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BWA General Council highlights Baptist reconciliation in South Africa

DURBAN, South Africa (BP)–As Baptist leaders from more than 50 countries gathered in South Africa for the Baptist World Alliance’s General Council meeting, they joined South African Baptists in celebrating the newly democratic country as well as South African Baptists’ own steps toward reconciliation.
Also during the July 5-11 meeting, the BWA women’s department announced the appointment of Patsy Davis, a Southern Baptist missionary to Latin America the past 21 years, as the new executive director.
The North American Baptist Fellowship announced the election of its new president — Morris H. Chapman, president and treasurer of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, while Frank Adams of Ghana was confirmed as general secretary of All Africa Baptist Fellowship.
A call for the end of nuclear proliferation was among several resolutions adopted during the council’s July 5-11 sessions. Condemning the recent nuclear bomb tests by India and Pakistan, the council called on all nuclear powers to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and vigorously pursue efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons.
Terry Rae, general secretary of the predominantly white Baptist Union of Southern Africa (BUSA), and Desmond Hoffmeister, general secretary of the predominantly black Baptist Convention of South Africa (BCSA), movingly described the steps toward reconciliation between two unions at a May meeting at Colesberg as “a move of God’s Holy Spirit.”
Rae described how, on the first day of the meeting, a sheet of paper 120 feet long was filled with the difficulties and hurts of the past years. The next morning, after a time of confession and forgiveness around the Lord’s supper, the sheet was placed under the communion table.
“We placed it under the blood of Jesus Christ,” Rae said. “After the communion we had a mandate from God to reconcile with each other.”
“This is a process, not an event, “said Hoffmeister, “However, we are prepared to trust the process, to say wherever he leads we will follow and, God helping us, the days of the ugly, hostile fights that we as Baptists had in South Africa are over.”
Rae and Hoffmeister, at a BWA rally in connection with the General Council meeting, thanked the world Baptist family for their prayers and the challenge to reconcile. They called on Baptists around the world to accept the same challenge for reconciliation in their countries.
“Don’t break the unity,” BWA President Nilson Fanini told the South African leaders, “Keep going!”
Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary, said the move to reconciliation in South Africa and in Bengal, Zambia and other areas of the world is vital to the Baptist witness for evangelism. He announced that Coretta Scott King and Billy Graham will be honorary co-chairs of an International Summit of Baptists Against Racism and Ethnic Conflict to be held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Jan. 8-11, 1999.
The council, in a resolution, praised the work of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the efforts among South African Baptists by Hoffmeister and Rae. The resolution voiced hope that similar efforts can be effective in restoring relationships between and among the people of Burundi and Rwanda. And it challenges Baptists everywhere to use biblical principles of reconciliation to address differences and solve conflict.
Addressing racial and ethnic conflict in Nagaland in northeast India, another General Council resolution noted the 50 years of civil war there have divided the Naga people into multiple fractions and caused violent conflict with the Indian army and each other. The council’s resolution calls on Naga leaders and the Indian government to continue to work toward a peaceful solution. It encourages the global family to pray for the Nagas for a just conclusion to the conflict.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, head of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, received a standing ovation from the 500-plus Baptist delegates at the council meeting as he described the new South Africa “as a miracle” and thanked Baptists for their part in shaping the new democracy.
Tutu defended the work of the commission, which he said daily uncovers the truth about many of the human rights abuses that took place during the apartheid era. He said the process allows people who committed atrocities between 1960-94 to confess their crimes and also receive amnesty, which he described as “truth in exchange for freedom.”
“Thank you one million times for your life,” said Fanini to Tutu. “We have, in you, one of the greatest examples of human rights (leaders).”
In a resolution noting that more than a billion people live in the 40 poorest countries in the world burdened with staggering national debts, the General Council called on Baptist World Aid to draw the attention of the global Baptist community to a worldwide campaign “Jubilee 2000,” led in many countries by Baptists, to encourage banks and government agencies to forgive the debts of these poor nations and allow them to start the new millennium debt-free.
In reports of growth and revival worldwide, President Fanini told of God at work in Europe, Asia and Latin America as more than 30,000 people have responded to Jesus Christ in his evangelism crusades.
In Africa, Moses Roulac, president of the Liberia Missionary and Educational Convention, Inc., said because of the April visit of a BWA evangelism team more than 300 young people in a predominantly Muslim county recently met to strategize for evangelism. K.S. Kamara, president of the Baptist Convention of Sierra Leone, told the council in spite of continued suffering because of their political situation, they will join the BWA evangelism division’s special emphasis in March 1999 with simultaneous crusades across their country to help Baptist work there.
In Nigeria “Operation Reach All” and in Ghana “2000 for 2000” are strong evangelistic emphases in the continent. Both Samuel Fadeji, AABF president, and Osadolor Imasogie, BWA vice president, asked for prayers for Nigeria in the current political crisis sparked by the death of opposition politician Moshood Abiola.
In Latin America every convention has received practical suggestions for evangelism strategies to respond to the call of BWA President and Brazilian pastor Fanini for Baptists to double their members and their churches.
Already the Evangelical-Christians Baptists in Ukraine has doubled its churches since freedom. There are now 1,874 and Victor Kulbich, general secretary of the ECBU, said their goal is 3,000 churches by the year 2000. Karl Heinz Walter, general secretary of European Baptist Federation , reported “there are many open hearts in the Muslim world.” He noted one country which last year had more baptisms than ever recorded before.
But a sad fact in Baptist life across the world is the lack of religious freedom and persecution by government and majority religions which hinder evangelism.
“We, the body of Christ, God’s bridge to the world, know that when some people suffer, we suffer with them,” said Thorwald Lorenzen, chair of the BWA Human Rights Commission. “For Baptists,” he said, “the struggle for human rights is part of our very tradition. Conversion to God always means conversion to God’s passion for his world.”
Eddie Cox, BWA representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, told the General Council he testified at the U.N. last May in Geneva about the need for religious freedom around the world. Cox said he expressed concern of the failure of several U.N. member countries to uphold religious freedom and the alarm of the BWA at the rise of persecution around the world. He especially referred to the persecution of the Chin people whom the Burmese army forbids to give out religious tracts to evangelize.
In other actions, the General Council accepted into membership the Baptist Community of the Democratic Republic of the Congo North, founded in 1960 with 333 churches and 25,000 members. The BWA now represents 42,377,260 baptized believers in 159,434 churches.

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  • Wendy Ryan