Baptist pastors killed in Nigerian bomb attacks

At least two Baptist pastors have been killed and a number of Baptist properties destroyed in violent attacks by extremists in Nigeria.

Olasupo Ayokunle, president and chief executive officer of the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC) told the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) that the pastors died "in the recent bombing of the chaplaincy at the Command and Staff College in Jaji, Kaduna state." A third pastor had to flee to the south of the country from the city of Maiduguri in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria after threats and assassination attempts on his life. "Many other souls were lost elsewhere in the country," Ayokunle told the BWA.

The attacks were allegedly caused by Boko Haram, a jihadist group that seeks to establish shariah law in Nigeria, which has claimed responsibility for some of the bombings. The group has carried out a series of bombings against Christian churches and government facilities such as police stations. By early 2012, the group was responsible for more than 900 deaths.  In June 2012, almost 200 Christians were killed in at least three church attacks in the states of Bauchi and Plateau, located in northern Nigeria, and Kaduna state, which is in the central part of the country. In one of the most recent attacks on October 3, dozens of persons were massacred in the town of Mubi in Adamawa state during a nighttime raid.

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam said "the BWA is deeply concerned about the continuing attacks being perpetrated by extremist groups, in many cases targeting Christians. We are especially concerned about the unacceptable situation in Maiduguri, where it has been reported that Boko Haram is directing its aggression against Christians." The BWA, he said, "unreservedly affirms peoples' right to enjoy religious liberty and peaceful co-existence with people of all faiths. We continue to fear that the increasing frequency of eruptions of violence is leading to an increase in the number of casualties that can have a negative effect on the future of Nigeria as a nation."

A BWA human rights team led by BWA Director of Freedom and Justice Raimundo Barreto travels to Nigeria in early December and is expected to meet with government and church leaders. The trip coincides with the observance of BWA Human Rights Day on December 9.

In July 2012, the BWA passed a resolution calling for "a peaceful ending of all violence and abuse of human rights in Nigeria," and encouraged "our Baptist sisters and brothers to continue to seek ways to promote peace and respect for all persons in Nigeria." The BWA appealed to the government of Nigeria at all levels to ensure safety and security for all people in the country and encouraged "Baptists around the world to raise these concerns with their governments, religious leaders and persons of influence." BWA member organizations were requested "to commit to relentless prayer for peace where there is violence in Nigeria."

The NBC has spent more than US$100,000 to provide relief to those affected by the violence.  "The Boko Haram sect is not using only bombs now, they are now using direct shooting of Christians from house to house, especially in Maiduguri, which is their stronghold," Ayokunle said. "We never faced this type of selective destruction before. Continue to pray for the church in Nigeria."

Baptist World Alliance®
© November 30, 2012

Gaza Baptist killed in war

Salem Boulos, who attended the Gaza Baptist Church (GBC), was among the casualties who died in the recent war between Israel and Hamas.

The 45 year old father of four daughters and one son was killed when bombs dropped by an Israeli jet hit a building near where he stood on November 19.

Farid of the GBC wrote on November 22 that "we had a very difficult night yesterday all over Gaza city as well as all the areas." He reported that many houses in Gaza were badly affected by the bombings.

Hanna Massad, former pastor of GBC who has been living in exile because of continuing tensions in Gaza, told the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) that "almost 40 percent of the people who have been killed in Gaza are children."

Funeral service of Salem Boulos, a Baptist in Gaza who was killed during the recent war between Israel and Hamas

The GBC building suffered only minor damage caused by the bombing of the main police station in Gaza, which is only about 10-15 meters from the church building. "People are very fearful," Massad wrote on November 20, indicating that Gaza residents were hopeful that rumors of a ceasefire would be true. A ceasefire was announced on November 21, ending the war that began a week earlier on November 14.

Baptists in Israel were largely unaffected by the war. Bader Mansour, executive secretary of the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel told the BWA that "Baptists in Israel were far from this round of violence, as they are concentrated in the North of Israel and the violence was mostly in the South of Israel and the Gaza Strip."

He stated that Israeli Baptists, who are mostly of Palestinian origin, were praying for their counterparts in Gaza and for their homeland. "We continue to pray for justice and freedom for the Palestinians and peace and security for Israel," Mansour said.

More than 150 Palestinians and five Israelis died in the one-week war.

The Christian community in Gaza is estimated to be about 2,000 persons comprising members of three churches in the Gaza Strip – a Greek Orthodox Church, a Catholic Church and the GBC.

Baptist World Alliance®
© November 26, 2012

Baptists respond to severe flooding in Nigeria

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) has granted an initial sum of US$10,000 for flood relief in Nigeria after torrential rains killed more than 360 persons, injured more than 18,000, caused widespread property damage and displaced more than two million people.

The worst floods in five decades have affected many areas of the country, especially near the River Niger, but in northern regions of the West African nation as well. According to Olasupo Ayokunle, president and chief executive officer of the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC), "rivers overflowed their bridges, roads were cut off and many communities were submerged. Heaven just opened up without restraint."

Ayokunle said "many Baptist communities were affected as properties were destroyed. Boats were used to rescue people from their homes." The NBC "has responded positively by loading trucks with food items to Rivers Baptist Conference, Bayelsa Baptist Conference and Delta Baptist Conference," the Nigerian Baptist leader reported. He expects the relief costs for food, clothing and other supplies in the affected areas to be at least US$25,000 in the initial stages of immediate assistance.

The Nigeria floods began in early July 2012. Many Nigerian coastal and inland cities experienced heavy rainfall and severe flooding, disrupting economic life. Flooding in the oil rich Niger Delta, where Africa's third longest river flows into the Atlantic Ocean, has disrupted oil production in Nigeria's most important industry, as well as the cocoa crop, its most important agricultural produce.

Ayokunle has asked Baptists around the world to "identify with a section of the family experiencing natural disaster."

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

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. For income tax reporting purposes, donors will receive a receipt for their gift.

BWA Designated Gift Policy: If a disaster appeal or a project is overfunded, our policy is to apply the unused portion to a similar need.

Baptist World Alliance®
© November 6, 2012

Tens of thousands displaced in Congo, Baptists appeal for help

Baptists in the city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are appealing to the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) to assist persons who are displaced by the conflict in that country.

The rebel military group March 23 Movement (M23), which is based in eastern areas of the DRC, operating mainly in the province of North Kivu, has been advancing on Goma, the provincial capital, over the last several weeks. Baptists in Goma, home to a large Baptist population, informed the BWA that the city is now in rebel hands.

On the morning of November 20, Mike Musafiri, director of Development and Relief Ministry for the Community of Baptist Churches in Eastern Congo, said, "I can confirm that the town is under the control of rebels."  He told the BWA that "the humanitarian situation is pitiful." Many residents of Goma, including displaced persons living in IDP (Internally Displaced) camps, have crossed the border into Rwanda seeking a safe haven.

Musafiri reported that persons were unable to go to church on Sunday, November 18, because of the intensity of the fighting. "It was not possible to reach the church due to the bombs and gunshots between the rebels and the regular army." Fighting was intense through November 20, but by the afternoon, "the town is very quiet, no gunshots, no bombs," Musafiri said. At the time of writing, it was difficult to determine casualties.

Pascal Ndihokubwimana, aid and development director of the Union of Baptist Churches in Congo said that the Kanyaruchinya IDP camp, which housed some 16,000 displaced families, have been emptied as its residents were told to leave. He said that on November 18, a female resident of the camp, which is about 10 kilometers north of Goma, informed him that police and camp administrators told residents on loud speakers to leave the camp as M23 rebel fighters advanced toward Goma. The people, she told him, fled the camp in panic. Many families were divided in the process. Pascal's informant told him that she was separated from three of her eight children.

A number of Baptist churches served as shelters for residents and IDPs, including Hekima Baptist Church, which housed as many as 150 persons. Many were from the Kanyaruchinya IDP camp as well as residents from areas in and around Goma such as Kibati, Kanyandja and Munigi. Pascal told the BWA that "Hekima church's compound and sanitary conditions are not designed to lodge such a large number."

A number of Baptist families are housing displaced persons. Musafiri is housing two such families at his home.

M23 was formed in April this year when several hundred soldiers turned against the armed forces in the DRC, citing poor conditions in the army and the unwillingness of the government of the DRC to implement an agreement signed on March 23, 2009. That agreement, from which the group took its name from the date of the accord, integrated the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) into DRC's armed forces. The M23 rebels, who are mainly from the CNDP faction in the army, have been active in North Kivu province, fighting government forces and militias supported by the government.

The DRC has been bedeviled by wars and conflicts going back decades. An estimated 5.4 million persons have died as a result of the conflicts, making it the costliest in human lives since the Second World War.

The DRC, the second biggest country in Africa by area, has the second largest Baptist membership in Africa, with more than 2.1 million members in 15 BWA member organizations.

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

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. For income tax reporting purposes, donors will receive a receipt for their gift.

BWA Designated Gift Policy: If a disaster appeal or a project is overfunded, our policy is to apply the unused portion to a similar need.

Report of dialogue on church membership published

Baptist theologians in Australia participated in an interchurch dialogue that resulted in the publication of a report that draws attention to the challenges surrounding the notion of church membership.

The authors represented theologians from Australian Baptist Ministries and the Uniting Church in Australia. The Uniting Church was formed in 1977 as a union of the Congregational Union of Australia, the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia. The teams met between 2006 and 2011.

The influence of culture on church membership was identified as a challenge. There are "strong cultural pressures against traditional forms of organized church life," the authors wrote.  Individual identity has "replaced earlier forms of shared identity and a weakening of the willingness to commit beyond culturally defined limits." There is therefore a need to ground the life of the church "in the call of Christ and the coming together of those called for mutual challenge and assistance in following the way of Jesus."

Theologians from both church bodies drew from the understanding that each of the two Christian traditions has on church membership. Each tradition offered a concise statement of its understanding of church membership followed by a response to the other group's statement. This resulted in a common statement that covered five broad areas: discerning readiness for baptism and church membership; the relation of membership in a local congregation to membership within the universal church; the concept of covenant and how this helps in deepening the understanding and practice of church membership; infant baptism; and how the dialogue between Baptists and the Uniting Church may contribute to the understanding of common membership in the universal church.

During the dialogue, participants increasingly recognized the need "to hold together the messy and limited human reality of the churches with the spiritual basis of church life that is discerned by the eyes of faith."

Baptist World Alliance® General Secretary Neville Callam, who spoke at the launch that was held in Melbourne in October, commended the dialogue partners for their work. He, however, expressed disappointment that, during the dialogue, there was no access to the 2011 Faith and Order text, One Baptism: Towards Mutual Recognition. Callam said that the Faith and Order text, which was published by the World Council of Churches, probes, in a multilateral way, some of the issues that are behind the discussion on church membership. He asked that the report be widely disseminated and encouraged the churches to promote the report internationally.

Dennis Stanley of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne offered praise during the launch. He commended the dialogue for being consistent with "receptive ecumenism," stating that the work of the Holy Spirit was reflected throughout the report. The Spirit, he said, "graces us with the courage to encounter each other, to listen and dialogue."

Participating in the dialogue were Gwyn Milne (co-chair), Ken Manley and Tony Cupit from Australian Baptist Ministries. Cupit is a former director of the BWA, Manley a former BWA vice president, and Milne a former member of the BWA General Council. The Uniting Church team members were Garry Deverell (co-chair), Sandy Yule, Ruth Hoadley and Sharon Hollis.

Baptist World Alliance®
© November 2, 2012