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It had the makings of a spy novel—in his first years overseas, Dr. Young regularly went undercover into Communist Europe with instructions like this: “You will meet a man on the street with a newspaper tucked under his arm. Follow him, but do not walk beside him. And someone else will follow behind to make sure you are not being tailed.”
He and his wife Priscilla were living in Vienna, Austria, and working with an organization called Biblical Education by Extension (BEE). Dr. Young traveled regularly to Eastern Europe to meet with pastors to train them in short seminars, leaving them with nonformal instructional materials to work through until he or another BEE representative could return.
“Once I was pulled off a train by the secret police in Romania and told everywhere I had been on my trip and whom I had met with, though I had followed the instructions carefully.,” Dr. Young said.
But it was the national Christian leaders who had more to lose by being discovered. Some of them had been imprisoned or members of their families had been imprisoned or killed for their faith and Christian witness.
“My contact with nationals was extremely powerful, and I sensed that I probably gained even more from it than they did.”
He didn’t start his ministry path expecting to go overseas, though. For seven generations Dr. Young’s family had lived in Putnam County, West Virginia. He grew up in a very family oriented, stable environment, but one that didn’t have much cultural diversity.
“The closest thing we had to an ethnic group was the Episcopalians.”
While at Marshall College, he got involved with Campus Crusade. His experience there strongly influenced him toward a life of ministry.
“I really began to see how God could use me in the lives of others.”
When he graduated, he had the choice of going on staff with Campus Crusade or continuing his education to gain more theological training. He realized that while he had a ministry focus, he had little depth to his walk with Christ. He needed some systematic theological training, so he enrolled at DTS and began his master of theology degree in 1977.
On a whim, he signed up to go to Poland for the summer of 1979 on a mission trip. His team worked with a Catholic youth renewal movement and lived in remote villages in the mountains of southern Poland. They had exposure to hundreds of students and taught four hours a day through an interpreter on subjects such as the gospel, the Four Spiritual laws, and the filling of the Spirit.
Two significant things came out of that experience: first, he was convicted of his own selfishness in his motivations and aspirations to learn and develop his communication skills. And second, he saw a new dimension and possibility to use his gifts among people in desperate need.
“They didn’t have much understanding and were intensely eager to learn.”
When he returned to finish his schooling, he met Priscilla, who was Dr. Hendricks’ secretary, or as Dr. Young says, “bouncer.” She had grown up in East Africa and had spent a year in Germany. She was committed to living overseas, and as they fell in love they talked about marriage and missions all at once.
“We had a natural blending of interests—and while Priscilla always had a special love for African people, her time in Europe helped her see the need there.”
In 1982, they moved to Vienna, which was BEE’s base, and Dr. Young traveled extensively. After the birth of their first two children, Ben in 1984 and Bonnie in 1985, the travel became less attractive. He also sensed that his education wasn’t adequate to train leaders cross-culturally and to design curricula for the training programs.
So, he began a Ph.D. program with Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1986. Not long into the program, he was contacted by a good friend named Zygmunt Karel, a pastor in Krakow, Poland, asking him to help him begin a seminary.
The Youngs moved to Krakow in 1988 and lived through the transition from Communism to democracy in Poland. (The Poles were the first to defy the Soviets and held the first free elections in the region in 1989.)
“It was a phenomenal experience to live through that, but also very challenging. Life was hard there—we didn’t have time to just enjoy the spectacle.”
In 1989 their third child, Christian, was born, and not long after Dr. Young finished his doctorate. And in 1990, the Biblical Theological Seminary of Poland opened its doors. Zygmunt was the founding president and Dr. Young the founding dean.
“In a sense, Zygmunt was the seminary’s father and I was its mother—he was the head, and I ran it.”
For five years, they poured their lives into this seminary that they had dreamed about since 1982. And today, the school’s training continues to shape the church in Poland.
“In every way, we were living out our dreams. It was the most satisfying years of our lives.”
About four years after the school’s founding, Dr. Young observed a troubling trend—many Poles and expatriates viewed him as the head of the seminary. This was not true and it was particularly unfair to Zygmunt. Realizing the importance of a Polish identity for the school, the family was faced with a dilemma.
The Youngs had assimilated almost entirely into their Polish world—the children were in Polish school, and Dr. Young spoke English only at home. As difficult as the decision to leave was, though, the harder part was deciding where to go. They looked at many different options with their mission organization, but in the end they decided it would be most strategic to return to Dallas and accept a position at DTS.
In 1995, they moved to Dallas in 108-degree weather. He called the temperature symbolic because their first year back was “pure hell.” The whole family suffered tremendous reverse culture shock and loss of identity. It took them three years to call Dallas home.
In Priscilla’s words, “the U.S. was always somewhere I lived when I was waiting to go back overseas.” And Dr. Young said, “We weren’t sure we liked Americans.”
Out of desperation, the Youngs began to lead the first couples’ Spiritual Formation group, and they say it saved their lives in many ways because all of the couples were going through major adjustments in their lives.
Now, as one of the most respected professors on campus, Dr. Young sees his role as an opportunity to elevate and bring the mission of God to the core of his students’ theological understanding. Teaching the one required missions course in the Th.M. program gives him the chance to help reshape his students’ thinking about their own identity and that of the church in relation to the world.
“I see God using us as a platform not only to encourage some students to step onto mission field, but also to give pastors who stay in the States a heart for the world.”
Dr. Young still travels to Eastern Europe three or four times a year and is also on staff at his church, Stonebriar Community Church, where Dr. Swindoll is the pastor. His role there as executive pastor for ministry training allows him not only to direct the interns and residents, but also to encourage the personal growth of the staff and the professional development of other pastors outside his church.
The mission of Dallas Theological Seminary is to
glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders
for the proclamation of His Word and the
building up of the body of Christ worldwide.