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.

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

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

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

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