Caribbean suffers destruction in the wake of Sandy

Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA), has granted an initial sum of US$20,000 for relief to the Caribbean following the passage of Hurricane Sandy through the northern Caribbean and the United States.

Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands were the islands most affected by the late-season tropical cyclone.

Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, suffered especially hard. Ronel Mesidor of the Haiti Baptist Convention reported that areas in and around Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince were particularly affected. A number of church buildings, including those of the Duvivier, Damien, Leogane and Tigoave Baptist churches were flooded. At least one member of Tigoave Baptist Church died as a result of the hurricane.

Some of the walls of a school operated by the Mussotte Baptist Church collapsed and its roof destroyed.  Mesidor also reported that Baptists lost their homes and livelihood as many lost both crops and farm animals during the hurricane.

At least 52 people are reported to have died in Haiti because of Hurricane Sandy and an estimated 200,000 are displaced.

Jamaica Baptist Union (JBU) General Secretary Karl Johnson said "Sandy left a trail of destruction mainly in the southeastern section of the island. Parishes such as St. Mary, Portland, St. Thomas and Kingston & St. Andrew bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy's wrath."

Jamaica was the first of the islands to get a direct hit from Sandy.

The JBU leader said one life was lost as a result of the hurricane "and severe damage done to properties, crops, roads and the general infrastructure in several communities." Johnson said "preliminary reports have indicated that about 15-20 of our (Baptist) buildings have been affected. We are looking at a conservative figure of almost $30 million to effect repairs."

The eastern section of Cuba, including the city of Santiago, was hit hard by the hurricane, said Joel Dupont, president of the Baptist Convention of Eastern Cuba. He reported that there was "chaos in the city (Santiago)" and that "11,000 people have lost their roofs and consequently, everything in their homes as they have no protection from the rain."

Many Cubans are now without basic services as "there is no water, electricity, and since most homes use electric stoves, people are not able to cook even if they have food."  Dupont said electrical power is expected to be out for at least a month. Three pastors suffered personal loss to their homes, Dupont said.

"Churches in Cuba are arranging a feeding center to feed people in their community," the Cuban Baptist leader told the BWA. "They are using all their funds to help families in need regardless of their faith. They have four teams in place to visit the communities that have been damaged to see how they can help. Situation in the city is critical and desperate."

Anthony Carroll, president f the National Baptist Missionary and Education Convention (NBMEC) in the Bahamas said five islands – Eleuthera, Abaco, Exuma, Cat Island and Grand Bahama – suffered the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, and New Providence, the island on which it is located, suffered minimal damage. The Bahamas comprises more than 3,000 islands, cays and islets.

The NBMEC is assessing the level of damage by liaising with Baptist leaders at the association level and is in touch with the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship (CBF), one of six regional fellowships of the BWA, to plan any coordinated relief effort.

Everton Jackson, executive secretary/treasurer of the CBF said many people in the Caribbean "are still in shelters and are in need of basic food items and clothing." He told the BWA that while full assessments of the damage and needs are not yet done, "initially there is dire need for food, water, and temporary shelter in some areas. We do appreciate the support of the BWA."

Donations for hurricane relief may be made online at www.bwanet.org, or sent to:
Baptist World Aid
405 North Washington Street
Falls Church, VA 22046
USA

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 31, 2012

Lebanese Baptists call for prayer, express anger at bomb attack

Baptists in Lebanon are appealing to the worldwide Baptist family to pray for the Middle Eastern country in the wake of a bomb blast on October 19. At least eight persons were killed, including Wissam al-Hassan, the country's head of intelligence and his assistant. An estimated 110 more were injured.

Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD) and a vice president of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA), said the situation in Lebanon "continues to be fragile with heightened emotions." While things seemed to have calmed down after the bombing, he expressed anger and dismay at what had occurred. "We feel sad, outraged, afraid, and angry. As humans we cannot help but have these feelings," Costa stated. "We thought our country had turned a new page, yet once again evil hands are back to haunt us."

Costa said the bombing occurred during peak hour "when children were returning home from school, many employees returning from their work, or people were running errands." As a result, "the level of destruction is unbelievable; families lost loved ones, casualties are lying in hospitals, with many in critical condition." He said the situation "is [a]catastrophe especially that all of these families belong to the lower middle class or middle class and they are 90 percent not insured."

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam said, "We are severely disappointed that the relative peace Lebanon has experienced in recent years has been shattered by such a wanton attack without regard to the sanctity of life. Lebanon has opened its arms to citizens of other countries, such as Syria, that have experienced their own turmoil in recent times. Lebanese, including Baptists, have practiced the Christian virtues of hospitality and charity in the face of their own challenges and difficulties. It is incumbent upon the rest of us to remember the country at this time."

The bombing is believed to be part of the fallout and spillover from the civil war in Syria, which shares a border with Lebanon. Thousands of Syrian refugees have been pouring into Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries since the Syrian civil war started in 2011. Al-Hassan, the head of the intelligence branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, was believed to be the target.

The attack occurred in Ashrafieh, an area of the capital Beirut that is mostly inhabited by Christian families. It is the first major incident in Lebanon in recent years. The country previously experienced years of turmoil. It went through a protracted civil war between 1975 and 1990, resulting in an estimated 120,000 fatalities, many thousands injured, and tens of thousands displaced.

In February 2005, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a car bomb explosion. The assassination triggered the Cedar Revolution, during which demonstrators demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. In July 2006, a 34 day war broke out between Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Israel that killed almost 1,200 Lebaneseand about 160 Israelis.

The country has experienced relative calm since that war ended on August 14 of that year.

Costa asked for prayers for peace in Lebanon, that the Lord may keep the country and people safe from all evil plots and for families that were directly affected by the blast. He asked Baptists to remember Lebanon's national and political leaders, for them to learn to coexist and work for the best interest of the country irrespective of their beliefs and despite their differences.

Costa expressed concern for the safety of students as they commute to and from school and for the safety of Baptist staff. He asked that prayers be offered for Baptists in Lebanon "that we may continue in the work that the Lord has called us for in Lebanon and the region, with all enthusiasm no matter what."

The Convention of the Evangelical Baptist Churches in Lebanon, a member organization of the BWA, has approximately 1,600 members in 32 churches. LSESD, which is independent of but affiliated with the convention, operates and manages a number of Baptist institutions, including a publishing house, a theological college, a school, and a relief agency. LSESD has been a major BWA partner in relief efforts in the region.

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 24, 2012

Baptists present report on Pakistan at UN meeting

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) will participate in a review of Pakistan's human rights record at an upcoming meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC).

The HRC's second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Pakistan takes place in Geneva, Switzerland, on October 30. As a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Consultative Status with the UN, the BWA, along with other NGOs, nations and states, submitted its own report on the situation in Pakistan.

The BWA report takes particular issue with Pakistan's blasphemy laws that have led to the persecution of Christians and other minority groups. "The exploitation, violence, and persecution against religious minorities are on an increasing curve across the country," the BWA report states.

Among the abuses highlighted by the BWA are extra judicial killings, enforced disappearances, violence against women, misuse of blasphemy laws, injustices at the workplace against religious minorities, and attacks on places of worship.

"A climate of impunity exists" in Pakistan, says Raimundo Barreto, BWA director of Freedom and Justice. "Perpetrators are not held accountable and police often do not act to prevent abuses or apprehend attackers."

Well known consequences of the blasphemy laws include that of Asia Bibi, a Christian, who was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 by a Pakistani court for allegedly blaspheming against the prophet Muhammad. It has been reported that the accusation against Bibi stemmed, at least partially, from a property damage dispute that Bibi had with a neighbor.

In August this year, Rimsha Masih, a 14 year old Christian girl, was arrested for allegedly desecrating pages of the Quran. In early September a local imam was arrested on suspicion of planting pages of the Quran in Masih's bag.  She was subsequently released on bail.

Officials in the South Asian nation have been killed for opposing these laws. Salmaan Taseer, governor of the province of Punjab, was killed in January 2011 by his own security guard who disagreed with Taseer's opposition to the blasphemy laws. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who was Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Affairs, was assassinated in March 2011 for his vocal criticism of the nation's blasphemy laws.

Christer Daelander, BWA representative at the UN in Geneva, claims that "thousands of people have been accused of blasphemy" since the laws were first introduced into Pakistan in 1986. "Since then hundreds have been judged and condemned for blasphemy."

In September, the BWA participated in a hearing on blasphemy laws in Pakistan organized by the World Council of Churches, and attended meetings held by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom on human rights violations in Pakistan.

"The BWA will continue to reach out to key countries that can raise these concerns at the HRC," Barreto explains. "We urge the global Baptist family to pray for this important UPR session, and encourage Baptist leaders in different countries to write or contact their governments and bring this concern to their attention."

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 22, 2012

Baptist representative emphasized Christian unity and religious liberty at Vatican meeting

Baptist Christians are committed to Christian unity, said Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School in the United States, at a meeting at Vatican City.

George represented the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) as a fraternal delegate at the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church hosted by Pope Benedict XVI, from October 7-18.

George, who is dean and professor of divinity, history and doctrine at Beeson, said that "Baptists confess with all Christians a robust faith in the one triune God" and that the "missionary God" has placed before the church an imperative for Christian unity. "We are not only to proclaim the Good News to all peoples but to do it in a way that visibly reflects the unity and love between the Father and the Son," George explained.

But even while affirming unity, George, who is chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Christian Unity and a member of the Advisory Committee of the BWA Division of Mission, Evangelism and Theological Reflection, emphasized the historical Baptist commitment to religious liberty. "Throughout our history Baptists have been ardent champions of religious freedom, not only for ourselves, but for all persons everywhere."

He described religious liberty as "a gift rooted in the character of God himself, and in the kind of relationship to which he calls all persons." Such freedom, however, has come "under assault in many ways – some blatant and others more subtle." There is the need, therefore, for all Christians to "stand and work together for the protection and flourishing of universal religious freedom, both for individuals and for institutions of faith."

George had accepted the invitation of BWA General Secretary Neville Callam to attend the Vatican meetings. The assembly had as its theme, The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. Topics discussed included a rediscovery of the heart of evangelization; discerning the changes that affect how the faith is lived and that influence Christian communities; the transmission of the Christian faith; and pastoral activity.

The gathering marked the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council which opened on October 11, 1962, and closed December 8, 1965. The council, among other things, addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world.

Click here to read the full text of Timothy George's presentation.

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 23, 2012

International theological education conference planned for Jamaica in June 2013

The 8th Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE) takes place in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, from June 28-30, 2013.

The event will focus on the theme, In Step with the Spirit: Perspectives on Pneumatology within The Worldwide Baptist Family. It will include a wide ranging set of papers and discussions from Baptist leaders, pastors, theologians, and educators from all six regions of the BWA – Africa, Asia Pacific, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America.

Topics to be explored include Baptist Contribution to Theological Reflection on the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit and Social Justice, and Emerging Issues in the Theological Formation of Ministerial Students.

BICTE, planned by the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA), is normally held every five years. The 7th BICTE was held in Prague, Czech Republic, in July 2008.

Registration for the theological education conference can be done at the BWA website at www.bwanet.org.

BICTE immediately precedes the BWA Annual Gathering, which will also be held in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, from July 1-6, 2013. Information on the Annual Gathering can be read via the BWA website. Online registration for the Gathering begins October 26.

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 12, 2012