My name is Dwayne Baldwin, and I serve as a missionary to Serbia. Serbia is located in E. Europe, below Hungary and west of Romania. It was one of the 6 Republics of former Yugoslavia, and was home to the capital of Belgrade. I have been here with my wife and 4 of my 5 boys since 2013, working for Training Leaders International, a teaching missions agency who's purpose is to provide theological education to pastors and Christian leaders around the world who cannot afford or have no access to good education. It was started out of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and is independent now.
Serbia has a population of about 7.5 MM, yet only .001% profess to be evangelical, which is a very generous number. The predominant religion is Serbian Orthodox, and Baptist (as well as all other Evangelicals) are classified by the government as a cult. Baptists also have the stigma of being associated with Bill Clinton, who not only led the NATO bombing in Serbia in 1999, but professed publically to be a Baptist. Being a Baptist American here carries a lot of stress!
I was tasked with the job of "re-starting" a Theological College with the Baptist Union of Serbia. The school has officially been in existence since 1939 (about the time the Baptists came to Serbia). It has opened and closed several times because of war, but since the 1980's underwent a slow decline into liberalism until it's ultimate death in 2007. My job was to start a school that offered a Bachelor's degree, with no money, no teachers, no staff, no structure or policies or statement of faith, and no teachers. We had a physical building and a committed Union President, but nothing more.
By God's grace, the Baptist Theological School was started September 2015 with a Bachelor of Biblical and Theological Studies program. We had 20 students sign up when we were hoping for 2 or 3. We have a website (www.btsns.org), a catalogue, and now a secretary. The Lord has done an amazing work here.
There is much still to do, with the students needing attention and care. Education in Serbia is shame-based, so having a school staff who is kind and interested in the physical and spiritual well-being of the school is shocking to them. Our goals are to create a school with Serbian leadership, and Serbians who understand the importance of good theology and can teach others in the country through discipleship, pastoring and mentoring.
Needless to say, running a theological school is difficult and strange with having theological education myself. I was told once that degrees only mattered to Americans and Westerners, and have found that to not be true at least in E Europe. People are considered worthy of respect based on their training and education. I spend a lot of time arguing for the need for solid education in formal settings, and how discipleship and independent study are insufficient alone. I have seen firsthand the effects on an entire society where no good education has existed for many years. Ecclesiology is terrible, theological knowledge is piecemeal and syncretistic, and leaders are incapable or unknowledgeable about true Biblical leadership. Even in a time where much information is accessible through the internet (providing one knows very good English), men and women must be taught to discern how to filter through all the information and gather what is good. I was able to earn my M.T.S from RBS in Systematic Theology, which has prepared me to handle many questions and difficulties posed by students, as well as give them a sense of confidence in my ability to answer. I am very thankful for the extremely practical and useful theological education that RBS has provided me.
My prayer is that I could persevere in this task without being overwhelmed, and that we could get the financial and theological resources we need to shine light in this spiritually dark area.