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.

 

Basic Logistics

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.

 

Readings Program

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.

 

Starting Place

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 more.

 

 

Links/Go to:   Meal

                        Lecture

                        Discussion Groups

 

The Meal

 

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.

 

To anyone 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.

 

 

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The Lecture

 

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 translated.

 

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 below:

 

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 Himself.” 

 

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.

 

Click here to read lecture topics and small group discussion questions.

 

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Discussion Groups

 

The discussion 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.

 

 

Click here to read lecture topics and small group discussion questions.