"It is one of the few, if any, schools of this type in Serbia and will serve not only the UBC but an even wider evangelical community," Franka said.
Local pastors began the school in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1955. Though it thrived for a time, enrollment and effectiveness declined in the '90s due to many issues, including theological liberalism. Eventually the school closed its doors.
Today, Franka envisions a school that will produce pastors and church planters who will be spiritually mature servants of Christ. He currently is working two strategies through the UBC: "Berea" to help existing churches and "Antioch" to stimulate new church planting.
Franka said he wants the institute's graduates to know Scripture and how to teach it, as well as have a passion for church planting.
The school also needs a strong connection with local churches, Franka said.
"It is our persuasion that every future ministry in this country must start from our existing churches, which now need a lot of help," he said. "There is felt need to train laborers for the harvest: pastors, church planters and many other Christian workers who will minister to various groups of people within Serbia."
As the school regains the trust of the churches and offers a consistent, valuable training program, the potential for impact is huge, Franka said.
International Mission Board personnel in Serbia currently work with church planters with whom Franka also is engaged. Franka has been a valuable ministry partner with IMB over the years, said Kyle Kirkpatrick, an IMB strategy leader in South Europe.
Kirkpatrick said the Bible institute's reopening, slated for Oct. 22, "is symbolic of both our past contributions to Baptist work in Serbia and our current investment in the future of Serbian churches."
Franka has been working for the last two years to prepare the institute's facilities for the re-opening. Last summer alone, five teams of volunteers from the United States helped renovate the existing campus. The school has a four-story building in Novi Sad with space for dormitories and extra land. It is well situated and Franka thinks at least 20 students will be enrolled this fall.
Franka said he is looking to the International Mission Board to help with organization, faculty and content. The school's first course will be hermeneutics, the basic interpretation of Scripture, and will be aimed to those already actively involved in ministry. Kirpatrick said an effort will be made "to train a relatively large number of people quickly while keeping them immersed in local ministry. It is strategic in that it takes the skills and knowledge needed for ministry and puts them firmly in the hands of local believers and leaders."
Preston Pearce, IMB theological education consultant for Europe, will be the visiting professor in October. He sees the timing of the institute's opening as strategic.
"I believe we should put everything we can into helping this institute," Pearce said. "Given its location, it could stimulate church planting all over Serbia and into other countries of south Europe. The time seems right to be part of this vision."
Reported by IMB communications staff in Europe.
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