The recent national crisis brought about by the plane crash that killed the president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, and other national leaders should elicit the deepest sympathy of the Baptist community. Poland, while predominantly Roman Catholic, has been a place of great promise for evangelical Christians.
In the 1990s, I was privileged to participate in several educational initiatives that bridged the distance between Baptists in North America and Poland. McMaster University opened its doors to several Polish theological students, several of whom returned to their native land to shape the destiny of key churches and achieve new levels of religious freedom and cooperation.
During several visits to Poland, I witnessed the genuine warmth and hospitality of religious and political leaders who wanted close friendships with the Canadian and American Baptist communities. Canadians supported mission outreach in youth ministry, and Americans generously helped to construct a seminary campus and local church buildings.
The Baptist community in Poland is strong and vibrant. Working from numerous local congregations and a national union, Polish Baptists have a rich heritage that reaches back to the 19th century through struggles with establishment churches of both Catholic and Protestant kinds, as well as the era of Soviet domination.
I witnessed the transition of pastors who had survived Marxist deprivations and who painfully entered a new era of runaway Western capitalism. I saw a new generation of multilingual pastors and workers take up the challenge of ministry in a free society. One of the highlights for me was the election of the first-ever Baptist member of the Polish National Parliament from a congregation where one of my students is pastor.
What may not be known about our Polish Baptist brothers and sisters is that they have a deep interest in being part of the ecumenical Christian community in their nation. Their leaders have worked closely with illustrious Christians, such as Pope John Paul II, formerly Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow. In several cities across Poland, Baptist pastors have led in reconciliation and renewal efforts among all Christians.
In the dispersed Polish communities across the United States and Canada, there are strong Baptist communities that maintain direct ties with the Baptist Union in Warsaw.
Poles are deeply patriotic and love their country. They cherish their friendships and alliances in the global community. They are historically part of Western culture and Western Christianity. As a nation, our Christian friends and Baptist brothers and sisters are grieving. We share their tragedy and grief. We stand in solidarity.
William H. Brackney is the Millard R. Cherry Distinguished Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Acadia University and Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia.