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

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

Caribbean Baptists meet despite tropical storm

 

Baptist leaders and delegates met on the island of Antigua for the Mid Term Assembly of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship (CBF) despite the passage of Tropical Storm Isaac over the island.

Winds caused by the storm grew in strength over Antigua from in the early evening of August 22, the day of the start of the assembly. The VC Bird International Airport in the capital St. Johns closed in the afternoon, causing delays in the arrival of a number of assembly participants as well as cancellations as the storm wends its way through the Caribbean Sea, passing near to, or over, several Caribbean islands.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Winston Baldwin Spencer, who brought greetings at the opening session, made a tongue in cheek reference to the passage of the tropical storm when he declared, “when the Lord is in the vessel, you can smile at the storm.”

Spencer, who has led the islands since 2004, encouraged Baptists from around the region “to pray for individuals like myself,” people in political leadership and public life, even while the church spurns partisanship. “The church should pray for leaders for God to provide [them with] vision and wisdom,” the prime minister admonished the gathering.

Making reference to the biblical quote that “Man shall not live by bread alone,” Spencer declared “that while there should be the dominance of spirituality and developing relationships with Almighty God,” said the biblical reference “suggests to me that man does live by bread.” He said the church has a secondary role to ensure “mankind lives in the best possible situation as they prepare for the second coming of Christ. This is an extension of what Christ expects the church to do.”

CBF President William Thompson, keynote speaker at the opening session, commended the prime minister for his request for prayer for himself and other political leaders. Thompson, while admitting that Christians face challenges, assured the gathering that “God has committed to sort out the mess in our lives” as God through Paul promises that “all things work together for good to them that love the Lord.” Not all things are good, he explained, because there are maladies such as hunger, hatred and persecution to contend with, but all things will work for good.

Mark Azille, president of the Antigua Baptist Association, declared the meetings historic as it was the first Baptists on the island were hosting a regional meeting. He expressed gratitude to the CBF, one of six regional fellowships of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA), for the role the CBF played in helping to bring Baptists on the island together. Everton Jackson, CBF Executive Secretary/Treasury and BWA regional secretary for the Caribbean, visited Antigua in November 2010 to discuss the resuscitation of the association and its reconnection to both the CBF and the BWA.

Thompson and Jackson celebrated achievements of Caribbean athletes at the recently concluded Olympic Summer Games in London. Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, Kirani James of Grenada,  Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago, the Jamaica men’s 4x100 meter relay team and the Bahamas men’s 4x400 relay team – all gold medal winners – came in for special mention. The region, it was noted, won a total of 18 medals during the Summer Olympics.

The CBF Mid Term Assembly is held roughly at the halfway point between general assemblies, which are normally held every five years. The last general assembly was held in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 2010.

 

Baptist World Alliance®

© August 23, 2012

Baptists respond to Hurricane Isaac

Baptists in the United States and elsewhere are responding to the disasters caused by the passage of Hurricane Isaac through sections of the Caribbean and the United States.

Churches in Haiti provided shelter and other forms of assistance to those affected by the storm. "Source of Light," a new complex of school, orphanage and other facilities in the Delmas 19 community in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, built largely through funding provided by the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA), sheltered a number of families. Haitian churches were also used as shelters during the storm.

Isaac left at least 19 dead and at least six missing in the Caribbean nation, while many farms were destroyed and livestock killed.  A number of Haitian churches and other property were damaged, while some Baptist members were left homeless.

Heavy wind and rain caused by the storm also affected other Caribbean countries, including Antigua, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, but there were no reports of loss of life or widespread damage.

The North American Baptist Fellowship (NABF), one of six regional fellowships of the BWA, has activated its Disaster Response Network to assist Americans who suffered from the effects of the storm. The network comprises a diverse group of Baptist conventions and unions that cooperate with each other in disaster response.

Isaac dumped enormous amounts of water along the US Gulf Coast. Reports were that some 864,000 residents in the state of Louisiana were without electricity, while Mississippi also experienced outages. Heavy rain and possible tornados were expected in Arkansas. At least five other states were under tornado watch. Blocked roads and high winds had hampered initial response efforts.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) held conference calls with its state disaster response coordinators, national coordinators and partners to determine the most appropriate response. CBF is a partner in the NABF's response network. The CBF's Harry Rowland is the network's coordinator.

The BWA response is being coordinated by Baptist World Aid, which works closely with the NABF Disaster Response Network.  Donations 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®
© August 31, 2012

Humanitarian crisis in Congo, BWA receives appeals for aid

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) is responding to appeals for assistance from Baptists in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) due to a humanitarian crisis that has seen tens of thousands of Congolese fleeing their homes.

The United Nations Refugee Agency has reported that since April, its staff on the ground has witnessed tens of thousands of people fleeing their homes in North Kivu due to intense fighting between government forces and armed rebels. Many are seeking safety in neighboring countries such as Uganda and Rwanda, while others are looking for refuge in other parts of the DRC.

Baptists in the region told the BWA that conditions in camps housing displaced persons are deteriorating rapidly. Assistance from nongovernment organizations is not sufficient and there is urgent need for both medicine and food. "Many sick people are without help and sanitary conditions are not good," the BWA was informed. "Among those dying most are children. Many people are going to die not because of hunger but because of sickness."

The BWA, through Baptist World Aid, its relief and development agency, is appealing to Baptists to make donations to meet the urgent needs of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the DRC to assist with food, clothes and medicine in at least some of the eight IDP camps that have been established.

Donations 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®

© August 20, 2012