Rebuilding Christianity Behind the Iron Curtain

  • Religion
  • 1996

As the harvest of a century of religious persecution, only 2 percent of Russians now attend church weekly; 7 percent attend at least once a month. To help rebuild the faith, a group of American Christian philanthropists decided to launch an American-style Christian liberal-arts college. The Russian-American Christian University opened its doors in Moscow in 1996, offering business and social work as its first two majors. The mission, explains Howard Dahl, the owner of a North Dakota manufacturing firm who donates three quarters of his income to charity, and a founding member of the college’s board of directors, was to produce students who would come out of their education “bilingual, computer literate, with a deep sense of the value of a liberal-arts education, and a strong Christian faith.” An early slogan was “Character, Competence, and Christian Worldview.”

Along with Dahl and other individual donors, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation was a supporter. The college produced several hundred graduates before running into political and government opposition, a refusal of state accreditation, and heavy taxes which forced it to close its undergraduate program in 2010. The school of social work was spun off to the Russian Orthodox Church and a few programs continue under the rubric of the Russian-American Institute.

Howard Dahl also helped build up Lithuania Christian College, one of the only other private, faith-based liberal-arts colleges in the territories of the former Soviet Union. He and his wife have also funded social and fraternal groups working to re-establish Christian practice in former Soviet lands, including a thriving youth organization in south Russia connected to Young Life.