Baptists in US coordinate Hurricane Sandy response

Baptists in the United States are putting together a coordinated response to the disaster caused by Hurricane Sandy.

The North American Baptist Fellowship (NABF), through its Disaster Response Network (DRN), is pulling together information and resources to assist those most affected and created a special website to assist in the process. The DRN is a tool used by the NABF, one of six regional fellowships of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA), to avoid duplication and to better coordinate disaster response.

"I wish to convey to all Americans who have been adversely affected by the super storm in the Northeastern United States the concern of Baptists worldwide," said BWA General Secretary Neville Callam.  "I am pleased to have heard from George Bullard, BWA regional secretary for North America that the Disaster Response Network of North American Baptist Fellowship is already in action to respond to this disaster. Together, we will seek to mobilize resources to respond to what is an urgent need."

Bullard, who is also general secretary of the NABF, said he had made contact with "many leaders of various Baptist denominational organizations from Virginia to Maine, in Canada, and as far west as Ohio to express our prayerful support to them. I have also asked them to feel free to contact us if the resources available to them are insufficient and they need the assistance of our network."

American Baptist Churches of New Jersey (ABCNJ), which is based in one of the hardest hit states, is in the process of assessing the level of damage and need. Lee Spitzer, executive minister and senior regional pastor of ABCNJ, said he "anticipates that dozens of ABCN J churches will need assistance as they recover from Hurricane Sandy."

He indicated that "damage from both wind and water has been extensive across the state, and communities near the Jersey shore, where we have many churches," many of which, he said, have older structures. There were difficulties, he said, "to reach pastors and other leaders who may not be near their means of communication because they are out and about in their neighborhoods."

Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention had 40 people in the Mid-Atlantic region, 30 persons in training by the American Red Cross, and had volunteers in New York on standby. "We identified churches in Northern Virginia, Washington DC, and Baltimore to be on standby should they be needed for service," said David Goatley, executive secretary-treasurer of Lott Carey.

"A number of churches and congregants in our network are without power, but their damage seems moderate," Goatley told the BWA. "We have about a dozen churches in NY/NJ that are being activated for collaboration with the American Red Cross to provide relief support to survivors."

The passage of Hurricane Sandy has led to the postponement of the 136th Annual Meeting of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC). The DCBC has placed its volunteers on standby, including its chainsaw, debris removal, and flood response units to respond to areas and persons affected.  "Feeding and recovery volunteers are on alert status," said Ricky Creech, executive director/minister of DCBC.

The Virginia Baptist Mission Board (VBMB) indicated that there was little need for a response in the state of Virginia, which suffered relatively little damage though it was affected by the storm. VBMB had, however, opened a disaster response staging area at the Fairview Baptist Church in Fredericksburg. It has also provided volunteers to assist a feeding unit in New York City.

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®
© October 31, 2012

Baptists in Victoria Praised for Embracing Multiculturalism

Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) General Secretary Neville Callam has praised Baptists in the Australian state of Victoria for "the admirable effort they are making to respond creatively to the demands raised by the multi-cultural context in which they exercise ministry."

Callam was sharing personal reflections after joining Baptists in Victoria, who marked the 150th anniversary of Baptist witness in the Australian state. The events, held in October, were planned by the Baptist Union of Victoria (BUV), one of seven state unions that form the Baptist Union of Australia, a BWA member organization.

The BWA leader addressed a "Nourish Day" gathering of pastors and their spouses, an ordination service, the 150th celebration concert, as well as a special multicultural worship service. During his visit to Australia, the BWA leader also preached at New Hope Baptist Church and South Yarra Baptist Church, all in Melbourne, the state capital.

Callam was keynote speaker at the multicultural service where Baptists of Victoria celebrated the 60 ethnicities represented in its membership. He offered the gathering a reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan in which he urged followers of Christ to understand the need for good stewardship in the way they form and shape their identity as human beings in relation to the identity of others. "We are called," he said, "to acknowledge the same dignity in others as we associate with ourselves and to engage in ministry accordingly."

The multicultural service was "an act of thanksgiving to God and a spiritual reflection on the changing face of Victoria's multi-ethnic culture.  It represented an acknowledgment by Baptists in Victoria of the need to respond positively to this multicultural change." Callam said that the leadership of Baptists in Victoria is "encouraging Baptists to become intentionally multicultural."

The BUV celebrations took place at the Syndal Baptist Church where, last August, the Australian federal race discrimination commissioner for Australia launched the country's national anti-racism strategy.

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

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

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