Christians face mounting pressure in the Middle East

There is a special need for Baptists to pray for and remember the Middle East. This call was made by Tony Peck, Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) regional secretary for Europe and general secretary for the European Baptist Federation (EBF). The EBF includes conventions and unions in the Middle East.

Peck expressed special concern for the Baptist Church in Gaza whose pastor, Hanna Massad, lives in exile due to conflicts and tensions in that part of the Palestinian Territory. Despite living in exile, Massad visits Gaza occasionally and Baptists there have recently expanded a school.

There is concern about the effect the wall being constructed by Israel is having on Palestinian life. The barrier, expected to be more than 450 miles in length at completion, is being built mainly between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.

Due to the recent war and continued unrest, many Baptists in Bagdad have fled the Iraqi capital into northern parts of the country and to other nations.  This has had an adverse impact on the Baptist church in the city which has seen depleted attendance at worship.

Baptists in Syria are being severely affected due to the civil war currently taking place there. The largest Baptist congregation in Syria is in Homs, one of the cities where fighting between the government and opposition forces is most intense. Most Baptists have left the city.

In the meantime, Baptists in Lebanon are expending a lot of resources to assist the hundreds of Syrian refugees that are streaming across the border. Lebanon has the largest number of Baptist Christians in the Middle East and North Africa.

While there is hope for stability in Egypt, there is anxiety as Baptists and other Christians await the formation of a new government that, hopefully, will take actions to preserve religious liberty.

"Sometimes people forget that we have Baptists in this region," Peck told the roughly 300 Baptist leaders and delegates from 40 countries that met in Santiago, Chile, during the BWA Annual Gathering, from July 2-7.

Delegations from the EBF visited several areas in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, such as Palestine and Egypt. The EBF has also held a number of meetings in the region, including that of its Council in Nazareth, Israel, in September 2011, where some 140 leaders and delegates gathered, and the Executive in Amman, Jordan, in March of this year.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 8, 2012

BWA appoints new personnel

The Baptist World Alliance® formalized two appointments during a meeting of the General Council in Chile on July 6.

The General Council forms part of the Annual Gathering in the capital city of Santiago from July 2-7, and is one of the governing bodies of the BWA.

Rothangliani Rema Chhangte, originally from Mizoram state in Northeast India but whose last position has been liaison for Burmese refugees with American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) in the United States, was formally appointed by the General Council as the director of Baptist World Aid.

She has a strong development background through her work as liaison for Burmese refugees with the ABHMS; as program analysis coordinator with Church World Service (CWS); as founder and executive director of the Asian American Youth Association; and as an administrator at the Oxford Conference on Christian Faith and Economics. Her bachelor's and Master of Business Administration degrees are in the fields of business and development.

An ordained pastor, Chhangte is a lifelong Baptist, having been baptized as a young child in India. She has had a long association with the BWA, having previously served on the General Council from 2001-2007, and has attended a number of Baptist World Congresses and Baptist Youth World Conferences. She was pastor of the Woodland Baptist Church from 1994-2000 and, prior to that, was assistant pastor of Chestnut Street Baptist Church, both in Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania in the US.

She also has interchurch cooperation credentials. In addition to her work with CWS, Chhangte is a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches and was a member of the Executive Committee and Governing Board of the National Council of Churches from 2001-2007, co-chairing its Interfaith Commission between 2004 and 2007.

She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Palmer Theological Seminary, an MBA degree from Eastern University, and a bachelor's degree from Bethel University, all in the US; as well as diplomas from the Oxford Graduate Summer School of Theology in the United Kingdom and the Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies in Switzerland.

"I am humbled by your vote of confidence and thank you and God for giving me this opportunity to be of service to Baptist churches around the world," Chhangte told the council. "I look forward to working closely with all of you and partnering with you so that together we can make Baptist World Aid the premier relief and development agency for Baptists worldwide."

In addition, Duro Ayanrinola, who was elected general secretary of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship (AABF) at a meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, in November 2011, was formally appointed as the BWA regional secretary for Africa. He was previously director of the Missionary Organization Department of the Nigerian Baptist Convention.

He holds bachelor's degrees from the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomoso and the American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee, in the US; and Master of Divinity and Doctor of Missiology degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 6, 2012

Tales of disaster and recovery

Baptists in Chile gave a detailed report of their response to the devastating 8.8 magnitude earthquake that affected the South American country on February 27, 2010, at the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance® currently taking place in the capital city of Santiago.

A somber mood descended on the Responding to Disaster forum during the viewing of a video that showed the earthquake as it occurred, some of the damage that took place, and the response of Chileans to the disaster, including Baptists.

The quake, one of the largest ever recorded, was felt strongly in six regions of the country where approximately 80 percent of Chile's population live. The earthquake also triggered a tsunami that affected the south central area of the country, including the devastation of a small island where approximately 200 families lived.

The National Baptist Convention of Chile and the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile sent teams into the devastated regions to do assessment and to provide relief supplies such as food, water, clothing, medicines and tents.

Assistance was also provided through the distribution of kits of various types – food kits, hygiene kits, insulation kits to protect against rain and cold, home furnishing kits, and room addition kits to expand living space in temporary dwellings.

A number of houses were also constructed for persons who were displaced by the temblor, which itself was followed by a several large aftershocks, including one measuring 6.2 that occurred 20 minutes afterwards.

Pastors were asked "to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the various communities," the forum was told, and the conventions often worked closely with local municipal authorities in the provision of assistance, including psychological counseling. Churches and Baptist Christians adopted families in some towns and villages, helping to meet their needs.

One result of the collaboration that came out of response to the disaster is an Emergency Response Network that still exists. Subsequent to the 2010 event, the network, which comprises pastors, lay persons and professionals, responded to a major blizzard in one of the more isolated areas in the mountains in Chile.

At least one new church was planted in one of the areas where assistance was provided.

Chilean Baptists expressed gratitude to the worldwide Baptist community, including the BWA, for the levels of assistance given to the country in the wake of the disaster.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 5, 2012

Palacios accepts BWA human rights award

Edgar Palacios of El Salvador received the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award during a meeting of the General Council in Chile on July 6.

The General Council forms part of the BWA Annual Gathering that runs from July 2-7 in the capital city of Santiago.

Palacios was hailed as a pastor and leader, teacher and theologian, and as a pioneer educator. Referred to as a respected peacemaker, he received special recognition for helping to negotiate peace in El Salvador during the civil war of 1980-1992 and for working for the social wellbeing of the marginalized in Central America and in North America.

In his quest to bring peace to El Salvador, Palacios testified before the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the United States Congress on the situation in El Salvador, and served as co-president of a peace conference on El Salvador in the Netherlands.

Among other things, Palacios was coordinator and executive director of the Permanent Committee of the National Debate for Peace in El Salvador (CPDN), was executive secretary of the National Council of Churches of El Salvador, and a representative of the Historical Protestant Churches of El Salvador.

Currently a pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC, in the United States, Palacios served pastorates in El Salvador and Mexico, and cofounded the Lutheran University of El Salvador.

In his response, Palacios paid tribute to "the heroism and courage of hundreds of leaders of the Salvadorian people that worked with the CPDN, who gave their lives and talents to achieve justice and peace." He made special mention of Medardo Gómez, Lutheran Bishop of El Salvador, "my friend," who supported the struggle for peace in El Salvador.

He recalled the role played by his late wife, Amparo, a Mexican by birth, but whose "heart was for El Salvador and Latin America." He lauded her efforts to influence the United Nations and the Congress of the United States to ensure that those who suffered had a voice "in these centers of power."

"I was only a servant," Palacios told the roughly 300 Baptist leaders and delegates that had gathered from some 40 countries around the world. "The Lord used me. With this award, the world Baptist family reaffirms its vocation for justice, the respect for human rights and human dignity."

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 6, 2012

The global mission of the church

The mission of the church is, first of all, the mission of God. This was the consensus of a meeting of mission leaders and those who are involved or interested in mission at the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) in Chile.

The meetings are being held in the capital city of Santiago from July 2-7.

The task of the church is not to develop its own programs but to respond to the mission of God, participating in that mission.  We can recover the essence of the mission of the church as understood within the concept of Missio Dei, an expression that says mission derives from the very nature of God, and the missionary initiative comes from God alone. God invites persons and churches to participate in God's initiative. This response is expressed through commitment and seeking God's guidance in the fulfillment of that mission.

We get our understanding of mission from our theology, and a proper understanding of the Trinity helps our understanding of mission.

Oftentimes the church fails in the fulfillment of God's mission, unless forced to do so. This is evidenced in the book of Acts. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." But the early disciples did not take this Gospel beyond Jerusalem until persecution broke out and they fled into Samaria and other regions and cities.

The meeting heard of a similar account of the Baptist Church in Bagdad. It was only after Baptist Christians fled the city into the northern parts of Iraq during the recent war that other Baptist churches were being planted in those regions of the Middle Eastern country.

Churches should be sensitive and responsive to global mission. A quote attributed to Oswald Smith expresses this best. "The church that shines the brightest furthest shines the brightest at home." Every church should have a vision for world mission, even small churches with limited resources.  For Baptists, such opportunities exist through the Global Impact Church program of the BWA where local congregations are invited to join in weekly prayer for Baptists around the world, through their gifts, and other means of support and involvement.

A concern expressed in the meeting is the sustainability of mission, especially in light of limited resources and waning interest. It was strongly felt that those among whom mission is exercised should be encouraged, over time, to take on the responsibilities of mission themselves. A planned exit strategy by those leading the mission effort that includes training of local leaders and the locals eventually resourcing the mission enterprise themselves is fundamental to sustainability.

An important aspect of mission is attention to social and justice issues. Evangelism and social work should be done together. The practice of mission should be relevant to the realities and context in which mission is exercised, and paternalism should be avoided.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 4, 2012