July 25, 2009

Callam Calls on European Baptists to Commit to Evangelism

Eron Henry, Associate Director of Communications
Neville Callam, General Secretary
Baptist World Alliance
July 24, 2009

Remembering the past is important to nourishing "individual and communal identity," said Baptist World Alliance (BWA) General Secretary Neville Callam during the Opening Celebration of Amsterdam 400 on Friday, July 24.

The Amsterdam 400 event is being held to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Baptist movement. The first Baptist church was formed in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, in 1609 by British exiles fleeing religious persecution in their country.

Callam said that "memory forms our sense of self and our understanding of community," and "creates the sacred space where human beings encounter their maker."

Citing verses from Exodus chapter 8, which state that the Jews should "take care that you do not forget the Lord your God.... If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods... you shall surely perish," the BWA leader told the gathering of largely European Baptists, "Our penchant for not remembering puts us at great risk. The selective memories that we harbor may mislead us and contribute to our malformation. We must remember and we must remember aright." Callam told European Baptists that a commitment to evangelism is part of that memory. Noting that the 400th anniversary of the Baptist faith also coincides with the 125th anniversary of the death of Johann Gerhard Oncken, Callam urged Baptists of Europe to adopt Oncken's famous declaration, "Every Baptist a missioner."

Oncken, from Germany, died in 1884 and was a pioneer Baptist missionary variously referred to as the "Father of German Baptists" and the "Apostle of European Baptists." He directed and guided the growth of Baptists throughout Germany and across much of Europe for half a century, helping to found 280 Baptist churches, more than 170 of these in Scandinavia and the Slavic states.

"Perhaps, the greatest challenge Christians in Europe face is the evangelization of their continent, and Baptists have an important part to play in this work," Callam announced. The global Baptist leader urged Europeans to adopt "the vocation to evangelize those who do not have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ."

Other speakers during the Amsterdam 400 celebration, taking place July 24-26, include BWA President David Coffey and Raquel Contreras, a BWA vice president, former president of the Union of Baptists in Latin America, and president of the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile.

Amsterdam 400 was planned by the European Baptist Federation (EBF), one of six regional fellowships of the BWA. Sessions during the event include meetings of the EBF Council and plenary sessions focused on mission, freedom, community, and discipleship.

July 16, 2009

Iraqi Churches Targeted and Bombed

By Elijah M. Brown

According to CNN, over this last weekend “at least four people were killed and 32 wounded as six Baghdad-area churches were bombed within 24 hours.” (http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/07/12/iraq.violence/index.html?iref=newssearch)

St. Joseph’s church in western Baghdad was bombed as well as two churches in central Baghdad, two churches in eastern Baghdad, and one church in southern Baghdad.

In addition to the bombings, on Sunday morning, in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk approximately 150 miles north of Baghdad, assailants “using guns with silencers… opened fire on Rizko Aziz Nissan outside his home in central Kirkuk at 8:15 a.m. Nissan was an Iraqi Christian” and a local official.

On Monday morning, in the northern city of Mosul “a car bomb detonated near a church in the al-Faisaliya district [and] wound[ed] three children.” (http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/07/13/iraq.church.bombings/index.html?iref=newssearch)

Eight separate attacks. Three different towns. Three days of violence. And each attack specifically targeted churches or a local Christian official.

In the midst of all of the controversy surrounding the Iraq war, let us remember our Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering in Iraq. Though underreported and often overlooked, in recent years no other community in Iraq has suffered and been affected as much as the Christian community. The estimated one million Christian community has been repeatedly targeted, internally displaced, and forced to flee in fear of their lives.

And the sad truth is that international Christians are more inclined to overlook or simply fail to engage with their persecuted brothers and sisters. There has never been a greater need to pursue international religious freedom and to actively stand in solidarity with those who are at the blunt end of discrimination, persecution and injustice. As we gather in our churches this week, would you hold a time of remembrance for the fallen and persecuted Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq?

Let us remember our brothers and sisters in Iraq.

And then, let us do more than just remember.

July 14, 2009

President-Elect to be Chosen in Ede

Eron Henry, Associate Director of Communications
Neville Callam, General Secretary
Baptist World Alliance
July 13, 2009

A president-elect will be chosen by the Baptist World Alliance during the Annual Gathering to be held July 27 to August 1, in Ede, Netherlands.

The nominee for president-elect will be presented to the General Council by the BWA Officers Search Committee, chaired by Raul Scialabba of Argentina. The General Council, which convenes during the Annual Gathering, will vote on the recommendation. The 20th Baptist World Congress to be held in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 2010, will formally elect the next president of the BWA.

The newly elected president will serve for the period 2010-2015, and will succeed David Coffey of Britain, who was chosen during the Centennial Congress in Birmingham, England, in 2005.

A first vice president-elect of the BWA is also expected to be chosen in Ede, along with 11 other vice president-elects. These 12 persons will become the nominees for BWA vice presidents to be voted on at the Congress in Honolulu. It will be the first time in the history of the BWA that a first vice president will be chosen, if the expected constitutional amendments to effect the change are made during the meetings in the Netherlands.

The General Council will also receive the recommendation of the Personnel Committee on its nomination of Raimundo C├ęsar Barreto Jr. of Brazil to be the first director of the Division of Freedom and Justice (F&J) for the BWA. The F&J Division was established on September 1, 2008, following the decision of the General Council in July 2008 to create the newest division of the BWA.


July 10, 2009

Myanmar Baptists Plan Major Bicentennial Celebration

Eron Henry, Associate Director of Communications
Neville Callam, General Secretary
Baptist World Alliance
July 10, 2009

Baptists in Myanmar are laying the groundwork for a massive jubilee celebration, to be held in 2013, to mark the bicentennial anniversary of the founding of Baptist witness in that South Asian country.

Myanmar, which had its name changed from Burma in 1989, has the largest Baptist convention on the Asian continent, with more than 1.1 million members, most of whom are ethnic minorities such as the Chin, Kachin and the Karen.

Adoniram and Ann Judson, who were among the first American Baptist missionaries to travel overseas, arrived in what is now Myanmar in 1813. They labored in that country for almost 40 years, establishing a number of Baptist churches and translating the Christian Bible into Burmese.

The celebratory events begin in 2009 with the theme "Thy will be done in Myanmar." Each succeeding year will have its own emphasis and theme on faithfulness, transformation, preservation and holiness, culminating in 2013. Some 10,000 persons are expected to attend the major celebration in Yangon, the country's former capital, formerly known as Rangoon.

In addition, each of the 18 language and regional conventions that make up the Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC) will have its own regional celebration. A major publication, a chronicle or history of Baptist witness in the country, will also be published, following on a similar publication several decades ago.

The Myanmar celebration will include Burmese who live in other countries.


July 8, 2009

Constitutional Changes Expected in Ede

Eron Henry, Associate Director of Communications
Neville Callam, General Secretary
Baptist World Alliance
July 8, 2009

A number of significant constitutional changes are slated to be made during the Baptist World Alliance Annual Gathering in Ede, Netherlands, from July 27 to August 1.

The proposed amendments will be brought before the General Council, which convenes during the Annual Gathering.

The size of the BWA Executive Committee, now numbering more than 60, would be reduced to 25. The number of BWA vice presidents is to be cut from the current figure of 19 to 12 - two nominated by each of the six regions - while, for the first time, one of the vice presidents will be designated first vice president. None of the vice presidents, except for the first vice president, will sit on the Executive Committee.

Chairs of program committees, such as Communications and Promotion & Development, will no longer have a seat on the Executive Committee. However, chairs of standing committees such as Budget & Finance and Personnel will continue to serve as members of the executive. These standing committees will, in effect, be subcommittees of the Executive Committee.

Program committees are expected to become advisory committees, assisting BWA directors in their work, and will no longer have an executive or governance function.

The new Executive Committee, which is to be elected into office during the 20th Baptist World Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 2010, is intended to become "more deliberative," and to take on broader responsibilities.

If the expected constitutional amendments are made, a new Nominations Committee will be formed. This committee will replace the Officers Search Committee, which proposes the names of the BWA president and vice presidents, and will play a vital role in naming all persons who serve on BWA committees and commissions.

The proposed constitutional changes came after a long process of meetings and deliberations by the Implementation Task Force (ITF), formed in 2005 to study and implement proposals coming from the 21st Century Committee, which was created in 2000 to study the effectiveness of the ministries of the BWA.

After the ITF report was received and voted on by the General Council in Prague, Czech Republic, in July 2008, the Constitution and Bylaws Committee took on the task of proposing the relevant constitutional and bylaw changes that will be considered in Ede.

A formal notification of the intended constitutional changes, or a notice of motion, has been circulated to all BWA member bodies. This formal notice will be the basis of discussion on the proposed constitutional changes in Ede.


July 6, 2009

Baptists and Catholics in Italy Reach Agreement on Marriage

Eron Henry, Associate Director of Communications
Neville Callam, General Secretary
Baptist World Alliance
July 2, 2009

Baptists and Roman Catholics in Italy signed an agreement on "mixed" or interchurch marriages between members of the two Christian faith traditions.

Called "A Common document for a pastoral approach to marriages between Catholics and Baptists in Italy," the agreement addresses Baptists and Catholics who marry each other, in order to help these couples in their preparation for marriage and family life. It also seeks to deepen couples' awareness of their rights and obligations toward each other, and clarify their relationship with their respective churches.

With this document, said Anna Maffei, president of the Christian Evangelical Baptist Union of Italy (UCEBI), "we offer to our communities and our pastors a practical guide so that the confessional difference that remains between the future spouses may not be experienced as an obstacle but as enrichment."

Maffei, who signed the agreement on the behalf of Italian Baptists, said that "respective churches should not be competitors anymore but places of listening and encouragement to communion," highlighting "all that is unifying in spirit and love of God."

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), who signed for Italian Catholics, declared that "the document is a common step in the journey of ecumenism between the Catholic church and the Baptist churches in Italy in a particularly sensitive field" and is "likely to pave the way for further developments."

The agreement holds special significance for Baptists. "As the number of Baptists in Italy is very small, only in a few marriages are both spouses Baptists. In fact Baptists often marry Catholics and this becomes an interchurch marriage," states an accompanying document released by the UCEBI. "In order to clarify the situation, it has become necessary to reach an agreement between the Baptist Union and the Catholic Church."

There are approximately 6,400 Baptists who hold membership within the 116 churches of the UCEBI. In contrast, more than 87 percent of the population of more than 60 million in Italy identify themselves as Roman Catholic.

For the full release: http://www.bwanet.org/default.aspx?pid=1119

US Baptists Sign Letter to President Obama

Eron Henry, Associate Director of Communications
Neville Callam, General Secretary
Baptist World Alliance
June 30, 2009

Several Baptist leaders in the United States signed a letter sent to United States President Barack Obama calling for a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for the establishment of "two viable, secure and independent states."

The Baptists, who signed the letter along with several other Christian and Jewish religious leaders, stated that "now is indeed the time for immediate and bold American leadership."

In reference to the president's commitment to a two-state solution, the letter welcomed "your call for people on both sides to recognize the pain and aspirations of the other. Because of this conflict many have lost the ability to see the other as human beings worthy of dignity and respect."

The Baptist signatories, who included David Goatley, president of the North American Baptist Fellowship, and Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, urged Obama to "go beyond the mere principle of two states and lay out a just and equitable solution that provides dignity, security and sovereignty for both peoples."

Special concern was expressed for the small Christian community in Palestine, which is fast dwindling due to the conflict. "In the birthplace of our faith, one of the world's oldest Christian communities is dwindling rapidly.... Mr. President, it is apparent that unless there is an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Christians in the Holy Land may cease to exist as a viable community."

The letter also urged that immediate relief be offered to Gaza, even while calling for the end of rocket attacks on southern Israel

More than 50 religious leaders signed the letter that was sent to the White House in the month of June. Other Baptist leaders signing the letter included T. DeWitt Smith and Tyrone Pitts, president and general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, respectively; William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc; and Jimmy Allen, coordinator of the New Baptist Covenant.