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Concern over religious persecution tops BWA reports at SBC meeting

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Baptist World Alliance President Billy Kim challenged Baptists to increase their vision for the world, get out of their comfort zone of ministry and get a heart for the persecuted church, in addressing the Southern Baptist Convention June 13 in New Orleans.

“In Indonesia, the Muslims are burning churches left and right, but we are too busy with our big churches and ministries to help them,” said Kim, pastor of the 15,000-member Central Baptist Church, Suwon, South Korea, in his BWA report to the SBC annual meeting.

“God has blessed Southern Baptists,” he added. “The Scriptures say to whom much has been given, much will be required.”

Though religious persecution plagues Christian churches across the world, BWA leaders said in their annual “Window on the World” breakfast, also June 13, that the body of Christ continues to grow. BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz reported statistics reflecting the changing times: in 1900, 85 percent of Christians in the world were in the West. Now 55 percent of all Christians in the world are in the southern hemisphere, including large masses of Baptists in Africa — nearly 4 million in almost 20,000 BWA-affiliated churches.

Lotz focused on various instances of religious persecution, including accounts of pastors being tortured, churches being burned and a growing problem of nationalism choking out the gospel message in many countries.

Romanian Baptist leader Paul Negrut, who also addressed the breakfast meeting, reported on the Romanian government’s attempt to introduce legislation restricting the ability of Christians to plant churches. The government mandate reportedly stipulated that in order for a church to start in Romania, it would need to convert 5 percent of the city’s population in which it would be started.

“That means if we were to start a church in Bucharest, we would need to convert 150,000 people before we could plant the church,” Negrut said.

The pending edict was put to rest, however, when the BWA’s Lotz contacted U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who reportedly sent a letter to Romanian delegates in order to stop the bill.

Negrut also reported that since the winter of last year Romanian churches have baptized 7,500 people and now have approximately 2,000 churches in the former communist country.

“Religious freedom in Romania is something we have to pray for — something we still have to fight for,” Negrut said.

During the breakfast, Emmett Dunn, youth specialist for the BWA, addressed the pressing need for youth ministry in overseas churches.

Dunn cited statistics he’d received that the United States accounts for 97 percent of the world’s youth workers, though they minister to only 3 percent of the world’s youth. That leaves the remaining 3 percent of youth ministers handling the rest of the world, which Dunn described as an impossible task.

“Without a doubt, churches cannot survive without the participation of young people,” Dunn said.

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