European Baptist leaders have endorsed a global campaign aimed at mobilizing evangelical Christians to fight poverty.

The European Baptist Federation Council, meeting Sept. 22-25 in Prague, Czech Republic, called on member unions, churches and members to support the Micah Challenge. Named after the Old Testament prophet, the movement seeks to marshal churches in support of the United Nations Millennium Goals, which include reducing poverty by half by 2015.

“Today, the gap between the rich and poor in our world is wider than ever,” said a resolution supporting the Micah Challenge and calling for global action on poverty. “The lives of vast numbers of people are controlled by global injustices such as poverty, disease, illiteracy and conflict, and the cry of so many is for freedom and justice.”

“Despite the commitment of world leaders to agreed United Nations Millennium Development Goals, including halving global poverty by 2015, the achievement of these goals remains a distant dream,” the statement continued. “But it doesn’t have to be this way.”

The resolution urged European Baptists “to support the aims of the ‘Micah Challenge’ of deepening Christian engagement with the poor, and challenging world leaders to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”

“We believe that, through a commitment to prayer giving and a campaigning programme of advocacy work, our biblical mandate is to ‘act justly’ for those who are poor and marginalized,” the leaders said.

The resolution also urged governments to increase commitments to aid, debt relief and just trade policies to impoverished nations, along with improving the plights of their own citizens living in poverty.

“As representatives of the European Baptist Federation, we declare our faith that all people everywhere are made in the image of God, and have the right to live in freedom from poverty, injustice and violence,” the statement concluded.

The General Council of the Baptist World Alliance adopted a resolution supporting the Micah Challenge, last year.

In other business at the council’s annual session, the EBF accepted three new unions as members.

The largely Baptist Swedish missions movement Interact, with 320 churches and 30,000 members, was accepted as a full member, along with the three-church Union of Baptist Congregations in Kosovo. The Baptist congregation in the Iraqi capital of Bagdad, with about 100 members, became an associate member.

The council also heard a report from its 3-year-old Indigenous Missionary Project about successful church plans in Moldova, Armenia and Georgia.

“It’s easier for native Christians to win their fellow countrymen for the gospel of Jesus Christ than for foreign missionaries,” said Daniel Trusiewicz, the Polish-born coordinator of the project.

Launched in 2003 by four missionaries in Moldova, the IMP now involves 40 missionaries working in an area stretching from Russia’s Arctic Circle to the Black Sea.

The long-term objective is to support 200 indigenous missionaries, in close cooperation with national Baptist unions and local congregations.

The strategy calls for a church planter’s work to develop enough within five years to operate without outside funding. Funding is phased out after two-and-a-half years by 25 percent every six months.

One of the most successful church planters, Trusiewicz said, is Igor Seremet, a 29-year-old Moldovan who planted a new congregation in the regional capital of Annini Noi now numbering 50 members. This congregation also founded two further ones during its first two years of IMP support.

Trusiewicz said he hopes for similar developments elsewhere. The Baptist Union of Moldova already is one of Europe’s most successful unions. When the Iron Curtain fell, the country hosted 230 Baptist congregations with 11.000 members. Today the numbers total 521 congregations and 21.000 members. IMP is supporting eight IMP-missionaries in this country.

Similar church planting tallies are reported in Armenia. Since 1990, the number of Baptists has grown from 400 in four congregations to approximately 3,000 in 100 congregations and mission stations. The IMP supports missionaries there.

The Georgian Baptist Union has also experienced growth, expanding from 10 congregations with 2,000 members to 75 congregations and 5,000 members. Two missionaries are being supported there.

An opening ceremony in Prague’s reconstructed Bethlehem Chapel honoured the memory of Czech reformer and martyr Jan Hus, who first preached in the chapel in 1402, introducing congregation singing to worship services.

“Hus strove for freedom of conscience, as we Baptists also do,” said EBF President Billy Taranger of Norway. “One cannot relent in the struggle for persons who are persecuted for their faith.”

Hus was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415.

Klaus Roesler is director of European Baptist Press Service.

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