MELBOURNE, Australia (BP)–The mission strategy of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board unexpectedly became a topic of discussion Jan. 8 at the General Council meeting of the Baptist World Alliance in Melbourne, Australia.
During a miscellaneous business session, Dilip Datta of Bangladesh rose to ask the BWA to begin what he termed a “capacity building” program.
Datta said an unnamed mission society was “dumping its institutions on us.” He said the mission society had never trained Bangladesh Baptists to manage hospitals or other institutions. “That is why we are turning to you,” he told BWA General Council members. “We need your help to train us to run the institutions for which we are now responsible.”
BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz then asked Samson Chowdhury, a member of the General Council from Bangladesh, if he wanted to respond to the unexpected request made by his fellow countryman.
Chowdhury, a leading businessman, was more pointed, naming missionaries of the SBC as the point of concern. He recounted the contributions of Southern Baptists in Bangladesh, crediting missionaries with a major role in the growth of churches from 17 in 1982 to more than 450 now. “By the time we have our annual meeting in March, we will have more than 500 churches,” he predicted. He said the assistance of SBC missionaries contributed to the growth.
“Now the missionaries have a new vision, but we do not know what that vision is,” Chowdhury continued. He said missionaries were withdrawing from working with the Baptist Christians of his country. “The missionaries believe that to reach Muslims they have to grow beards, look like Muslims and act like Muslims. They do not want to identify with the churches.”
Chowdhury said in the long run the policy may be good for Baptists in Bangladesh. “We will have to learn to depend on ourselves,” he said, but in the meantime they feel abandoned. That is why they have turned to the BWA for assistance, he explained.
BWA President Nilson Fanini referred the request to the General Council executive committee where, he assured the Bangladesh representatives, it would be considered openly and in a spirit of friendship.
Lotz asked that the International Mission (Agency) Secretaries also discuss the issue. IMB President Jerry Rankin is a member of that body.
Following the meeting, Avery Willis, a vice president of the SBC International Mission Board, said he was surprised to hear the concern raised before the BWA General Council. However, he said some other groups of Baptists had expressed feelings similar to those of the two men from Bangladesh. Willis said he and Rankin were planning to visit national leaders during the coming year.
“We want them [the national leaders] to know that we are not abandoning them. We want to maintain relationships,” he said.
Shortly after the General Council adjourned, Willis met with the Bangladesh men and scheduled a private meeting for additional discussion.
In other action by the council, members affirmed the appointment of several committees and commissions by President-elect Billy Kim and Lotz; approved a motion by James T. Draper Jr., president of the SBC LifeWay Christian Resources, to make a July 3-9 meeting in Cuba a full General Council meeting; approved a financing package of $3.3 million for the new office of the BWA which includes $500,000 for renovation.
The BWA hopes to sell the present property in McLean, Va., USA, for $2 million and raise the additional $1.3 million. The new property is located in nearby Falls Church, Va.
Council members also re-elected the five regional secretaries and approved a 4 percent salary adjustment for them.
The General Council is composed of 196 member bodies with more than 500 people, including commissions, committees and staff, who attend council meetings.