WASHINGTON (BP)–While the picture is never complete, every six months Baptists leaders come together for what could be described as a panoramic shot of Baptist life around the world.
From March 3-6, the 35-member Baptist World Alliance executive committee heard of continued growth, evangelism plans, relief aid and challenges in and progress on religious liberty issues, voiced in firsthand reports from visitors to various countries and from heads of the six regions of the BWA.
Additionally, the executive committee adopted a millennium-related theme for the 18th Baptist World Congress in January 2000 in Sydney, Australia: “Jesus Christ Forever. Yes!”
“We want to say something to the world at the start of the millennium, and this theme says it for us,” said Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary. “It is biblical, Christological and millennium related.”
Brazilian pastor Nilson do Amaral Fanini, who has made evangelism the hallmark of his BWA presidency, told in his address of visiting Chile, several countries in Eastern Europe and Italy in the last six months. Many people responded to his invitation to follow Christ, Fanini said, and among Baptists, “all accepted our challenge to double the Baptist work by the year 2000.”
Fresh from a Feb. 19-28 visit to Cuba, BWA women’s department leaders Mercy Jeyaraja Rao, president, Irene Haase, secretary, and Willene Pierce, director, reported receiving permission for a home for elderly women to be built after a visit to Cuba’s office of religious affairs.
The women told of packed services during their visit, a tremendous faith among Baptists in the face of continuing difficulties and a hunger for the gospel in Cuba. At one service, Rao said, more than 100 young people in the Western Convention of Cuba responded to a call to the ministry at a special dedication service. But, she noted, there are few opportunities for training or for service because of a government prohibition against church construction.
Karl Heinz Walter, BWA regional secretary for Europe, reported growth and revival in certain areas of the Middle East, explaining, “Many people have become Christians just by reading the Bible.”
In one Middle East country, Walter recounted seeing a young man “sitting reading his Bible as if it were the only book in the world. He had such a glow on his face.”
Apart from the Bible, Walter said the “Jesus” film also is proving very successful in the Middle East.
Walter asked Baptists around the world to stand behind believers in the Middle East who feel quite neglected in the heavily Arab region.
Walter reported good news from Tbilisi, Georgia, where four congregations met in one building for many years. They had asked for a second building many times but were always refused by government authorities.
Two years ago a new work was started in the suburbs and a few months ago a new church house was dedicated. “This new house of prayer in the suburb of Nadtlugi is just a simple house built for a larger family,” Walter said, “but it represents a great achievement for believers in Tbilisi.
“I have never seen so much joy at a dedication of a building,” Walter added. The government also approved changes in the “ugly hall” at the first building into a lovely center, he noted.
In Klincy, a small town in Russia near the Chernobyl disaster, Walter reported eight of 10 children are sick and more than 120,000 people continue to live in what is described as a dangerous region. With a first group of 25 children visiting Germany in the next few months, Walter said, “This will give a symbol of hope.”
Peter Pinder, BWA regional secretary for the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, told the BWA executive committee: “There are over 190,000 Baptists in the Caribbean but they are not growing. Pray with us about those areas where Baptist work is stagnant; there is great potential for growth, but leaders must first catch the vision.”
Additionally, “We in the Caribbean must start to send missionaries to other countries,” Pinder said. While there has long been a history of Caribbean Baptists sending missionaries to other countries, he said, this has not been the focus in recent years.
Edwin Lopez, regional secretary for the Asian Baptist Federation (ABF), reported a vision started in 1992 in Singapore to reach Nepal, Cambodia and Mongolia has been realized. There are now Baptist conventions in Nepal and Cambodia and two churches in Mongolia.
Now the ABF vision for 2000 extends to Bhutan, where there are already three areas of active Baptist work, and Tibet and China.
Bill Hogue of California, BWA vice president, reported on his visit to Cambodia where he heard of the gospel’s impact in villages where BWA aid had been provided through Baptist leaders. Hogue said 300 people had converted in one village and 400 in another. “Cambodia would explode with the gospel if there was enough trained leadership,” he said.
Following Fanini’s lead, Baptists in Latin America will meet soon to approve a special evangelism plan from now to 2000, culminating in a combined Latin America evangelistic crusade in 1999, reported Daniel Carro, BWA regional secretary for Latin America.
Tony Cupit, director of BWA’s division of evangelism and education, asked all Baptists to focus on evangelism as the millennium approaches, including a concentrated simultaneous effort in evangelism at Easter 1999 to culminate with a commitment by Baptist churches to baptize new believers in January 2000, the first month of the millennium.
“We need to think long, think big and have vision,” Cupit said.
“The millennium opportunity is a kairos moment … a hinge of human history,” said David Coffey, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, who chairs the division.
In the United Kingdom, Coffey said, Baptists are using the millennium as a call to repentance and advancing the theme, “Whose Birthday is it Anyway?” He also told of an emphasis on “Jubilee 2000” in which Baptists and other Christians will ask government and agencies to cancel the debts of the world’s poorest nations.
“While the BWA can stir up each group to evangelism, we understand that you will customize to suit,” Coffey said, adding a mighty prayer thrust is needed to kindle revival.
To that end, Fanini has asked that more than 1 million Baptists be in prayer for the revival meetings across the world and for the special millennial emphasis.
In North America, while evangelism is a continuing challenge, so is racism, reported Daniel E. Weiss, president of the North American Baptist Fellowship. “It ought to be of deep concern to Baptists that leadership on civil rights today in North America comes from the Nation of Islam,” Weiss stated.
With a Baptist community of more than 60 million in North America who often have been part of the racism problem, Weiss said Baptist witness now must be part of the solution. More than $1 million has been raised by Baptists to help rebuild churches in North America destroyed in racially motivated arson attacks, he reported.
Samuel Fadeji, president of the All-Africa Baptist Fellowship and general secretary for Nigerian Baptists, reported an increase in church planting in the last three to four years in Nigeria and Ghana.
“There are 5,600 churches and over 1 million baptized believers in the Nigerian Baptist Convention,” Fadeji said, “but because we still do not baptize polygamous people there are well over 2 million in the Baptist community.”
In other highlights:
— George Younger, BWA representative to the United Nations, called on Baptists to take a more active role in the world agency, citing “many opportunities which Baptists had not taken advantage of.”
— In what Ignacio Loredo, president of the Argentine Baptist Convention, described as “a historic moment,” Baptists and Roman Catholics met for the first time in their history last December.
“This was a very considerate and positive gesture of the Catholic officials to indicate to society that doors are now open on both sides” in the predominantly Catholic country, Loredo said.
— Lotz, voicing a concern for a Christian worldview in institutes of higher learning and for revival among the younger generation, said, “Baptists need to ‘recapture the university for Christ.’ We need to reconvert our universities.”