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U.S. Christians minister in Poland after air disaster

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–In Poland, after one of the greatest losses of national leadership in modern history, two seminary leaders conveyed condolences from Southern Baptists during two Sunday services April 11.

As a 10-day trip to Poland was drawing to a close, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Philip Roberts and the seminary’s academic dean, Jerry A. Johnson, voiced comfort to congregations in Gdansk and Sopot and shared the Gospel with those who were looking for answers to some of life’s toughest questions.

“This is an enormous loss for the people of Poland,” Roberts said. “Many of the leaders killed in the crash were instrumental in the Solidarity movement. They were the spear point for bringing liberty and democracy to the country.

“There are many in the country asking the question, ‘Why?'” Roberts continued. “For the Christians here, there is a great chance to step up and help the people work through their grief and suffering. Now is a time to help them in answering some of life’s toughest questions, including the ones about eternity that often surface when events such as this occur.”

Roberts preached Sunday in Gdansk, the home city of the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, who was among 96 people killed in an April 10 airplane crash in western Russia. Johnson spoke to a congregation in Sopot, the hometown of the prime minister, Donald Tusk, who was not on board the plane that also was carrying numerous Polish leaders.

In speaking in Gdansk, Roberts used the verse from Matthew 10: 39 (HCSB) where Jesus said, “Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it.” The MBTS leader continued by adding that “there will be a point when life will end for our physical body on this planet. With this in mind, each of us needs to make sure we are living for the correct reasons and the correct person — Jesus Christ — because He offers the hope of eternal life beyond what we experience in this life on earth.”

The Midwestern leaders were in Poland for a conference at the Polish Baptist Seminary in Radosc speaking on the topic of biblical inerrancy and accuracy to an audience of pastors, Christian workers and theologians. Also during the trip, Roberts preached the Easter Sunday message at Warsaw Baptist Church.

Roberts recounted that as he was travelling from Warsaw to Gdansk, President Kaczynski’s plane was departing for Smolensk, Russia, where the crash later occurred. Roberts added that upon his return to Warsaw, the Polish president’s body was being returned for ceremonies commencing on Sunday.

On Saturday, the Russian airliner carrying the Polish president and his wife Maria and a number of top leaders of Poland’s military, political and business sectors, along with dozens of other dignitaries, crashed as they were traveling to a ceremony commemorating a World War II slaughter of Poles that has divided the two nations for seven decades. This event was all-too-familiar to Roberts’ wife Anja, a native of Poland who lost an uncle in the massacre.

On Saturday, Poles wept in front of their televisions, taped black ribbons in their windows and lowered flags to half-staff after hearing that Kaczynski and the upper echelons of the establishment lay dead in woods a short drive from the site of the Katyn forest massacre, where more than 20,000 Polish officers, lawmakers, doctors and other professionals were killed by Soviet secret police in one of Poland’s greatest national traumas.

In addition to the president, the military’s chief of staff and the heads of Poland’s land forces, navy and air force, other dignitaries on board the plane included the national bank president, three military chaplains, Poland’s deputy foreign minister, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, Olympic Committee head, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers, the Polish foreign ministry said.

The president of the Polish Baptist Seminary, Andrzej Seweryn, said that many political commentators on television in Poland have been asking the question, “What is God telling us through this tragedy?” He said that the time of soul-searching and reflection on these events presents a great time to share the love of Jesus Christ with the Polish populace.

“This is the time for the churches and pastors in Poland to direct the people toward Jesus Christ,” Seweryn said. “With people asking so many hard questions about life and God, we have the opportunity to show them that life does have a purpose, and that purpose comes through a relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

In addition to his wife, Roberts has ties to Eastern Europe, having served as dean of theology for Emmanuel University in Oradea, Romania, where he currently serves as trustee.
T. Patrick Hudson is director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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