This story updates and replaces an earlier report posted Thursday night as part of developing coverage of the 2005 Baptist World Congress this week in Birmingham, England.
Noting there are 39.4 million HIV-positive people in the world–about one for every Baptist–the group asked the BWA to support the initiation of a functional network of AIDS-related ministries, to facilitate a sharing of resources and to collect and disseminate information about the best practices in HIV/AIDS work among Baptists.
“The key thing is inreach,” said Sally Smith, a former Baptist Missionary Society missionary to Nepal who now works in Geneva with the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, a UNAIDS initiative. “You have to talk about controversial issues in the church.”
She urged Baptist churches to end three things: ignorance, stigmatization and isolation.
“We have to teach people how to be abstinent and faithful, and to protect themselves,” she said. “We have to create a loving welcome for everyone with AIDS—including the pastor. We have to care for people with AIDS and their families. Then we will have credibility to move out into our community with our outreach ministries. We have up to 40 million Baptists in the world. Think what an impact we can make!”
After an opening plenary session Wednesday night focusing on evangelism, Thursday night’s program highlighted the need for the world’s Baptists to look beyond themselves and examine the spiritual and physical needs around the world.
“Our calling is to be Easter people in a Good Friday world,” said keynote speaker Myra Blyth, a former deputy general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, who now lectures in worship and ecumenical studies at Regents Park College in Oxford.
By helping people to enjoy Christ’s blessings in their lives today, as well as to trust in his promise of eternal life, she said, Christians have an important message about Jesus: “Life is stronger than death. Goodness is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate.”
Paul Montacute, head of Baptist World Aid, described how the BWA’s relief-and-development arm ministered to volcano victims in Angola and the Congo, orphans in North Korea and tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka.
Montacute reminded the crowd that people need the gospel, but they also have physical needs that demand a Christian response as well. Baptists musts not forget the “silent tsunamis” of poverty, hunger and disease that take people’s lives around the globe every day.
“People are impoverished, not just one day a year (like a tsunami), but 365 days a year,” he said.
Attending his 12th Baptist World Congress, 82-year-old Virginian James Cumbie described his “whole Baptist World Alliance participation as a series of mountain-top experiences of personal growth.”
That’s why the retired pastor and denominational leader is dismayed that the Southern Baptist Convention has withdrawn from the BWA.
“Isolation from the Baptist world family can lead only to spiritual impoverishment and loss of a world vision,” he said. “The BWA can make up the financial shortfall. Those who withdraw are the losers.”
Compiled from reporting on the BWA Web site by Esther Barnes, Marv Knox and Robert O’Brien.