BIRMINGHAM, England (BP)–“Jesus Christ Living Water” has been selected as the theme for the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Baptist World Alliance, July 27-31, 2005, in Birmingham, England.
The theme was approved by the BWA’s executive committee during its March 4-7 sessions in Birmingham.
The BWA was begun in London in 1905, but the centennial BWA Congress will be held in Birmingham at the suggestion of British Baptists due to exorbitant price and difficult transportation concerns in London.
The BWA executive committee moved its March meeting from the BWA headquarters in Washington, D.C., to Birmingham to familiarize centennial planners with the city’s meeting venues and attractions.
Once a polluted industrial city, Birmingham is now a thriving metropolis known for its world-class arts, cultural events and conference facilities.
It is also a city that has been transformed in the last 15 years by immigration, thus offering many opportunities and challenges for congress delegates to share their witness for Jesus Christ.
John Sundquist, chair of the 2005 Congress Program Committee and executive secretary of the Board of International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches, USA, noted that the international conference center in which the main meetings will be held is “superb for a Baptist World Congress. It will provide opportunities to meet each other and for music.”
Other highlights of the March meeting included an encouraging report from Bhutan, a relief initiative for the Congo, continued evangelistic expansion in Latin America and religious liberty.
In less than five years, Christian believers in Bhutan have grown to more than 5,000, most of whom are underground because of persecution in the Buddhist country, reported Bonny Resu, executive director of the Asian Baptist Federation. Baptists across the border in northeast India have made a commitment to work with Bhutanese Christians to train them in the faith, Resu said. Every week more than 23 people cross the border from Bhutan to Shillong for Christian fellowship and teaching.
After the devastation of the Baptist schools and hospitals in Goma, Zaire, by the volcanic landslide in January, the executive committee approved a special fellowship assistance grant of $250,000 to assist Baptist communities there to rebuild schools, hospitals and churches.
The history of BWA special fellowship assistance dates back to World War II when Baptist pastors in Europe were helped with housing and rebuilding churches and seminaries after the war.
In Paraguay, more than 8,000 decisions of faith and many baptisms were recorded after 300 believers from Argentina went to Paraguay on a five-day preaching mission. Alberto Prokopchuk, BWA leader for Latin American Baptists, said, “I want this to happen in each one of our countries in Latin America. The theme for the evangelism emphasis by Baptists throughout the region is ‘There is Life in Jesus Christ.'”
Throughout Europe, continuing human rights concerns in such countries as Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are of paramount concern to Baptist leaders there, the BWA executive committee was told. Proposed religion laws have been drafted in several countries and one of the most difficult clauses in these draft laws is the requirement that a church must have 50 members before it is legally recognized as such.
“There is a growing spirit of intolerance,” said Theo Angelov, executive director of the European Baptist Federation. “Baptists are increasingly concerned about these attacks on religious freedom.”
After a recent visit to the pastors in the Middle East, Angelov noted that they feel quite isolated especially after the events of Sept. 11. “For example, there is a small Baptist community in Gaza in the center of the Moslem world,” Angelov said, urging ongoing prayer for Baptists in the Middle East.
BWA President Billy Kim of South Korea echoed the need for prayer for the struggle of Baptist leaders in Israel and Egypt.
Kim also voiced concern for the lack of unity among Baptist leaders in the world. Speaking of his visit to South Africa last year when five groups came together, he said, “My heart was blessed, saddened and burdened but they came together in unity. I trust and pray that they will continue to work together.”