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Africa beckons; South Africa waits

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Since the inaugural global Baptist gathering in 1905, 20 congresses have provided special memories for Baptists around the world. In July this year, Africa will play host to the first congress to be held on this vast continent that has so far provided one of the 20 BWA presidents. All Africa awaits the coming of the Baptists, more than a thousand of whom have already registered to attend the congress.

South Africa is blessed to be the country where the congress will take place. It provides a wonderful context for the demonstration of Baptist unity to the glory of God. Baptists there are waiting to receive us and to help us extract maximum benefit from the congress.

One may identify eight phases in the development of Baptist churches in South Africa that are related to the BWA:                                                                                 

In the first phase, Baptists from England were among the 4,500 who, in 1820, migrated to the country in search of economic security. In 1823, the Grahamstown Baptist Church was formed.

The second features the coming of German soldiers taking part in the Crimean War (1853-1856), allying with the British, French and Turks against the Russians. The arrival of these soldiers was followed by an influx of German farmers who immigrated to South Africa in the 1850s. Soon, a German Baptist church was formed and a Bund, an association of churches, came into being in 1870.

In 1843 the third phase began when Britain annexed Natal and, by the 1860s, the first Indians arrived, mainly from South India. A second wave of Indians went to Natal as indentured workers on Natal’s sugar cane fields. The first Baptist church was formed among the Indian population in 1900. Eventually, two separate groups of Indian Baptist churches came into being, which eventually took the names Baptist Association of South Africa and Baptist Mission of South Africa.

The fourth phase, starting in the 1880s, saw German Baptists in South Africa initiating a mission among the Dutch-speaking people. In 1886, the first Afrikaans-speaking Baptist church was established.

1888 marks the start of the fifth phase, with the introduction of Baptist work among the so-called “coloured” South Africans, leading to the establishment of the Western Coloured Baptist Association.

The sixth phase, begun in 1892, saw German Baptists beginning work among black South Africans. In 1927, the Bantu Baptist Church was formed.

The formation in 1877 of the Baptist Union of Southern Africa marked the beginning of the seventh phase. The emergence in 1965 of the Baptist Convention of South Africa, with reorganization as a separate body in 1987, started yet another phase in the development of Baptist life in what is undoubtedly one of the world’s beautiful countries.

The Congress Local Arrangements Committee comprises representatives of the four Baptist groups in South Africa that enjoy membership in the BWA. In 1999, these groups formed the South African Baptist Alliance and today they are busily working together to prepare the way for us to join them in celebrating Jesus Christ, the Door.

At the most recent congress in Hawaii, in 2010, those in attendance made the most of Hawaiian “Aloha” as we sought to hear the Spirit. In South Africa, they will probe the richness of the idea of Jesus Christ, the Door, in the perspective of South African “Ubuntu.”

Come and you will see.


Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.


  • Guest
    PEDRO ALVES CARDOSO Wednesday, 01 July 2015

    Interesting to know the history of South African Baptists. Truly enriching, especially for me that I was Brazilian Baptist missionary in the years 1984 to 1986 and participated in the Northern Baptist Association. I'll be at this Congress in Durban, S.A.

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