The program described in these pages
was an attempt to bring people who had been contacted through a summer
Let’s Start Talking outreach
project in Kyiv, Ukraine, into a deeper knowledge of Christ through a combination of teaching,
discussion, and contact with other Christians. As an intern with the Ukrainian Education Center in Kyiv,
my special responsibility was to coordinate LST follow-up, which took the form of a free
English grammar class and this “faith groups” program in which we read
and discussed Mere Christianity
by C.S. Lewis. This “syllabus”
is posted here to provide information to anyone considering hosting
a similar program, in Ukraine or elsewhere. The hope is that
others will be able to learn from our mistakes and successes, and that
they will adapt this program for use in their particular situation.
Each of 13 weekly meetings was composed
of three main parts, to which a team of 7-8 workers gave their time
and dedication. The evening began
with a meal for the “students,” whom we called “readers” in keeping
with the vocabulary from Let’s Start Talking.
After the meal, there was a 20 to 25 minute lecture, which, after
being interpreted into Russian, was actually between 40 and 50 minutes
long. There was a short break after the lecture, and
then the readers were divided into small groups in which student-aged
Ukrainian Christians led discussions based on questions taken from the
lecture. Each meeting lasted
approximately 2 ½ hours.
C.S. Lewis is a very popular writer
among Ukrainians because of his rather intellectual approach to explaining
and expounding the teachings of Christianity.
Since our program ran for 13 weeks, we didn’t have time to cover
all the chapters in the book, but each reader was given a copy of Mere Christianity in both English and Russian and will hopefully finish
the book when they have time. I
chose the chapters listed here for formal discussion because they either
seemed to give the broadest survey of basic Christian ideas or summarized
complex ideas most effectively.
A Unique Audience
Everyone who participated in the summer
Let’s Start Talking project was invited to be part of this program. From those who accepted the invitation, our
audience consisted of 20-25 people of various ages, though most were
over 30. The characteristic most
common to those in attendance was lack of a sound, working knowledge
of the Christian faith, or in some cases, lack of any knowledge beyond
popular thought or superstition. Most
of the readers had been raised in the Soviet
Union, under Communism, and were taught in school that there was no God
and that faith was for the weak. It
seems that most of the audience faced overcoming intellectual barriers
before they could believe, and so many of the discussions were held
on that level.
The intention was to use Lewis as
a starting place for exploring the Bible or for sharing personal testimony
and showing Christianity as a viable lifestyle in the lives of actual
people. The idea was that everyone could read Lewis
at home, and so during the meetings we often took the discussion in
a slightly different direction, providing information that Lewis did
not cover to “round out” the picture.
Very often the lecture would either
briefly summarize Lewis or give him only passing attention and then
move on to a passage of scripture, or introduce a scripture that would
be examined in greater detail in the groups.
The relationship-building focus of the groups was also a very
important part of the message, as leaders were able to share more and
more about their own faith as the members of the group became more comfortable
with each other.
Please follow the links below to read
A kitchen staff of 4-5 workers spent
at least two hours before the start of the evening preparing the meal. Of course, the prep time was a lot longer if
we had to shop for groceries on the same day, but we found it was easier
to shop in advance and to buy for two weeks at a time. We adapted the recipes to Ukrainian taste, partly
because called-for ingredients were not available here, but mostly because
main dish recipes were things Ukrainians had never heard of and they
needed to be “familiarized.”
The goal every week was to fill “the
green thing,” a large roasting pan, with the main course. Casseroles of all kinds—with chicken, potatoes,
vegetables—were the best for making a few ingredients go a long way.
Since I was the recipe master, I tended
to choose dishes that seemed familiar enough to me that I could have
confidence in being able to prepare them well.
The internet was very helpful in locating recipes, especially
the site at www.allrecipes.com. Readers usually gave enthusiastic approval to
my “internet recipes,” as they very quickly learned to call them.
Our original idea was to have readers
sit with the leaders of their discussion groups, but there were a couple
of hindrances to that. First,
three of the group leaders were also the kitchen staff and usually couldn’t
finish the preparations for the meal in time to sit down with and welcome
the readers; usually the group leaders needed to have a quiet moment
before getting to work. Also, we always tried to pray before the lecture,
so if the meal was late, we had to steal the time left before the lecture
to pray and couldn’t eat with readers.
Secondly, the arrangement of the room
and the availability of furniture made sitting in groups for meals difficult. The chairs in the room where the lecture was
held were already arranged for an audience rather than for groups. There were no tables that groups could gather
around; sometimes it seemed that keeping food from falling off one’s
plate took away attention from conversation.
who uses this format for an outreach, I would make two suggestions. One, have a separate kitchen staff and “worker”
staff if possible. Let the workers
concentrate on developing interpersonal relationships. Two, if possible, have a way for the groups
to sit together around tables to ease conversation.
back to top
The lecture period was the time for
reviewing ideas from the week’s reading and for introducing new material. I prepared what would normally be a 20-25 minute
lecture, but the time was doubled when interpretation was added. The group leaders were also the interpreters,
and we developed a duty rotation so they would all have the opportunity
to work in this way. It was important
each week to review the material together with the person interpreting
to find any difficult words or concepts that might need to be more thoughtfully
For two evenings during the program,
I invited guest lecturers from the local church to speak, partly to
give readers the opportunity to meet more Christian teachers and partly
just to add variety.
One guest lecturer was a recent graduate
of International Christian University here in Kyiv, and he gave a lot of information about the composition
of the Bible, how it was written, and some historical evidences for
its authenticity. This was an
important topic for readers to learn more about, because many of them
seem to struggle with whether or not they can trust the Bible as a historical
document, much less as God’s word. This
speaker also gave them a new way to practice listening to English: he
gave the entire lecture in English and then gave it again in Russian.
A second guest lecturer, a local missionary,
stepped in to the readings schedule and took his topic from a chapter
of Mere Christianity. He followed the same pattern of reviewing and
then elucidating, but he added a slightly different perspective to the
program as he shared experiences of “The Three Parts of Morality” in
his life. It was a valuable experience for the readers
to hear about the influence of Christian thinking on the life of someone
who was a little older than the rest of us who were helping with the
program and who could more easily relate to their families because he
had a family of his own.
Another very interesting part of planning
the lectures was bringing in new material related to, but not necessarily
repeating, the material from the readings. As an example, I will try
to summarize a lecture that introduced the Bible’s creation story as
background for the chapter entitled “The Rival Conceptions of God.” In the chapter, Lewis tries to identify Christianity’s
place among the competing thought systems of the world’s religions and
their positions on the origins of morality. He divides people first into either non-believers
(atheists and materialists) or believers. He then makes a distinction between the dualism
common in the East and the monotheism of Christians, Jews, and Muslims,
and from that point continues the discussion on the nature of the universe
he began in the opening chapter. Unlike
dualistic religions, which insist that there is no distinction between
good and evil from the “divine viewpoint,” Christianity takes the distinction
very seriously and insists at its most basic level that Christians fight
for good’s triumph over evil. As part of this lecture, we read Genesis 1 and
3 together to understand where Christianity gets its fundamental concept
that a good world created by a good and loving God has gone wrong and
needs to be put right again. The
questions for the discussion group attempted to establish even further
connections between Lewis’s statements, Scripture, and the readers’
own experiences of the fallenness of the world.
About midway through the program,
the group leaders and I decided to add a singing/worship time to the
lecture section of the evening. For
the sake of brevity, I’ll just quote from my November 2001 newsletter
One real blessing
in the Mere Christianity groups
over the last month has been that we were able to introduce a worship
time. The discussion group leaders
and I chose three simple songs that are similar in meaning in Russian
and English, and we have been singing those at the last few meetings. We chose “Our God is an Awesome God,” “We Bow
Down,” and “Father I Adore You.” “Father I Adore You” is sung in two
rounds with two sets of voices, and last week we sang the first round
in English and the second in Russian.
This was such an amazing experience for me personally because,
instead of our different languages creating a conflict of understanding,
they were united through this song in a single expression of praise
to God. I really like what Christian writer Leanne Payne, musing on
Psalm 22:3, writes about the act of worship:
“We enthrone God
in our praises and He condescends to inhabit them. His presence in our praises reflects the pattern
of the incarnation—the way God comes to us, drawing us ever more into
It is my prayer
that God will be present during this time in the praises of believers
and those who are yet unbelievers. Believers
and non-believers alike seem to enjoy singing; they have asked to learn
two new songs this week instead of one.
Some groups have even been closing their
discussion times with prayer, but a few readers seem a little more uncomfortable
with this display of faith commitment.
In actuality, the lecture was a time
of experimentation, of trying different approaches to teaching, different
combinations of material, and of learning to adapt to the interests
of the readers.
to read lecture topics and small group discussion questions.
back to top
groups were probably the liveliest part of the program; workers developed
relationships with readers and were able to deal more directly with
their concerns, and the readers themselves expressed sincere enjoyment
in participation. The 25 readers
were divided into 4 smaller groups according to approximate English
skill level. With the exception
of my group, which was conducted entirely in English and included only
those readers who could function at that level, the other group leaders
dealt with the language barrier in a variety of ways.
The two leaders of the lowest level group, though they both spoke
Russian and English, took turns leading the group in English while the
other leader translated into Russian.
The leaders of another group always started in English and only
switched to Russian when necessitated by the complexity of ideas.
The members of the third group decided that interest in the material
at hand was high enough to dispense with English practice and conduct
the discussion entirely in Russian; the leaders simply took turns guiding
the flow of conversation. The group leaders and I met together at regular
intervals to discuss any issues or problems in their groups and to check
on the spiritual progress of members.
here to read lecture topics and small group discussion questions.