BWA attends Vatican meeting

Timothy George, dean and professor of divinity, history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School in the state of Alabama in the United States, is representing the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) in Rome at the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church.

George accepted the invitation of BWA General Secretary Neville Callam to attend the Vatican meetings which run from October 7-18. The theme, The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, will be guided by a working document that was issued on June 19.

"The BWA is pleased that eminent Baptist theologian, Dr. Timothy George, has agreed to represent the worldwide Baptist family at the Synod," Callam said. "In him, we have an erudite thinker and a true ambassador for the worldwide Baptist family."

George said that "in a world where the Christian faith is increasingly under assault, this theme is of urgent concern for all believers in Jesus Christ." He noted that October 11 will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, "an event of great historic importance for Christian unity."  The noted Baptists theologian asked for "the prayers of all Baptist people for me and others as we prepare for this assignment."

Topics to be discussed include 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 BWA representative is attending as a fraternal delegate and is expected to "take an active part in the proceedings," according to the invitation letter received by the BWA from Nikola Eterovic, titular archbishop of Cibale and general secretary of the Synod of Bishops.

George serves as chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Christian Unity and a member of the BWA Division of Mission, Evangelism and Theological Reflection.

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 3, 2012

Baptists in Syria appeal for prayer

Baptists in Syria are appealing for prayer for peace in the Middle Eastern country as the civil war drags on, severely affecting the lives of the country's citizens, including the lives of Baptists and other Christians.

Mouner Ajji, pastor of Aleppo Baptist Church, reported that Baptists in the area of Aleppo known as Midan were among those who were able, for the first time in days, to get out of their houses on Sunday, September 16. Government forces had re-established control over that section of the city that had fallen into the hands of rebels, enabling freer movement.

He reported that "I did not have a chance to visit the area to see the damage but I hope that there is not that much destruction there." He, however, attempted to go to Jdaide, an old area of the city, but had to abort his tour due to heavy shelling and gunfire.

Ajii expressed concern that schools and universities are unable to reopen for the new school year. "Mid-September is the time that schools and universities start, but it seems that they won't now, because thousands of refugees are living in schools and in the university campus and fighting is still going [on] in many areas in the city!" He indicated that parents are too afraid to send their children out due to the fighting.

Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It was largely spared during the earlier stages of the Syrian civil war that began in March 2011, but has been increasingly drawn into the conflict in recent months.

The Battle for Aleppo began on July 19 between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian military. Rebels and government forces have been fighting for control of the city. Hundreds have been killed in the violence and many Aleppo neighborhoods have been badly damaged. In one of the most recent attacks on September 9, more than 30 civilians and two security force members were killed near the Municipal Stadium as a result of a car bomb blast.

According to the United Nations, more than 200,000 people have fled Aleppo, once home to more than two million people, and regarded as Syria's commercial hub.

The Baptist Convention of Syria, a BWA member organization, has approximately 600 members in 10 churches.

Baptist World Alliance®
© September 21, 2012

Iranian pastor released from prison

Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor who faced a possible death sentence after he was arrested in October 2009, charged and convicted for apostasy and for attempting to evangelize Muslims, has been released.

Nadarkhani was released in early September after being acquitted of apostasy. He was, however, found guilty of evangelism, but was released for time already served.

Reports circulated in late February that Iranian courts had issued an execution order for Nadarkhani and that the execution could have taken place at any time.

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA), joining other Christian and international organizations, had condemned the arrest and conviction. Raimundo Barreto, BWA director of the Division of Freedom and Justice, urged Baptists to not only to pray, "But also to contact their own governments in order to increase international pressure on the government of Iran to annul the death sentence, and demanding his immediate release."

Baptists in several countries reportedly responded to the appeal, including Brazilian Baptists who, along with other Christians, met with the Iranian ambassador in Brasilia, and the Argentina Baptist Association, which presented a note to the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires, asking for Nardakhani's release.

The BWA wrote a letter to Iranian authorities and to Suzan Johnson Cook, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Several meetings were also held with Victoria Alvarado, the former director of the US State Department Office of International Religious Freedom to discuss strategies on how to better approach this case. The BWA also communicated with the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the UN, and with Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of the Brazilian permanent mission at the UN.

"As Baptists, we all rejoiced with the release of pastor Nardakhani, and also with the release of at least 130 political prisoners in Iran last month," Barreto said. "We should continue to pray for his safety , that of his family, and for other prisoners of conscience still held captive in Iran, including Christian pastor Farshid Fathi who is serving a six-year sentence, and seven Baha'i leaders serving 20-year prison sentences on the basis of their religious beliefs."

Prior to his imprisonment, Nardakhani, who converted to Christianity at the age of 19, was pastor of a 400-member Christian congregation and a network of Christian house churches in the city of Rasht in northwestern Iran.

Baptist World Alliance®
© September 13, 2012

Thousands of indigenous Assamese displaced after violence

The indigenous Bodo people of the Northeast Indian state of Assam are appealing to the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) for prayer and support in the wake of ethnic clashes in recent months.

Violence broke out in Assam in July between Bodos, who are mostly Hindus or Christians, and Muslims, causing the deaths at least 80 persons and the displacement of more than 400,000 who fled their homes and are now living in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps.  More than 5,000 of their houses were razed.

Baptist World Aid (BWAid), the relief and development arm of the BWA, sent a grant of US$10,000 for immediate relief. BWAid and the BWA Division of Freedom and Justice are working on a joint response to the crisis.

The violence broke out on July 10 after four local Bodo boys were hacked to death in Joypur, in Lower Assam, by a group of Bengali speaking Muslims, who are believed to be migrants from Bangladesh. This led to retaliatory arson and killings.  The violence was brought under control by the Indian army over a period of three days.

Some 275 temporary camps were set up in schools, colleges, churches and temples to give shelter to the displaced. Isolated incidents of violence reportedly continued. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited some of the IDP camps after the army quelled the violence.

Reports are that an estimated 50,000 migrant Assamese and other Northeast Indians have fled the Indian "mainland" as rumors spread that Muslim attacks were imminent in cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore. Most citizens of Northeast India are culturally and ethnically related to Southeast Asians such as Thais, Vietnamese, Filipinos and Chinese.

Nongovernment organizations and churches, including Baptists, one of the larger Christian groups in Assam, are mobilizing resources to aid the affected people. Local churches of the Boro Baptist Church Association, which is affiliated with the Lower Assam Baptist Union (LABU), a BWA member organization, contributed money, materials and labor during the relief effort.

"Most of the affected people could not save clothes, utensils, cattle/livestock, etc., except a handful of things and the clothes they were wearing," the LABU reported. "They had to rush to safe places in order to save their lives. For the children the immediate needs are medical care, clothing, school books, supplementary food items (mainly for the babies), mosquito nets, hygiene and sanitary kits."

The LABU estimates "it may take some months for the affected people to return to their homes," and has prepared a project proposal for assistance. The project aims to aid 500 families or approximately 3,000 persons, with immediate relief, from September to the end of March 2013.

The LABU is based in Kokrajhar District, the center of the conflicts, where it is believed 100 percent of its members are Bodo. The LABU has approximately 41,000 members in 300 churches.

Another BWA member body in the state, the North Bank Baptist Christian Association, has more than 70,000 members in almost 1,000 churches, about 70 percent of whom are Bodo. The Assam Baptist Convention, another BWA member in Assam, has approximately 30,000 members in 335 churches.

Baptist World Alliance®
© September 18, 2012

BWA receiving human rights award nominations, prepares for Human Rights Day

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) has begun the process of accepting nominations for the 2013 Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award. Nominations close on November 30.

Any Baptist individual, church, or organization can submit a nomination, and any Baptist is eligible to receive the award. The award is intended to recognize and give visibility to the work of men and women who have done outstanding work in defending and promoting human rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Persons may not make nominations on their own behalf.

The awardee will be announced at the March 2013 BWA Executive Committee meeting and the award presented during the Annual Gathering in July 2013 in Jamaica.

The BWA is also making preparations for the observance of BWA Human Rights Day on December 8 and 9, depending on whether churches worship on Saturday or Sunday. This year's observance emphasizes prayer for countries that experience egregious violations of human rights, and in particular, violations of religious liberty, with special focus on Nigeria.

Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group, has carried out a series of bombings and other acts of violence that have led to numerous deaths, injuries, destruction of property and widespread fear in Nigeria. Christian churches and government offices and buildings, including police stations, have been among the main targets of the militants. More than 1,400 people in northern and central Nigeria have been killed in attacks by Boko Haram since 2010.

Nigeria is home to the largest number of Baptists in Africa with BWA statistics showing the Nigerian Baptist Convention having a total 2.5 million members in more than 9,300 churches and the Mambilla Baptist Convention having approximately 23,000 members in more than 250 churches.

Baptist World Alliance®
© September 7, 2012