Baptists prepare for global meeting in Chile

Baptists from across the world are preparing to attend the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) Annual Gathering in Santiago, Chile, from July 2-7.

The gathering includes times for worship, fellowship, theological reflection, and decision making.

The two governing bodies, the General Council and the Executive Committee, will receive reports and consider recommendations and resolutions, including on membership within the organization, program activities, and preparations for the Baptist Youth World Conference to be held in Singapore in July 2013 and the Baptist World Congress in Durban, South Africa, in 2015.

There will be two forums. The first will be on Technology and Ministry and will explore the role of technology in worship, fellowship, and social ministry such as the use and role of the Internet, mobile technologies, and social media.

A second forum will focus on response to disasters and will draw on the experience of Chileans in the aftermath of the deadly 8.8 earthquake and tsunami that affected the South American country on February 27, 2010.

The Denominational Leaders Network will convene along with other affinity groups. Affinity groups are a gathering of persons sharing similar vocations or engaging in similar ministry endeavors. These include Baptists in higher education, pastors, as well as missioners and mission leaders.

Persons from the six regions of the BWA – Africa, Asia Pacific, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America – will also come together for times of fellowship, sharing and planning.

Theological papers and discourses will form the bulk of the activities of the commissions of the BWA. Topics to be discussed include The History of Baptists in Chile, Evangelical Hymnody in Latin America, and Mapping a 21st Century Global Baptist Identity. There will also be a discussion titled Issues in Theological Education Around the World, and consideration of The Nature and Mission of the Church, a document produced by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam has praised Chilean Baptist leaders for "the cooperation they have given in the preparations for the Gathering." He anticipates that "it will be a memorable encounter of world Baptists with Latin American Baptist spirituality."

More than 260 Baptist leaders and delegates from some 40 countries have registered for the Annual Gathering, which also includes times of worship and fellowship with Baptists in Chile.

Baptist World Alliance®

© June 21, 2012

BWA to participate in UN conference in Rio

The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) is the lead organizer of a "side event" that takes place during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from June 20-22.

Also known as Rio+20, UNCSD is being held to mark the 20th Anniversary after the 1992 Earth Summit last held in Rio de Janeiro. The 1992 conference placed sustainable development as a priority on the agenda of the UN and the international community; whereas Rio +20 will focus on how to use sustainable development to create a long term structure for systemic changes in "economic development, social development and environmental protection."

The BWA, along with cosponsors that include the World Methodist Council, the World Council of Churches, Church World Service, and the Global Fund for Education Development, will host meetings that examine the roles of religious and educational institutions in addressing issues of sustainability; the impact of religious and educational institutions on the global agenda for sustainability; and the resources that religious and educational practices offer to an understanding of a "green society."

BWA Director of Freedom and Justice Raimundo Barreto and Mark Greenwood of BMS World Mission, the Baptist mission agency, who is currently stationed in Brazil, will address the side event.

"By discussing how religion and educational groups promote ethical values and contribute to environmental action and sustainable practices, this event will shed light on a key strategic issue for Rio+20 UN Conference," the sponsors state. The faith-based and educational sponsors see the side event as necessary because "discussions on sustainability are shifting from political, economic, and scientific discourses to social, cultural, and spiritual considerations." This shift, the organizers claimed, is "due to fundamental ethical questions that emerged at the intersection between religion and education," but which are "often disregarded in global discussions."

The BWA, which is also co-sponsoring an event that examines the roles of UN conferences in the democratization of international relations, has been preparing for Rio+20 since March 2011. The BWA participated in discussions with other NGOs that helped to generate Zero Draft, a document with the objective of providing guidance to UN member states that will draft the final document coming out of Rio+20.

Rio+20 has three broad objectives: securing renewed political commitment to sustainable development, assessing the progress and implementation gaps in meeting already agreed commitments, and addressing new and emerging challenges. Themes to be examined are a green economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and an institutional framework for sustainable development.

© Baptist World Alliance
June 15, 2012

Technology is risky but helpful, pastors say

One of the challenges facing the church today is the culture of technology, said Baptist World Alliance (BWA) General Secretary Neville Callam.

Callam was speaking May 22 at a reception he hosted for pastors in the Washington Metropolitan Area at the international offices of the BWA in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC.

Callam, drawing on studies conducted by Albert Borgmann, a professor of philosophy at the University of Montana in the United States, said technology is not a neutral tool nor an unambiguous gift, but that, according to Borgmann, "technology is inhospitable to Christianity." Technology "competes with grace as the dominant background of life," Borgmann claims, because "cyberspace ... has swamped [us] and softened [us] ... and has left us with a world that raises in a radically new way the question of how God is present to us today."

Callam supported Borgmann's description of cyberspace as "the glamorous fog that settles on all that is. It muffles when it does not deaden the sweet sound of amazing grace." Christians, he said, need "to dispel the seductive mist of cyberspace and to see it as a challenging backdrop" so that "grace can emerge with new vigor."

The church may need to make use of available technology, even while being aware of the risks and dangers Borgmann and others have identified, Callam asserted. Callam went on to introduce some of the initiatives the BWA is pursuing in the area of technology.

Pastors at the reception, many of whom are technologically savvy, echoed some of the concerns expressed by the BWA leader. Technology, if not applied properly, can be a distraction, it was observed. Churches should not view technology as a means to solve all their problems and it should not be seen or used as a means to "better market the church."

One struggle that congregations have is to find persons to run a church's media and technology program who are both technologically competent and theologically sensitive.

The value of technology was acknowledged by the group of pastors, who were from Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland and Washington, DC.  Technology can help to enhance worship services, such as broadcasting reports, live or delayed, from fellow congregants and other Christians who are on the mission field. Technology is also useful in helping to tell personal and inspirational stories and testimonies, and in establishing connectivity among Christians and the wider community.

Social media can help to bring people together, even in times of disaster. One story was of a Washington, DC, area congregation that, a few years ago, held a worship service – via social media – after a heavy blizzard that made travel to church dangerous and difficult.  In another instance, another congregation, this time in Mexico, held a worship service over the Internet after the government placed a moratorium on public gatherings due to the swine flu outbreak.

Despite concerns on what constitutes sacred space and about the theology of worship, the role and place of technology in the life of teens and young adults, and even among older persons, cannot be denied.

Several churches represented at the reception reported having "technology labs" to assist persons in their congregations to get acquainted with technology. Useful information can be had by pastors being part of social media, as that is how a pastor may discover, sometimes to his or her surprise, "what is happening in the life of church members."

BWA General Secretary Callam hosts two "coffee receptions" each year for Baptist pastors in the Washington Metropolitan area, usually in the spring and in the fall.

© Baptist World Alliance
May 29, 2012

Former BWA director honored

Tony Cupit, former director of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) divisions of Evangelism and Education and Study and Research (both now merged into the division of Mission, Evangelism and Theological Reflection), was conferred with an honorary doctorate by the John Leland Center for Theological Studies.

Described by Leland as "among the great international figures in Baptist life today," Cupit, an Australian, was keynote speaker at the June 9 graduation ceremony for the class of 2012. He was honored "for his extraordinary leadership in ministry over some forty plus years."

The citation praised Cupit as a pastor, missionary, Bible translator, author, church executive and international Baptist leader whose ministry exemplified the model of transformational leadership in global ministry.

Cupit was BWA director from 1991 to 2005. Prior to that, he served the  Australian and international Baptist communities in a number of capacities, including as a missionary to Papua New Guinea where, among other things, he and wife Margaret played leading roles in translating Christian scripture into the indigenous language.

In his address, Cupit recounted the sacrificial discipleship of Christians in various parts of the world, past and present, including Baptists. He told the gathering that "the church in the world, including its Baptist expression, continues to be a martyr church." Recounting past and recent episodes of martyrdom and persecution, he said "if taking up a cross is metaphorical for us, let us always remember it is a reality for our brothers and sisters in Christ in different places throughout the world."

Cupit explained that "Jesus connected his messiahship with suffering and death" which, at first, "was incomprehensible to the disciples." He encouraged the graduates to "take up Jesus' cross," asserting that "the easy way is not the way of Jesus" because Jesus offered his followers a "life of denial, hardship and sacrifice."

Twenty persons graduated from the Leland Center. The theological school traces its origins to a meeting of the General Council of the BWA in Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 2001. A group of five attendees, some invited by Cupit, agreed to the idea of setting up a theological college in the Washington Metropolitan Area.

Leland participates in the Washington Theological Consortium (WTC), a group of 17 seminaries and related institutions in the Washington, DC region that allows for inter-faculty collaboration, ecumenical dialogue, and shared resources. Students attending the Leland Center may choose from among 300 different course offerings within the consortium, while students and faculty alike have access to more than two million volumes available through WTC libraries.

Leland's main campus is located in Arlington in Northern Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC, with satellite locations elsewhere in Virginia.

© Baptist World Alliance
June 12, 2012

BWA assists school reconstruction in refugee camp

The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) has sent US$25,000 in emergency financial assistance to a school in the Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand to assist in the school's reconstruction after it was destroyed by fire on April 28.

The Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School and College, located in the Mae La Refugee Camp near the Thai-Myanmar border, faces uncertainty as to the start of the next term, which was set to begin in  June. The school offers general education to refugees and training to church leaders. More than 300 students are enrolled.

BWA, through Baptist World Aid, its relief and development arm, is providing 50 percent of the estimated reconstruction cost of US$50,000. Additional funds of at least US$10,000 are needed for furnishing, equipment and school supplies.

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam assured Baptist leaders in the refugee camp that "all of your friends in the Baptist World Alliance will stand by your side as you... proceed with the work to renew the structures for life, training and service at Mae La."

Representatives of the BWA have visited the Mae La camp several times, the most recent in June 2011 with a delegation that included BWA President John Upton and Women's Department Director Patsy Davis. Upton said that despite the dedication and strength he saw in the camp, the eyes of the refugees, particularly those of youth and children, betrayed loss and sadness. He said what worries refugees the most is that they will be forgotten, and he appealed to Baptist leaders around the world not to forget the refugees, a significant number of whom are Baptists.

Mae La houses an estimated 50,000 displaced persons and is one of the largest of several refugee camps for displaced persons from Myanmar who fled conflicts in the South Asian country.

The Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School and College was founded by Saw Simon, the recipient of the BWA Human Rights Award in 2000. Simon and his family fled across the Thai border after the school, which was originally located in Rangoon (Yangon), the former capital of Myanmar, was destroyed. He later restarted it at the Mae La camp in 1984.

Video footage of the fire can viewed on the BWA website.

Contributions to the reconstruction effort may be made via the BWA website or mailed to:
Baptist World Aid
405 North Washington Street
Falls Church, VA 22046

© Baptist World Alliance
May 25, 2012