BWA forging Baptist unity worldwide

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) welcomes two new member organizations and recently reported progress in improving relationships among Baptists worldwide.

The Reformed Baptist Convention in Rwanda, whose president, Faustin Bashaka, attended the BWA Annual Gathering in Santiago, Chile, was formally accepted into membership of the BWA. The Baptist group, formed in 2005, comprises more than 12,000 members in 34 churches. It becomes the fourth BWA member body in the country, located in the central region of Africa.

Also accepted into BWA membership was the Free Baptist Churches of Burundi, which has 70 churches and more than 8,000 members. There are now two BWA member bodies in Burundi, a country that shares a border with Rwanda.

The BWA now has 223 member organizations in 120 countries.

Members of the BWA General Council, which convened during the Annual Gathering, supported continuing dialogue between the BWA and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  Leaders of both the BWA and the SBC held a joint meeting in December 2011.

George Bullard, BWA regional secretary for North America and general secretary for the North American Baptist Fellowship, who was part of the BWA delegation that met with the SBC leaders, told the council that the NABF is "thankful that BWA General Secretary Neville Callam initiated the first such meeting [with the SBC] during 2011."

The SBC had previously withdrawn its membership from the BWA in 2004 but an agreement was arrived at on April 13 in that year that the leadership of both bodies should "meet at least once per year to continue an ongoing dialogue."

While the issue of SBC membership within the BWA has not and is not expected to arise, the council sees the talks as steps toward the establishment of harmonious relationships among Baptists worldwide.

Durosinjesu Ayanrinola, elected general secretary of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship in November last year and who was formally appointed BWA regional secretary for Africa during the Annual Gathering, expressed his gratitude for the intervention of Callam in helping to settle long standing issues of disunity among Baptists in Kenya.

Ayanrinola also reported that pending litigation among Baptists in Sierra Leone has been settled as the court case has been withdrawn.

Concern was expressed about the Telugus in India. The General Council, one of the governing bodies of the BWA, is hopeful that the Telugus, one of the largest Baptist groups in India comprising more than one million members, can be welcomed back into the BWA "without condoning the divisions and conflicts" that have affected Telugu Baptists for the past several years. The Telugus have been bitterly divided over administrative and property issues and were suspended from the BWA in 2004. The BWA expressed its support for all attempts made at reconciliation and the settling of disputes.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 12, 2012

“It was a dream to work for the BWA”

BWA honors retirees

A number of retiring staff members of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) were recognized for their period of service to the BWA during the Annual Gathering in Santiago, Chile, that was held from July 2-7.

Paul Montacute of Britain has been director of Baptist World Aid (BWAid) since 1993 and was previously director of the BWA Youth Department beginning in 1990.

Lee Hickman of the United States has been assistant to the BWAid director for 25 years.

Linda Falimy of Indonesia came to the BWA in 1991 as assistant to the director of communications and was appointed database specialist in 2006.

Judy Campbell started out with the BWA in 2001 as events coordinator and later became financial assistant.

Alberto Prokopchuk was BWA regional secretary for Latin America and general secretary for the Union of Baptists in Latin America for 11 years, starting in 2001.

Harrison Olan'g was BWA regional secretary for Africa and general secretary of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship between 2007 and 2011.

Montacute declared that his time at the BWA "was the best of times. There was never a day that was like the previous day."

Lee, Montacute's assistant for all the time he was BWAid director, described her time with the BWA "as an adventure. You never know what your day will be," she said. "I've lived through earthquakes, tsunamis, and many disasters in my work with BWAid. But working for the BWA has been a privilege."

Falimy stated that "it has been a good time, ever since I came when we were in our previous offices in McLean" (in the state of Virginia in the US). The international offices of the BWA have been in Falls Church, also in Virginia, since 2001.

Campbell, an American, said that, for her, "it was a dream to work for the BWA. I loved every moment of it and I am grateful for the opportunity to have served." Campbell made special reference to her role as registrar at BWA meetings for 10 of the years she was with the international Baptist organization. "I looked forward to meeting people from all over the world who influenced me in so many ways."

Prokopchuk declared that serving the BWA "has been one of the most blessed experiences and enriching part of my life and ministry." He thanked the Annual Gathering for the prayers, kindness and love "that I have received during all these years."

Montacute, Campbell and Falimy retire at the end of July and Hickman retires in December. The terms of both Prokopchuk and Olan'g had come to an end and they did not seek re-election to their respective positions.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 8, 2012

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 urges action on Nigerian crisis and climate change

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) has made an appeal for the crisis in Nigeria to come to an end.

In a resolution passed by the General Council, the international Baptist organization denounced the levels of violence in the West African country caused by Muslim extremists and noted "that these horrendous acts of inhumanity in Nigeria have promoted fear to freely worship and assemble."

The BWA cautions the Nigerian government that it needs "to ensure safety and security for all people in Nigeria," and urged "Baptists around the world to raise these concerns with their governments, religious leaders and persons of influence."

Boko Haram, a jihadist group that seeks to establish shariah law in Nigeria, has carried out a series of bombings against Christian churches and government facilities such as police stations. By early 2012, the group was responsible for more than 900 deaths. In the most recent incidents since June, the group claimed to be responsible for the suicide bombings of several churches in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna, killing more than 50 people.

In a specific appeal to Baptists in the most populous country in Africa, the BWA is "encouraging our Baptist sisters and brothers to continue to seek ways to promote peace and respect for all persons in Nigeria."

The Nigerian Baptist Convention is one of the largest Baptist groups in the world, comprising more than 2.5 million members in more than 9,300 churches. The Mambilla Baptist Convention has approximately 23,000 members in more than 250 churches.

In a resolution on climate change, Baptists are being encouraged to teach and model creation care, identify "simple and practical means" to incorporate an ecologically responsible lifestyle, and to support "the framework for action" that came out of the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Rio conference, held June 13-22 and in which the BWA participated, issued a document, The Future We Want, which seeks to achieve certain environmental goals at the international, national, regional and local levels.

The BWA confesses that though Baptists like other Christian traditions believe and affirm that the earth is created by God and that the Bible teaches care and respect for that creation, humans "have not always been faithful stewards of God's creation owing to ignorance, neglect, arrogance and greed... and have often exploited, consumed and abused creation for selfish advantage." It notes the "lack of progress toward a global consensus on the urgent need to reduce human contribution to climate change that is having dramatic impact on God's creation," which has special impact on the poor who "are most affected by climate change and are least able to adapt."

The BWA says there is need for increasing commitment by Baptist churches, conventions and unions "to act as agents of change and reconciliation with God's creation."

The General Council forms part of the Annual Gathering that met in Santiago, Chile, from July 2-7.

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