George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002, and described regimes that sponsor terror as an axis of evil.
Just a little over four months prior, the U.S. had experienced the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
During those four months, soldiers and armies were mobilized to fight the Taliban, and U.S. citizens lived in fear of further terrorist action and the consequences of how the U.S. might respond to the disaster of 9/11.
President Bush’s State of the Union answered the questions that existed in the minds of many and started the wheels in motion toward what has been called the Iraq War – or the Second Gulf War.
In that same month and year, I began seminary.
Sitting in my first class in seminary, I was aware of the war that was soon to come for the U.S. But I must admit that my perspective was limited to what that war meant for people who lived in the same country as I did.
I thought about the Marine for whose wedding I had served as the matron of honor just a year earlier. I thought about his wife and family.
I thought about countless others who would be in the same situation as that young wife – left sitting at home wondering if she would ever see her husband again.
But I am ashamed to admit that I never thought about how that war would affect Christians who lived in Iraq or Afghanistan, much less each and every person who lived in the places U.S. forces would soon invade.
My worldview was small. I didn’t even have a passport.
Fortunately for me, I was in a seminary with professors who had passports filled with pages and pages of stamps – professors who had lived in countries other than the U.S. for many years.
Those professors began to widen my gaze.
In addition to the many different religious groups across the world about which I learned, my professors taught me about the Baptist World Alliance. Before this, I had never truly considered the implications of the fact that Baptists lived in every corner of the globe.
Then, nearly 10 years after beginning seminary and at the encouragement of one of my former professors, I applied for my first passport so that I could attend an annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance.
At that meeting, my worldview moved from acknowledgement that Baptist Christians across the globe exist to meeting those people face to face.
I met extraordinary people who ministered in situations that were unlike anything I had ever known. I was introduced to advocates who fought for freedom, justice and issues about which I needed to learn more.
I met professors from across the world who were trying to figure out what it means to teach and learn from a Baptist perspective. I listened in worship as these newfound sisters and brothers sang praise songs and prayed in their own languages.
I heard stories of people who survived typhoons, warfare and genocide; I found friendship and cooperation in their worldwide Baptist family in order that they might begin the process of rebuilding their communities
Today, I am the professor.
When undergraduate ministry students arrive in my classes, I realize that they sit in a similar seat to where I sat just a few years ago.
They live in a nation that is filled with angst.
Though the threat of war may not be as immediate, they know that our country is currently divided and that the way the U.S. relates to other countries is changing. They know that immigration laws are tightening, trade deals are being altered, and the management of military affairs is shifting hands.
And the perspective of my students may be limited to how all of these issues affect only people, specifically Christians and Baptists, in the U.S.
So I have taken on the mantle of widening their gaze and helping them realize that the world is much larger than one nation, one president, one issue, one viewpoint.
Like my professors before me, I hope I can introduce my students to a global family of Baptists who worship and partner together, who stand up for one another, and who teach each other how to truly understand that all people are created in the divine image – not just Americans.
One way we all work toward gaining a broader perspective is through the observance of Baptist World Alliance Day on Feb. 4-5 in our churches. I hope together we can embrace our global Baptist family through participation in this event.
Meredith Stone is instructor of Christian ministry and Scripture, and director of ministry guidance at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. She serves on the Baptist World Alliance’s Commission for Christian Ethics.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of articles about the Baptist World Alliance, informing churches about the BWA and encouraging participation in the annual BWA Day observance to be held on Feb. 4-5 in 2017.
The previous articles in this series are:
Meredith Stone is Assistant Professor of Scripture and Ministry Logsdon School of Theology in Abilene, Texas.