Tales of disaster and recovery

Baptists in Chile gave a detailed report of their response to the devastating 8.8 magnitude earthquake that affected the South American country on February 27, 2010, at the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance® currently taking place in the capital city of Santiago.

A somber mood descended on the Responding to Disaster forum during the viewing of a video that showed the earthquake as it occurred, some of the damage that took place, and the response of Chileans to the disaster, including Baptists.

The quake, one of the largest ever recorded, was felt strongly in six regions of the country where approximately 80 percent of Chile's population live. The earthquake also triggered a tsunami that affected the south central area of the country, including the devastation of a small island where approximately 200 families lived.

The National Baptist Convention of Chile and the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile sent teams into the devastated regions to do assessment and to provide relief supplies such as food, water, clothing, medicines and tents.

Assistance was also provided through the distribution of kits of various types – food kits, hygiene kits, insulation kits to protect against rain and cold, home furnishing kits, and room addition kits to expand living space in temporary dwellings.

A number of houses were also constructed for persons who were displaced by the temblor, which itself was followed by a several large aftershocks, including one measuring 6.2 that occurred 20 minutes afterwards.

Pastors were asked "to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the various communities," the forum was told, and the conventions often worked closely with local municipal authorities in the provision of assistance, including psychological counseling. Churches and Baptist Christians adopted families in some towns and villages, helping to meet their needs.

One result of the collaboration that came out of response to the disaster is an Emergency Response Network that still exists. Subsequent to the 2010 event, the network, which comprises pastors, lay persons and professionals, responded to a major blizzard in one of the more isolated areas in the mountains in Chile.

At least one new church was planted in one of the areas where assistance was provided.

Chilean Baptists expressed gratitude to the worldwide Baptist community, including the BWA, for the levels of assistance given to the country in the wake of the disaster.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 5, 2012

The global mission of the church

The mission of the church is, first of all, the mission of God. This was the consensus of a meeting of mission leaders and those who are involved or interested in mission at the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) in Chile.

The meetings are being held in the capital city of Santiago from July 2-7.

The task of the church is not to develop its own programs but to respond to the mission of God, participating in that mission.  We can recover the essence of the mission of the church as understood within the concept of Missio Dei, an expression that says mission derives from the very nature of God, and the missionary initiative comes from God alone. God invites persons and churches to participate in God's initiative. This response is expressed through commitment and seeking God's guidance in the fulfillment of that mission.

We get our understanding of mission from our theology, and a proper understanding of the Trinity helps our understanding of mission.

Oftentimes the church fails in the fulfillment of God's mission, unless forced to do so. This is evidenced in the book of Acts. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." But the early disciples did not take this Gospel beyond Jerusalem until persecution broke out and they fled into Samaria and other regions and cities.

The meeting heard of a similar account of the Baptist Church in Bagdad. It was only after Baptist Christians fled the city into the northern parts of Iraq during the recent war that other Baptist churches were being planted in those regions of the Middle Eastern country.

Churches should be sensitive and responsive to global mission. A quote attributed to Oswald Smith expresses this best. "The church that shines the brightest furthest shines the brightest at home." Every church should have a vision for world mission, even small churches with limited resources.  For Baptists, such opportunities exist through the Global Impact Church program of the BWA where local congregations are invited to join in weekly prayer for Baptists around the world, through their gifts, and other means of support and involvement.

A concern expressed in the meeting is the sustainability of mission, especially in light of limited resources and waning interest. It was strongly felt that those among whom mission is exercised should be encouraged, over time, to take on the responsibilities of mission themselves. A planned exit strategy by those leading the mission effort that includes training of local leaders and the locals eventually resourcing the mission enterprise themselves is fundamental to sustainability.

An important aspect of mission is attention to social and justice issues. Evangelism and social work should be done together. The practice of mission should be relevant to the realities and context in which mission is exercised, and paternalism should be avoided.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 4, 2012

Thousands of Chileans welcome the BWA

Several thousand Baptists from across Chile welcomed the roughly 300 Baptist World Alliance® leaders and delegates at an evening of celebration in Santiago on the evening of July 2.

The BWA is having its Annual Gathering in Santiago from July 2-7.

Leaders from the two BWA member bodies in the South American country, the National Baptist Convention of Chile and the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile, extended the formal welcome while an exuberant audience roared its approval. Responses from BWA President John Upton and General Secretary Neville Callam were warmly received, with Chilean Baptists expressing particular delight that Callam delivered his entire greeting in Spanish.

Performances by folk groups from the Baptist College of Temuco and the First Baptist of Concepcion, depicted aspects of Chilean culture, including from Easter Island, a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean that is a special territory of Chile.

The Bronces de Jerico Band, comprising mainly brass instrumentalists from Baptist churches across Santiago, Chile's capital, performed a wide variety of musical items including jazz, swing, traditional and folk. Osvaldo Quadros, a well known Brazilian-Chilean singer, who has converted to Christianity, also performed.

Upton told the audience that Baptists had supported and remembered Chileans through periods of recent crises, such as the massive February 27, 2010, earthquake, and the mining disaster that trapped 33 miners underground for more than two months, from August 5 to October 13, 2010. He expressed the joy of the BWA to be able to come to Chile for its Annual Gathering of global Baptist leaders.

Callam assured Chilean Baptists that they are part of one Baptist family sharing oneness with other Christian believers around the world. "We are one Baptist family, brothers and sisters, witnesses for our Lord Jesus Christ," Callam declared.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 3, 2012

Technology is here to stay

Technology is a reality that will have to be embraced by the church. This was the general consensus at a Technology and Ministry forum that was held during the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) on July 2.

Maribel Salamanca, communications director for the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile, claimed that the church made use of technology from the time it was founded. But while she spoke of many of the benefits of modern technology, Salamanca also highlighted a number of risks.

Benefits of modern technology include enabling congregations to reach out to those who are unable to attend worship, such as the sick and homebound, as well as those "who would not think to attend church." Technology, Salamanca said, is useful in enabling a church to form online prayer chains and other similar initiatives, and the best part of it, much of technology, such as social media, is free to the user.

She, however, said that some churches risk having a stronger online rather than real life presence, lacking a connection in real community, such as with the elderly, who may not have access to, or are acquainted with technology. "What do we do with them?" she asked. She also related the disquiet experienced by some leaders of a congregation in Chile when the church chose to conduct the search for a new pastor entirely via the use of technology, including the interviewing process. The lack of a face to face encounter with the prospective candidates proved problematic and difficult, she said.

Robert Parham, executive director of Ethics Daily, said that "technology has long shaped how we read the Bible ... [and] how we connect to community." Such influence is evidenced through a movement from the use of the scroll, to that of text, and now to the screen, as seen from biblical times to the present. Parham claimed that "Jesus spoke in tweets long before tweets became cool, if by tweets one means short messages." He made references to some of Jesus' sayings such as "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," "No one can serve two masters," and "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases." All these are in 140 characters or less, Parham asserted.

It is how technology is utilized that will determine its impact, according to Rand Jenkins, communications director for the Baptist General Convention of Texas in the United States. Jenkins claimed that technology is neutral. "HOW we choose to use it or not use it determines its beneficial or negative aspects." He said that if one is to communicate with a younger demographic, then modern technology has to be embraced by all, including the church.

Tony Cartledge, a professor at Campbell University Divinity School, a blogger at Baptists Today, and chair of the BWA Communications Advisory Committee, said that technology can be used to build community despite the concern that technology, such as widespread Internet use, creates isolation. He believes that the Internet in particular can be used to build community, and he gave the example of a congregation where he sometimes worships when he visits Washington DC.  Even though he lives and works in the state of North Carolina, more than 300 miles away, he is able to share in the life of the church because it "uses technology in a positive fashion" through regular updates, podcasts through which he can watch or listen sermons, read and share online sermons and Bible studies, etc.

The forum, moderated by Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist newspaper, is one of several activities that take place during the BWA Annual Gathering from July 2-7.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 3, 2012

Preparations in high gear for 2015 congress

The Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) has signed two major contracts in preparation for the 21st Baptist World Congress in South Africa in 2015.

The Congress Committee, which met as part of the BWA Annual Gathering in Santiago, Chile, received reports that contracts have been signed with the International Convention Centre in Durban and a destination manager. Most of the meetings will be held at the convention center.

The destination manager will help to coordinate housing for the thousands of Baptists that are expected to attend the world congress, and will cover all liabilities related to housing, except for persons who choose "home stays" with fellow Baptists. Home stays are being coordinated by the Local Arrangements Committee (LAC), which assists the BWA in making local preparations.

The LAC comprises nominees from the four Baptist groups in South Africa that hold membership within the BWA, the Baptist Association of South Africa, the Baptist Convention of South Africa, the Baptist Mission of South Africa, and the Baptist Union of Southern Africa.

Emmett Dunn, the BWA staff person who coordinates plans for major meetings, also touted the new conference registration system instituted by the BWA.  The registration system allows persons to do online registration and is currently in use for other meetings, including the Annual Gathering in Chile and the Baptist Youth World Conference in Singapore in July next year.  The system will be the major means by which persons will register for the congress, which will be held July 22-26, 2015.

The Congress Committee will propose a theme to the BWA Executive Committee for its approval when it meets during the Annual Gathering, which is from July 2-7 in the Chilean capital. The adoption of the theme will enable the BWA to choose congress topics, design a suitable congress logo, and assign resource persons for the congress.

BWA President John Upton highlighted the importance of the Baptist World Congress in the life of Baptists around the world. "If you want to create a mess, forget who you are," Upton told members of the Congress Committee. "Many Baptists are forgetting who we are. The World Congress enables us to remember who we are and we hear it with this global voice. The BWA has done it beautifully for 105-plus years."

A number of other events will be planned around the Baptist World Congress, including pre-congress events such as the International Women's Conference, and post-congress activities such as mission trips in South Africa and other countries on the African continent.

Baptist World Alliance®

© July 1, 2012