had become too difficult and RAI needed to close down. But to my surprise, the Board decided that God’s call to work in Russia continues.
At its meeting in November 2014, the Board approved a plan for RAI to support ministries and programs in Russia that equip Christian professionals and leaders to integrate their faith with their work in the marketplace. To accomplish this new mission, the Board will utilize the funds remaining, after payment to creditors, from the sale of the building.
They have also asked me to continue as President to review and evaluate these mission opportunities to serve our Russian brothers and sisters.
While we are excited to share this new mission with you, we also want you to be aware that all grant requests must be invited directly by RAI. With that in mind, we encourage information from you about possible opportunities that fit our new mission. We anticipate making modest size grants to various ministries and individuals, while requiring full accountability for how the funds are used.
We will keep you updated on developments related to RAI. This will mostly be done by e-mail, so if you desire to stay current on RAI’s work, please make sure we have your current e-mail address and have been alerted about your interest in staying informed. My RAI e-mail is JBernbaumMoscow@gmail.com.
We are grateful to you for all your support in the past and hope that you see that your investment has and will continue to be a worthy one! Throughout our 21-year history, as we first developed a Christian university with a beautiful facility, to then closing our undergraduate program, to now looking forward to our new mission, RAI’s Board has always prayerfully sought God’s will as we have encountered numerous challenges along the way.
We are excited about this next stage in RAI’s mission. Stay tuned – we think there are some significant opportunities ahead and we would like to keep you engaged.
Dr. John A. Bernbaum, President