Baptist World Aid wants to become the “network hub” for the relief and development efforts for global Baptists, according to a document presented in Prague, Czech Republic, at the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance.

As BWA member bodies set up their own aid agencies, large churches want more direct connection with their funding and Baptist entities desire rapid responses to disasters, BWAid recognized the need to expand the organization’s vision, functions and staffing.

BWAid proposed “to coordinate Baptist responses to global poverty by connecting Baptist aid and development agencies around the globe,” to act “as a broker to ensure speedy and appropriate responses,” to facilitate “coordinated emergency responses to disasters situations” and “to educate and challenge our constituency to live justly and promote change to address global poverty.”

The document said that coordinating responses to worldwide hunger was critical to avoiding duplication of actions and ensuring “equitable” distribution of funds.

“Getting Baptists to work together is like herding cats,” Les Fussell, national director of BWAid Australia, told about the need for the proposed change.

“There were some cowboys doing their own thing” following the Myanmar cyclone, he said.

“Sometimes we don’t know what each other is doing,” said Fussell, a BWAid committee member. “Baptists sometimes undermine each other.”

While the proposed document underscored BWAid’s commitment to receiving funding proposals for development projects, it said that “only projects that fall within well-defined criteria will be considered.”

“This will enable the organization to more realistically provide for effective monitoring and evaluations of projects,” said the document. “In the immediate future, these criteria will align with the UN Millennium Development Goals.”

BWAid said that before it accepted and funding projects that it would “consider and connect with the global Baptist network of agencies and see if any other agency is better-placed to support” the requested projects.

In terms of disaster relief, BWAid expressed a desire to provide a training program “in disaster preparedness in the most frequently affected areas.”

“The solution to world poverty is not simply a matter of giving aid,” said the document, citing Micah 6:8 about the need for justice, simplicity and compassion. “We want Baptists to be known as people who advocate for change in unjust structures.”

To pursue its vision for change, the BWAid team and committee chair reported the need for an expanded staff and a smaller BWAid committee for more effective governance. The BWAid proposal must be approved by BWA executive committee before implementation.

In his written report to the hunger committee, Paul Montacute, director of BWAid, said, “In recent years we have had a number of photogenic disasters such as the Tsunami, Pakistan Earthquake, Volcanoes in Indonesia and Hurricane Katrina. In recent months we have seen Cyclone Nargis and the Chinese Earthquake. These deservedly touched the heartstrings of many people around the world who subsequently gave of their resources and time.”

Montacute said, “BWAid is very prudent with funds it receives, while at the same time trying to use the funds received as expeditiously as possible. Needs from major disasters are not just evident in the immediate time after a disaster, but remain for months and sometimes years ahead. That explains why BWAid was still holding funds given for Tsunami relief at the end of 2007, and even today.”

Noting that non-disaster needs were just as great a photogenic disasters, Montacute reported that BWAid received nearly $2.5 million after the December 2004 tsunami, compared to almost $625,000 in 2006 and only $40,000 in 2007.

He said that in 2007 that BWAid funded 33 disaster relief efforts and 50 development projects.

BWAid’s largest contributing member body was American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., which gave $183,616 in 2007, followed by the Baptist General Convention of Texas at $166,450, Baptist Association of Virginia at $70,665, Baptist Union of Denmark at $44,414 and Union of Evangelical Free Churches in Germany at $38,408. Ninety-one churches gave $122,545 and 287 individuals contributed $83,557.

BWAid projected $1.1 million in income for 2009, down from almost $1.9 million in 2006. It proposed to allocated 54 percent of its revenue for development projects and 36 percent for disaster relief.

The relief and development arm of the BWA deducts a 10 percent administrative fee from contributions for its operation.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and is attending the meeting in Prague.

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