Today, the mighty, modernistic structure’s facade is plastered with advertising for an in-house fitness club and the stucco is peeling, but northern Moscow’s endangered Russian-American Institute (RAI) is still in business.

That quickly became evident in a talk with its dynamic dean and only full-time employee, Ruslan Nadyuk, on May 12. Since the closing of RAI’s undergraduate, liberal-arts program in December 2010, he and colleagues have developed a new “School of Social Work and Counseling,” presently attended by 28 students.

Nadyuk and roughly 10 part-time instructors are offering a five-year bachelors program leading to a degree in social work and family counselling as well as a two-year graduate diploma. An additional 130 students attend courses on topics such as addiction and rehabilitation.

Other courses cover how to teach life skills to teenagers just “graduated” from orphanages, or how to coach adults in the skills required of successful adoptive parents. The students are no longer graduates fresh out of high school, but rather older, employed persons.

All study part-time. Russian-language courses are offered on evenings and weekends. English is also being taught, but not as part of the academic program.

Nadyuk, a candidate for a professor’s title in psychology at the State Linguistics University of Nizhny Novgorod, has also served as a Baptist pastor for 13 years. He explains: “The goal of our program is the practical application of Christian faith. How can those who are already converted put their faith to work?”

RAI is searching for niches not filled by the Russian educational system. It wants to offer programs and serve people in ways in which secular institutions cannot. The grave social, spiritual and psychological needs of the masses are of course also evident in Russia.

This new program stresses the integration of sociology and psychology ― a common characteristic of social work programs. RAI cooperates closely with Oklahoma’s Oral Roberts University (ORU) and Professor Lanny Endicott, the head of its Department for Social Work.

Though the program has a license for teaching, its current curriculum has not been accredited by the Russian Ministry of Education. Nevertheless, certain courses can be transferred to ORU for credit.

Nadyuk points out that the lack of accreditation could be a blessing in disguise. The process of accreditation would “limit the healthy process of integrating both Christian and professional components within the program, which is our priority, he says, adding, “It is no secret that the USA has extensive experience in the preparation of counselors, and we need to adopt the best of those traditions for our own purposes.”

In contrast to many Russian evangelicals, RAI has no qualms about integrating the discoveries of psychology into its program.

RAI believes its new School of Social Work may achieve financial self-sufficiency as early as 2013. Nadyuk notes that students care most about their studies when they are also personally responsible for payment.

On May 12, Associate Dean Mark Currie, a pastor from Virginia long serving in a non-denominational Moscow congregation, reported on a student who had just received a special grant to cover a portion of her tuition. “Terrific!” the woman exclaimed. “Now I can return to the pawn shop and buy back my jewelry!”

At this early stage of the program’s development, the majority of students come from Moscow’s largest Protestant congregation: Matts-Ola Ishoel’s 4.000-member and charismatic “Word of Life” congregation.

John Bernbaum remains RAI’s president. He is its founding father and was president when the original Russian-American Christian University (RACU) opened its doors in 1995. The name change followed in 2009. RACU/RAI is still affiliated with the Washington, D.C.-based, mainstream-evangelical Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).

RAI’s magnificent new edifice was dedicated on May 27, 2010, but due to the lack of state accreditation, it was forced to drop its traditional, full-time program only seven months later. Currently, most of the building is rented to outside firms. 

Nadyuk explains that the unjust, heavy taxation on non-state education leaves no other option for the present.

Initially, RAI’s campus was not welcomed by its neighbours. More than 10 public demonstrations occurred at the site during the five-year construction period. A monument warning of foreign influences still stands 50 meters away. Ironically, a national fraternal association of police officers is now a renter on 4th floor, which could be regarded as a sign of increasing understanding.

William Yoder writes for the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, a partner church of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He is a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.