Ghana Baptist Convention president Steve Asante handed a traditional gift–an egg wrapped in a blue-and-white cloth–to Baptist World Alliance president David Coffey on the closing day of the July 2-7 BWA annual gathering in Accra.
Coffey then handed the gift to Denton Lotz, the BWA’s retiring secretary, who, in turn, gave it to Neville Callam, the newly commissioned general secretary.
Coffey explained the symbolism of the object in Ghanaian culture. Leadership, like the egg, is fragile and must be handled with care.
The moment was poignant for hundreds of participants witnessing a sea change in leadership of the 110-million-member BWA, the world’s largest umbrella organization of Baptists.
The leadership shift included not only a farewell service for Lotz, a white American elected to the post of general secretary in 1988, and election of Callam, a black Jamaican and the first non-white general secretary in the BWA’s 102-year history. It also represents significant transition in the global Baptist landscape over the last few decades.
In his late 60s, Lotz came from the post-World War II generation of European and American Baptists. They brought a heavy emphasis on missionaries flowing from the Northern to Southern Hemispheres.
His successor, in his mid-50s, emerges instead from the church in the global South. Those Baptists struggle to address poverty and gain acceptance as co-equals with affluent Christians in North America and Europe.
“Neville Callam emerges from that part of the church that is the strongest numerically and for years has been developing gifted and mature leaders,” observed Alistair Brown, general secretary of BMS World Mission. “BWA should be led by someone from that part of the world.”
BWA Vice President Emmanuel McCall, an African-America pastor and civil-rights leader among white Baptists of the southern United States, said Callam’s election “shows the maturity on BWA’s part–that a man from a smaller nation, a man of color, could be chosen for leadership.”
“BWA has crossed a major hurdle in its acceptances of others who were not Europeans and North Americans,” McCall said.
In other business, the BWA general council, which meets in conjunction with the annual gathering of global Baptists, passed a number of resolutions.
One addressed the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in British colonies.
Baptists gathered in Ghana resolved to “confess our own sinful silence and shameful histories of implicit and complicit involvement” in the slave trade. They also called for “freedom for the 27 million still trapped in modern-day slavery across the world from Brazil to Bangkok” and “freedom from the global systems of economic injustice and exploitation that create circumstances that foster slavery.”
Another resolution on poverty urged global Baptists “to strengthen the capacity of aid and development agencies.”
It applauded progress that had been made to lift more than 135 million people above the living standard of $1 per day; to increase the more than 34 million children who attend primary schools; to improve the ratio of girls to boys who are enrolled in schools; and to increase donor focus on HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
Yet the poverty resolution noted that 500,000 women still die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. It underscored the rise in every region in 2006 of the prevalence of HIV and that tragically “AIDS deaths in Africa roughly matched the number of new infections.”
The resolution noted that “the poor are the most vulnerable to the threat of environmental sustainability caused by the rise in greenhouse gas emissions and the current and projected impact of global warming.”
Other resolutions called for advocacy for Darfur and urged all governments to advance due process for prisoners.
Joao and Nora Matwawana, an Angolan couple, received the 2007 Denton Lotz Human Rights Award for their efforts at reconciliation initiatives and peace training. Their involvement included efforts in Angola, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Matwawanas fled from their home three times due to conflict. They fled in 1961 and 1975 from the DRC and in the early 1980s from Angola. They also worked with refugees of war, including efforts among the one million refugees in the DRC as result of the genocidal conflict in Rwanda in 1994.
As former missionaries for Canadian Baptist Ministries, they are now retired in Canada. Their story is retold in a 2005 book, Wars Are Never Enough.
BWA participants also received a financial report showing the organization had $583,712 more in assets at the end of 2006 than at the end of 2005. Assets totaled a fraction over $12 million in 2006, of which $3.1 million came from land and buildings.
The BWA adopted a 2008 budget of $2,819,450. That compared to the 2007 budget of $2,577,147.
The Baptist General Association of Virginia was listed as the financially strongest giving member body in 2006 with $145,262 in gifts, compared to $72,796 from the Baptist General Convention of Texas and $48,200 from the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. Contributions from churches and individuals totaled nearly $1.3 million.
Baptist World Aid’s unaudited financial figures showed a 2006 income of almost $1.9 million with slightly less in expenditures.
BWA’s hunger and relief arm reported that the 2006 figure compared to the 2005 figure was “a large drop in giving.”
“However, this is a good indicator that there was not a natural disaster to the scale of the Asian Tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in the U.S.A. that spurred unprecedented giving,” noted BWAid.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and serves on the BWA’s Freedom and Justice Commission. He attended the general council meeting in Accra.
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