Mark McDonnel (Th.M., 1996), a Texas native, is quite a linguist. While speaking Russian, he teaches students at Kiev Theological Seminary to read Greek … no small challenge. Mark tells how God used his personal background and time at DTS to prepare him to train Christian leaders in Kiev, Ukraine.
My home life growing up, though a bit crazy, always pointed me to the Lord. A defining event in our family was my mother’s illness and eventual death. My mother had a series of medical conditions including a brain tumor related to an ongoing condition called Cushing’s Syndrome. She had brain surgery when I was seven and a stroke when I was a teenager. (My two younger sisters were with her when she had the stroke.)
The circumstances challenged my understanding of God and life in general. We had a fairly happy home, which was regularly punctuated by medical crises. I grew up viewing God as sovereign, but arbitrary and somewhat frightening. In all of this, though, God showed his love through a number of different people.
When I was nine, my father realized his dream to become a pastor in a small church outside Houston, Texas. Our church showed exceptional love to us while he was the pastor. They served my mother and our family sacrificially in ways beyond the call of duty. And my family rose to the challenge, too. My aunt (my mother's sister) cared for my mother. And my father, who refused to put my mother into a nursing home when he was advised to, remained loyal to her, loving and caring for her with devotion.
Dallas Seminary took me many steps further in theology and hermeneutics. My most valuable classes dealt with Bible interpretation, taught by Dr. Hendricks, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Bock, and many others. I also grew in my understanding of the Cross. As I look back at my mother's suffering, and the secondary suffering in our family, I still don't understand many things about that time. But the Cross has come to mean to me that God is not distant from us, but rather that he has chosen to suffer with us. The Cross has shown me that our suffering is not in vain—we have a high priest who has suffered with us and who understands.
As a teacher at the Kiev Theological Seminary in Ukraine, I can see that DTS prepared me for this ministry by giving me the skills I would need to teach the Bible. My wife Donna and I, with our four children, have lived here for almost six years. God has richly blessed his Word, and we are watching a new generation of Ukrainians work to rebuild their country after a devastating 70 years under communism.
Being a missionary here is the hardest thing I have ever done. Living here has stripped me down to a place of humility, and Donna would say the same. But one step at a time God has been rebuilding us in ways we never imagined. He actually began this process in seminary. Our years at DTS were hard and stretching—they were exciting, confusing, clarifying, and inspiring. And being a missionary in Ukraine is even more so.
I am very grateful to the Dallas Seminary professors who have gone several extra miles to encourage me and give me specific help in my ministry here—Dr. Pyne and Dr. Lawson have come to the seminary here in Kiev. I also was able to team-teach a course in Donetsk, Ukraine, with Dr. Ralston. I am amazed by the Lord's leading in my life, and the people he has allowed me to know. And through the Scriptures and the message of the Cross, I am becoming even more hopeful and inspired by the vision of the Kingdom of God becoming reality in my life, and in those around me.
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.