During its 2017 Annual Gathering, held July 3-7 in Bangkok, Thailand, the Baptist World Alliance:
HONORED Neville Callam of Jamaica for his ten years of service as General Secretary of the BWA. Callam was elected at the 2006 Annual Gathering in Accra, Ghana, and will step down December 31 of this year. Callam was lauded at a dinner by speakers from each of the six BWA global regions, staff, and others. They praised his emphasis on theology, his pastoral spirit, and his devotion to promoting unity within the Baptist family and understanding among all faiths. Callam debuted a new book, From Fragmentation to Wholeness: Race, Ethnicity, and Communion, during the meeting.
ELECTED Elijah Brown of the United States to serve as the next General Secretary. Brown currently serves as General Secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship and as Executive Vice-President of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, which promotes attention to human rights concerns around the world. Search committee chair John Upton spoke of Brown’s commitment to Christ, scholarship, and leadership ability. Brown, who is 36, formerly participated in a BWA “Young Leaders” program, and has been part of various commissions in the BWA for the past decade. Brown can relate well to a world population that is growing younger, Upton said. “He understands the present while grasping the needs of the future,” and “blends a unique balance of motivation, innovation, and inspiration.” Brown was elected unanimously and commissioned by the General Council. His tenure will begin January 1, 2018. Brown will be the ninth General Secretary to serve the BWA since its founding in 1905.
RECOGNIZED Cynthia Maung, a medical doctor who has spent nearly 30 years treating refugees fleeing oppression in Myanmar, with the 2017 Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award. Maung, along with many other refugees from the Karen people, fled Myanmar for a refugee camp along the Thai-Myanmar border. Seeing a major need for health care in the camp, in 1989 she established the Mae Tao Medical Clinic in a dilapidated building in Mae Sot. From its beginning with six volunteers, the clinic has grown to have 600 employees treating 150,000 patients per year, including refugees, immigrants, and locals.
RECEIVED three new member bodies into fellowship: The Baptist Evangelical Church of Chad, with 200 members in five churches, was established in 2005, and became the first BWA member organization from that country. The Turkish Baptist Alliance was established in 2014, the same year the BWA Annual Gathering was held in Izmir. It has five churches with 220 members, and is the first BWA member group from Turkey. Also formed in 2014, the Zomi Baptist Churches of America include 2,500 members in 33 churches in the United States. There are now 20 member organizations in the US, and 238 organizations in 124 countries and territories within the larger BWA fellowship.
APPROVED five resolutions, as follows:
Condemned modern practices of human slavery and trafficking, calling upon Baptists to be more informed and involved in opposing the practice and caring for those impacted.
- Urged the Russian government to repeal legislation restricting the rights of minority faiths, declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses an illegal faith, and leading to the arrest of several Baptists.
- Called on President Trump and the United States government to reaffirm and respect religious freedom, which has been threatened by the travel ban.
- Requested prayer and support for an influx of refugees in East Africa, commending local Baptists for their ministry to them.
- Expressed concern about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and called on Venezuelan authorities to allow humanitarian aid into the country and to respect democracy.
ADOPTED a budget of about $1.8 million for 2018, down more than $300,000 from previous years and facing the reality of declining financial contributions in recent years.
CELEBRATED fellowship with Thai Baptists through a colorful welcoming ceremony involving people from Baptist churches and schools in both Thailand and among Karen refugees living in camps along the border between Thailand and Myanmar (Burma); and in worship on Thursday morning.
STUDIED a variety of topics through multiple meetings of more than 20 committees and commissions focusing on issues including Christian ethics, worship and spirituality, social and economic justice, religious freedom and human rights, evangelism, creation care, interfaith relations, and theological education, among others.
MET in regional groups for fellowship and learning from other member bodies in the same part of the world.
In the North American Baptist Fellowship meeting, Baptist representatives from the Karen people living in the Mae La camp explained what it is like to live in a “temporary” refugee camp for 35 years, with no good option for returning to Myanmar, and no movement on the part of Thailand’s government to accept them as official refugees, leaving them in limbo. A representative from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok spoke about ongoing U.S. relief efforts to aid the Karen people in Thailand.
HEARD (as a larger body) informative and inspiring reports from leaders of each of the six global regions of the BWA: the All Africa Baptist Union, the Asia-Pacific Baptist Fellowship, the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, the European Baptist Federation (which includes the Middle East), the North American Baptist Fellowship, and the Union of Baptists in Latin America.
ADJOURNED on a high note. Upcoming Annual Gatherings will be in Zurich, Switzerland (July 1-7, 2018); Nassau, Bahamas (July 7-13, 2019); and the next Baptist World Congress/Youth Congress, called “Celebration 2020,” to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil July 21-26, 2020.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.