More than 300 Baptists from about 60 countries have converged on the city of Izmir (ancient Smyrna) this week, carrying on the business of the Baptist World Alliance’s (BWA) annual gathering while encouraging the very few Baptists in Turkey, which has only four Baptist churches. Turkey is predominantly Muslim nation. Most of its 350 Christian churches are Greek Orthodox.
A parade of Turkish dignitaries welcomed the organization Tuesday morning, exchanging greetings and offering symbolic gifts to BWA president John Upton and General Secretary Neville Callam.
In his remarks, Upton said coming to Turkey was like coming home for Baptists, because so many of the early churches were located in the area some call “the cradle of Christianity.” The Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys were focused on the area formerly known as Asia Minor, which is now predominantly the country of Turkey. Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians were written to churches in Turkey, which is also home to the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation.
BWA commission and council members will elect a new president for a five-year term beginning in 2015 and polish preparations for the Baptist World Congress, a major gathering of Baptists to be held in Durban, South Africa, next July. More than 1,000 hotel rooms have already been booked for the event, according to reports.
A number of commissions will also meet during the week to discuss issues related to peace, social and environmental justice, theological education and leadership, evangelism, religious freedom, doctrine and Christian unity, ethics, and other topics.
On Saturday, participants will visit the ancient city of Ephesus, and many will continue on with a tour of other sites associated with the early church.