The Baptist World Congress was a splendid overall success, despite lower than desired attendance due to fears of Ebola and xenophobia in South Africa toward other foreign workers.
The fellowship was warm. The worship was energizing. The workshops were substantive. The Bible studies occurred in six different languages. The wardrobes from around the world were captivating.
The best experience came from our video interviews. Cliff Vaughn and I conducted more interviews with richer content than we expected. Vaughn got interviews edited and posted in record time. Videos may be viewed here. Photographs are here.
The most unexpected experience came from meeting Edward Dima, president of the Baptist Convention of South Sudan and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kajokeji.
We met him in the hallway – by providence. After a brief conversation, we asked for a video interview.
Dima’s story is remarkable. He fled South Sudan with nothing due to conflict, lived in a Ugandan refugee camp, was led into the Baptist faith and received an education.
He has now contributed to the start of 176 churches in South Sudan, many of which have been destroyed. His church members face the challenges of the lack of food and medicine. No educational opportunities. Violence.
Yet he said, “God used me when I was a refugee … God works for good in all situations. He took me as a refugee … but I came back as a minister of the word.”
What was the first thing he requested upon being asked what global Baptists could do to help him? He answered, pray for us.
The most rewarding complement came from former BWA president David Coffey, who credited EthicsDaily.com with its leadership on the Baptist-Muslim engagement front.
“EthicsDaily has led the way in making sure this item is on the agenda,” Coffey said.
The most humorous video interview was with Didi Oprenova, minister at the First Baptist Church of Sophia, Bulgaria.
She told a story about a man who stole a Bible, thinking it was a treasured object, used the Bible for cigarette paper, became a Christian reading John’s Gospel and eventually started the first Baptist church among the “Gypsies.”
The best learning experience came from a workshop that Vaughn, Brian Kaylor and I did on the church and technology.
We learned the challenges that Nigerians, for example, have with reading the Bible from the iPhone or iPad. We heard about the tension in churches over the use of screens in worship.
Technology presents challenges and opportunities to the global church. Peter Chin, senior pastor of Global Mission Church, outside Seoul, Korea, made that point.
Yet from around the world, we sensed a growing commitment among Baptists to do more with technology.
The best connector via Twitter was @BWAPromotion, which speedily retweeted our tweets and others.
However, not enough Baptists are on Twitter – and that needs to change. If ISIS can have 27,000 Twitter accounts, surely global Baptists can have 27,001.
The most disappointing experience resulted from the failure of the BWA staff to place our three documentary screenings in the printed program.
That generated confusion and disappointment for those who wanted to see the documentaries and engage in the panel discussions. Despite having agreed to the screening arrangements well in advance, the BWA staff dropped the ball.
We still managed to screen “Through the Door” with an informative discussion with representatives from a number of African nations.
The most captivating sermon – the one most likely to be repeated scores of times across the world – was preached by Truett Seminary’s Joel Gregory.
He developed the Congress theme of “Jesus Christ, the Door” from 1 Corinthians 16:9, where Paul wrote that a great and energetic door had been open to him and that there were many adversaries.
“God has a door for you … He is the opener of that door. … Don’t leave the door that God has given you,” he said.
Gregory warned, “If you are going to live and work for Jesus Christ, opportunity and opposition will always go hand in hand.”
Indeed, the opportunities are abundant for Baptists. Opposition is also abundant – outside the Baptist family and from within it.
I hope global Baptists will stay at their door, majoring on the majors of missions, freedom and justice, evangelism, interfaith dialogue, hunger relief with the Bible at the heart of our house of faith.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Editor’s note: Pictures from the BWA World Congress are available on EthicsDaily.com’s Pinterest page and Facebook page. Video interviews with Congress attendees have been posted on EthicsDaily.com’s Vimeo page. Additional reports from the Congress are available here: