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

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

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

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