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Wrap Up: World Baptists say ‘Yes’ to 21st-century challenges

MELBOURNE, Australia (BP)–World Baptist delegates from all continents looked at a multitude of problems facing them in a new millennium — and nevertheless said, “Yes.”

“Yes” was more than just part of the theme — “Jesus Christ Forever. Yes!” — of the 18th Baptist World Congress, Jan. 5-9 in Melbourne, Australia.

It represented an overwhelming response by delegates to calls from world Baptist leaders to reach out in evangelism, heal racism and ethnic conflict, engage the power of prayer, minister to the hungry and poor, promote social justice, and encourage downcast, strife-torn people.

“The gospel of Jesus is an invitation” both to salvation and to a moral vision to minister to the needs of suffering people, H. Beecher Hicks Jr. of Washington, D.C., told some 7,000 participants in the opening night’s keynote address.

“We are not here for a theological tea party…. Say ‘yes’ to the
invitation,” he charged, concluding with a litany of “yeses” in more than a dozen languages.

More than 6,100 registered delegates proceeded to say yes to BWA plans for renewed efforts in evangelism, racial and social justice and long-range vision for 21st-century ministry. The total registered was down from the 8,000-plus congress delegates in 1995 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Delegates also elected South Korean Billy Kim to a five-year term as 19th president of the Baptist World Alliance. Kim, pastor of Central Baptist Church, Suwon, South Korea, will succeed Brazilian pastor Nilson do Amaral Fanini in July at a meeting of the BWA General Council in Cuba.

In other elections, Audrey Morikawa of Canada succeeded Mercy Jeyarajarao of India as president of the BWA Women’s Department, while Samson Ola Olaniyan of Nigeria succeeded Angel Baez of Paraguay as Men’s Department president.

World Baptists also honored a Burmese man, known simply as “Rev. Simon.” He was a college professor who voluntarily became a refugee in 1985 to join his fellow Karen people as a minister and teacher after government forces drove them into Thailand.

Rev. Simon received the second BWA Human Rights Award but could not attend personally. The governments of Burma (now called Myanmar) and Thailand refused him visas despite pleas by the first award winner, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz urged Baptists to take direct action over the next 10 years to confront challenges ranging from refugees to racism to evangelism to Christian unity. “The new century brings with it many problems, sorrows and challenges,” Lotz said.

Lotz underscored support for a congress resolution calling for world Baptist bodies to make the first decade of the 21st century a “Decade for Racial Justice” to actively oppose “all forms of racism and ethnic conflict.”

Congress participants also assented to resolutions for action on human rights and social justice, faith and hope for the new millennium, and Christian renewal, growth, evangelism and mission.

Lotz called for a summit among Baptist leaders over the next five years to “consider the challenge of evangelization in the new century” — especially among the newer churches of Africa and Asia and among 1.3 billion people living in unreached portions of the globe known as “World A” or the “10/40 Window.”

Looking toward the 100th anniversary of the BWA, formed in 1905, Lotz urged a 21st Century Committee to “examine the achievements of the past, the present success and the future possibilities” of the BWA, made up of 43 million baptized believers in 160,000 churches in 196 Baptist bodies.

That committee will bring recommendations for changes and emphases to the Centennial Baptist World Congress in England in 2005, said Lotz, BWA general secretary since 1988.

Christians enter a new millennium divided, he said. “Division between Catholic, Orthodox, ecumenical and evangelical Christians is in some cases worse than at the beginning of the 20th century. Baptists must work for the unity of God’s people.”

Baptists of all stripes found unity in worship, fellowship and colorful pageantry. The pageantry ranged from an opening parade of flags and an ancient spiritual dramatization by Australian aborigines to an International Festival of music, movement, food and testimony initiated by Australian Baptists outside the Melbourne Exhibition Centre.

Congress speakers and group leaders focused the multicultural Baptists on ways “to seek the mind of Christ” and minister in unity to spiritual and physical needs.

“Real light is the most effective in the dark places [of the world], and the church is at its best when it recognizes the link between salvation and liberation” from oppression and suffering, said group session leader Frederick Haynes, pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas.

BWA sessions also addressed hunger, disease and poverty as dramatic issues facing the 21st century.

“The world’s 358 billionaires are wealthier than the combined annual income of countries with 45 percent of the world’s population,” said Tim Costello, president of the Baptist Union of Australia. “This is in a world where thousands of kids die each week from preventable diseases.”

Both Fanini and Kim, known for their evangelistic preaching, said if they had it to do over they would do more praying and less preaching.

“Lack of prayer is one of the evidences of lack of spiritual power in our lives,” Kim said. “There should be no ‘day off’ when it comes to prayer.”

“Much prayer, much power,” Fanini said in addressing one solution to complex problems. “Little prayer, little power.”

The prayer and presence of world Baptists brought comfort to congress delegates from parts of the world in deadly conflict, such as Indonesia and Lebanon.

Ingrid Subagyo of Indonesia pled for prayers of support from members of the Asian Baptist Federation at an ABF luncheon. She and her husband, Guntur Subagyo, said that while Baptist and other churches are still being burned to the ground in Indonesia, “the Lord has called us to this life at this time and all Baptists to stand with us.”

Ingrid Subagyo said militants have burned some 700 churches to the ground in Indonesia, and shot believers as they stood in front of their churches. She also told of militants destroying a Christian seminary in Jakarta.

Through it all, she said, Indonesian Baptists have continued to witness for Jesus Christ and to work with Baptist refugees who were forced to flee from their homes in East Timor, a three-day boat trip from Jakarta.

Lebanese pastor Charles Costa of the Ras Beirut Baptist Church attended the opening congress session feeling alone and grief-stricken that he could not return home to perform the Jan. 5 funeral service of two Baptist women.

Muslim militants shot and mutilated Selwa Raad and her pregnant daughter, Sarah Yazbek, and wounded Sarah’s husband, Jean Yazbek, on Jan. 3.

Costa, who had performed the Yazbek’s wedding, sat down in the auditorium at the beginning of the opening session — “emotionally and spiritually drained,” he said.

“That night’s sermon [by H. Beecher Hicks] uplifted and renewed me,” Costa said. Hicks was calling on Baptists to say “yes” to the call of Jesus and quoting his invitation, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Costa joined the audience as it voiced “yes.”

“I said to the Lord, ‘I’m weary and tired,'” he said, “and I turned it over to him.”

That theme rang through the congress.

“God’s vision for the future is Jesus,” said speaker Ann Graham Lotz, noted Bible, teacher speaker and author from Raleigh, N.C., U.S.A. She is daughter of evangelist Billy Graham and sister-in-law of BWA leader Denton Lotz.

“In the end, we don’t have to give account to anyone but Jesus,” she said.

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  • Robert O'Brien