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Kosovo crisis prompts Mo. Baptists to suspend Belarus partnership trips

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Administrators of the Missouri Baptist Convention have announced that mission trips through the MBC partnership with Baptists in the former Soviet republic of Belarus have been suspended until conditions in the Balkans improve.
As of April 15, the Southern Baptist International Mission Board had reported no other partnership missions efforts being canceled as a result of U.S./NATO bombing of Yugoslav Serbia over the crisis in the Kosovo province.
MBC leaders said they made their decision because of potential danger to Missourians in Eastern Europe due to anti-American sentiment stemming from the bombing.
The decision, announced April 5, affected a Missouri Woman’s Missionary Union trip that had been scheduled for May 23-June 2. The Missourians had planned to help Belarussian women conduct the second Belarus Baptist women’s conference May 28-29 in Minsk. Eighty-nine Missouri women went to Minsk in 1995 to help with the first such meeting.
Missouri WMU director Alberta Gilpin said this year’s conference will go on as planned without the Missouri women.
“We have contacted each of the 70 women who were going to go and, without exception, they were very trusting in our decision,” Gilpin reported. “Many of them said that family members and friends had expressed concern about them going.”
Gilpin said Missouri and Belarussian women already have set a date for a conference in 2000. “Many of the [Missouri] women I contacted said they will just save their money and go next year.”
The new conference date is June 2-3, 2000; and the Missourians’ trip will be May 28-June 7, 2000.
Gilpin said the Belarussian women she had talked to were very disappointed by the trip’s postponement. But they said they understood the reasons and that they trusted in God’s timing. “They already are planning for next year,” she noted.
MBC Bible study team leader Roger Hatfield led the last Missouri Baptist group to minister in Belarus. They returned from a Vacation Bible School training event March 31.
“There were conditions or situations that would make some Missouri Baptists a little bit apprehensive or anxious,” Hatfield confirmed. He said he saw several anti-American and anti-NATO demonstrations while in Europe.
“The Belarussian Baptists were asking questions of us about why we were bombing, which indicated that they were not getting maybe the full story from their news agencies about what was going on.”
Hatfield noted one particularly unsettling development for the partnership — Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has threatened to send troops to aid Serbia in the conflict and has indicated he may resurrect old Soviet nuclear-weapons sites in Belarus.
Also, CNN reported April 9 that Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic has told Russian President Boris Yeltsin he would like to join the political-military alliance between Russia and Belarus.
MBC partnership missions coordinator Willard Zeiser, who helped make the decision to postpone partnership-related trips, said friends in Belarus have confirmed his decision. He cited an April 9 e-mail message he received from Elena Vogdanova, who has served as tour guide to every Missouri Baptist team to visit Belarus since the partnership began.
“After consideration, I must admit that it [the decision] was right and timely,” she wrote. “The more I listen to the reports from Russia, the more frightened I become.
“I want you and other people in the convention to know that I am thankful to all Missouri Baptists for … their friendship, love and understanding. I do not know what is going to happen, but I am happy that I have such friends. I’ll always say that America is a great country and that its people are the friendliest.”
Zeiser noted that, though the mission trips have been canceled, the prayer and financial support Missouri Baptists provide to churches in the Belarus Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist continues uninterrupted.

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  • Rob Marus