Christmas Message 2012

Sacred Space, Glorious Opportunity

Mary "gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space" (Luke 2:7, NJB).

What a place for God to make an appearance! Not the more commodious lodgings prepared for an apparent influx of people for a tax census, but a shelter for livestock, a stable, perhaps a simple cave with a feeding trough!  By appearing there, God invests the place with the quality of magnificence and shows us the value we must assign to any location where God makes an appearance. Heavenly glory trumps earthly pomp to make each and every place worthy of respect as a potential locus for the manifestation of the living God.

A choir of angels had appeared to the shepherds who, struck by the news of the miraculous intervention in Bethlehem, traveled from the countryside nearby to the stable where the infant Jesus lay. In their vision, God had shown the shepherds that the divine one does not despise places deemed ordinary.  When they arrived at the lowly place, they came into the presence of a defenseless baby who was God incarnate. In Christ, the second Adam, lying in a manger, God came to God's own world (John 1:11) to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21).

The manifestation of the creator in a lowly place should certainly remind us of a constant challenge that is ours – the challenge to never regard any place as a location unworthy of a divine epiphany and therefore to be despised and considered out of bounds for those who worship God. We may discover that God is often found in unexpected places. Additionally, wherever and in whatever form God makes an appearance, we must respond by offering service in honor of the one whom we adore.

On the streets of our cities, in our urban slums and rural outposts, in mansions on hillsides and hovels on riverbanks, in forbidding places swept by desert winds and on fertile farmland rich with grain, God may make an appearance at any time. When God appears incognito, it is of utmost importance that we recognize the one who appears and make the right response.

Could it be that God appeared to you recently in the guise of a stranger living in your country without legal residential status? Or in the form of a street person shivering in the bitter cold or overwhelmed by the searing heat on the earth? Or as a person suffering from HIV/AIDS or dependent on drugs? Or as a beggar holding a sign asking for a hand-out or lying almost lifeless from the debilitating pangs of crippling hunger? How did you respond to your Lord? What did you say? What did you do?

During this season of celebration, may the Holy Spirit enable us to recognize when God appears before us draped in the rags of poverty, decked in the tattered clothes of delinquency, bearing the visage of a vagrant, an addict or a social outcast. And wherever God appears, may the ordinariness of the locale and the associated images that could repel us never dissuade us from swinging our arms wide open. Then, we may welcome and embrace the one who offers us a wonderful opportunity to realize the matchless riches of our humanity.

Neville Callam
General Secretary

Baptist World Alliance®
© December 5, 2012

Message in other languages:
Weihnachtsbotschaft 2012
Mensaje de Navidad 2012
Message de Noël 2012
Poselstwo Bożego Narodzenia 2012
Mensagem de Natal 2012
Рождественское приветствие 2012 год
2012年聖誕節信息


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

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.

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