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

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

International theological education conference planned for Jamaica in June 2013

The 8th Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE) takes place in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, from June 28-30, 2013.

The event will focus on the theme, In Step with the Spirit: Perspectives on Pneumatology within The Worldwide Baptist Family. It will include a wide ranging set of papers and discussions from Baptist leaders, pastors, theologians, and educators from all six regions of the BWA – Africa, Asia Pacific, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America.

Topics to be explored include Baptist Contribution to Theological Reflection on the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit and Social Justice, and Emerging Issues in the Theological Formation of Ministerial Students.

BICTE, planned by the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA), is normally held every five years. The 7th BICTE was held in Prague, Czech Republic, in July 2008.

Registration for the theological education conference can be done at the BWA website at www.bwanet.org.

BICTE immediately precedes the BWA Annual Gathering, which will also be held in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, from July 1-6, 2013. Information on the Annual Gathering can be read via the BWA website. Online registration for the Gathering begins October 26.

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 12, 2012

Baptists present report on Pakistan at UN meeting

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) will participate in a review of Pakistan's human rights record at an upcoming meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC).

The HRC's second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Pakistan takes place in Geneva, Switzerland, on October 30. As a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Consultative Status with the UN, the BWA, along with other NGOs, nations and states, submitted its own report on the situation in Pakistan.

The BWA report takes particular issue with Pakistan's blasphemy laws that have led to the persecution of Christians and other minority groups. "The exploitation, violence, and persecution against religious minorities are on an increasing curve across the country," the BWA report states.

Among the abuses highlighted by the BWA are extra judicial killings, enforced disappearances, violence against women, misuse of blasphemy laws, injustices at the workplace against religious minorities, and attacks on places of worship.

"A climate of impunity exists" in Pakistan, says Raimundo Barreto, BWA director of Freedom and Justice. "Perpetrators are not held accountable and police often do not act to prevent abuses or apprehend attackers."

Well known consequences of the blasphemy laws include that of Asia Bibi, a Christian, who was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 by a Pakistani court for allegedly blaspheming against the prophet Muhammad. It has been reported that the accusation against Bibi stemmed, at least partially, from a property damage dispute that Bibi had with a neighbor.

In August this year, Rimsha Masih, a 14 year old Christian girl, was arrested for allegedly desecrating pages of the Quran. In early September a local imam was arrested on suspicion of planting pages of the Quran in Masih's bag.  She was subsequently released on bail.

Officials in the South Asian nation have been killed for opposing these laws. Salmaan Taseer, governor of the province of Punjab, was killed in January 2011 by his own security guard who disagreed with Taseer's opposition to the blasphemy laws. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who was Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Affairs, was assassinated in March 2011 for his vocal criticism of the nation's blasphemy laws.

Christer Daelander, BWA representative at the UN in Geneva, claims that "thousands of people have been accused of blasphemy" since the laws were first introduced into Pakistan in 1986. "Since then hundreds have been judged and condemned for blasphemy."

In September, the BWA participated in a hearing on blasphemy laws in Pakistan organized by the World Council of Churches, and attended meetings held by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom on human rights violations in Pakistan.

"The BWA will continue to reach out to key countries that can raise these concerns at the HRC," Barreto explains. "We urge the global Baptist family to pray for this important UPR session, and encourage Baptist leaders in different countries to write or contact their governments and bring this concern to their attention."

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 22, 2012

Baptists encouraged to join fight against hunger

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) is observing October as World Hunger Emphasis Month, during which the BWA sensitizes Baptists around the world regarding the extent of global hunger and invites Baptists to join the quest to eradicate the scourge.

Rothangliani Chhangte, director of Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the BWA, cited a report issued by the World Bank showing that "efforts to halve poverty and hunger by 2015 are working."

The United Nations established eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) following its Millennium Summit in 2000. Among the eight goals is the halving of extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

Despite the progress being made, Chhangte pointed out that "economic recession, rising food and fuel prices, coupled with wars, drought and other weather related disasters in various parts of the world, still keep 868 million [people] in poverty."

Chhangte regards it as imperative that Baptists join the fight against hunger. She deems the observance of World Food Day (WFD) on October 16 as an opportune time to do so. WFD seeks to raise awareness of the issues behind poverty and hunger.

The BWA has adopted several development projects that are aimed at meeting the nutritional needs of those who live in poverty and face daily the reality of hunger, as well as to break the cycle of poverty. These include not only the provision of relief and emergency supplies, but the funding of agricultural, educational, as well as income generating projects that provide employment opportunities for community people.

Chhangte stated that "the majority of the world's poor are women and children, most of whom live in rural areas." She emphasized that Baptists who provide assistance and aid will help to "empower the poorest of the poor."

For Further information on World Hunger Emphasis Month, go the BWA website.

To help to eradicate hunger, donations may be made online at www.bwanet.org or sent to:

Baptist World Aid
405 North Washington Street
Falls Church, VA 22046

The Baptist World Alliance® is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Gifts for programs of the BWA may be tax deductible in the United States. All donors will receive a receipt for their donation for income tax reporting purposes.

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 11, 2012