Former BWA vice president from Croatia has died

Branko Lovrec, a vice president of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) from 2005 to 2010, died on September 28, in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. He was 79 years old.

Lovrec served the BWA in a number of other capacities, including as a member of the General Council, the Executive Committee, the Commission on Doctrine and Interchurch Cooperation, and the Human Rights Award Committee.

Lovrec had deep Baptist roots. His grandfather, Vinko Vacek, was a founder of organized Baptist work in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians during the first half of the 20th century. He was editor of the official Baptist periodical beginning in the 1960s in Croatia, and was elected the first president of the Baptist Union of Croatia in 1991, serving until 2003, following Croatia's independence after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam said that Lovrec had "made his mark on the international stage" and that his "contribution to Croatian Christianity was immense." While mourning the passing of the Croatian Baptist leader, Callam told Baptists in the Central European country that the BWA was "encouraged by the level of faithfulness and commitment to the cause of Christ that was so evident throughout his life."

Lovrec entered full time ministry in 1967 after having being trained and working in the field of medicine.  He was especially noted as a translator for visiting preachers to Croatia, including Billy Graham, and of the New Testament and other Christian literature.

He founded the publishing organization, Duhovna Stvarnost which, among other volumes, published The Handbook of the Bible and The Encyclopedia of the Bible in the Croatian language. In 1982 Duhovna Stvarnost published Knjiga o Kristu, the first Protestant New Testament translation in Croatian to gain acceptance among the wider public. During the last years of his life he worked on the translation and production of Our Daily Bread, booklets with daily devotionals.

He served as president of the Protestant Evangelical Council and its antecedent, the Association of Evangelical Ministers. He cofounded the Croatian Bible Society and was elected its president in 1995. Lovrec was also cofounder and long time president of the Executive Committee of the Society for Religious Freedom, and was a member of several other organizations.

In 1999 the Croatian government awarded Lovrec with the Order of Danica Hrvatska with the face of Katarina Zrinski for his contributions to health, social welfare and the promotion of moral values.

He is survived by wife, Mirjana, sons Matija and Andrija, and daughter, Iva.

Funeral services were held in Zagreb on October 3. A memorial service will be held on October 9 at the Zagreb Baptist Church where he served as deacon and elder.

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 5, 2012

Groups visit BWA offices

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) hosted three groups at its international offices in the Washington, DC, suburb of Falls Church in September.

Sixty two members of the 100-voice Brazilian Memorial Baptist Choir from the capital city of Brasilia came to the BWA offices on September 12. They sang for the BWA staff and were briefed by staff members about the ministries of the BWA. The choir was on a singing tour to a number of Baptist churches in the Washington Metropolitan Area.

BWA staff received members of the Shiloh Baptist Association in the state of Virginia in the United States on September 17. The association includes churches in Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Madison, Orange, and Rappahannock counties, mainly in central Virginia.

The group, which comprised ordained clergy and lay persons, was on a familiarization tour of several Baptist entities located within the Washington Metropolitan Area, including the BWA. Senior staff members of the BWA made brief presentations on BWA ministries and responded to questions.

Sixteen Baptist leaders from Washington, DC, Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia, spent the morning of September 27 considering the local church's role in development and aid. Rothangliani Chhangte, who took up the post of director of Baptist World Aid on August 1, gave examples of how the BWA is helping to resource programs to reduce poverty, disease, and suffering around the world.

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam also briefed the group on his upcoming meetings with Baptists in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Mizoram, India.

The gathering was the latest in a series of "coffee receptions" for Baptist pastors hosted by Callam. The receptions are aimed at encouraging fellowship and cooperation with key Baptist congregations and groups in close proximity to the BWA offices, and to communicate directly with local congregations and institutions on the work of the BWA.  Previous meetings have included discussions on church and media, freedom and justice advocacy for Baptists, and other topics of interest to local churches.

Baptist World Alliance®
© October 5, 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

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

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