Tuesday July 21 brought the first full day of work for committees, commissions, and workgroups of the Baptist World Alliance, meeting in Prague for its 2008 Annual Gathering.
More than 400 global Baptists are here, and most of them made it to the 8:00 a.m. morning worship service, where Jan Titera, leader of Czech Baptists, (left) offered a welcome, Rodney Macann of New Zealand led a touching devotion, and the congregation sang in Spanish (Santo Santo Santo), German (Heilig, Heilig, Heilig), English (Holy, Holy, Holy), French (Dieu saint, Dieu saint, Dieu saint), and the Nigerian language of Yuroba (Ogo ni fun Baba – [Glory to the Father]).
Committee meetings for me included the Resolutions Committee (twice) and the Advancement/Communications Committee. There we heard a challenging financial report and learned that staff liaison Alan Stanford is resigning to pursue other ministry opportunities. BWA General Secretary Neville Callam (right) assured the committee that he will find interim assistance as the Personnel Committee searches for a new candidate for the position, and fielded questions relative to his vision for the committee.
Lunchtime brought my first chance to experience traditional Czech food. At a small diner called “Restaurace U Topulu” I ordered a plate called Jihoceska basta (the name is missing several accents). It included one slice each of roast pork and smoked pork, a small piece of smoked sausage, sauerkraut, and two types of dumplings (knedlik). To imagine the potato dumplings, think stiff mashed potatoes mixed with enough flour to make them solid, then rolled and cut into round slices.
I sat in on the Freedom and Justice Commission session in the afternoon. There, Tedour Opranov (left), pastor of Sofia Baptist Church in Bulgaria, told heartbreaking stories about his church’s ministry to the Gypsy or Roma people who live as outcasts in Bulgaria. Children rarely receive any education, and girls are often victims of human trafficking for the sex industry. Church members and their supporters are working to provide children with educational opportunities and the hope of a better life.
Anna Maffei, president and general secretary of Italian Baptists, talked about the plight of Roma peoples in Italy, where new right-wing government leaders have been roundly condemned for human rights violations, charging the Roma people with being a prime source of Italy’s problems and requiring that they all be fingerprinted, including children.
Dennis Datta (right) of Bangladesh, who will receive this year’s Lotz Human Rights Award, read a paper on the problem of human trafficking in Bangladesh, where he said 10,000 or more boys and girls are sold, swindled, or kidnapped by human traffickers who transport them through India to the Middle East and then to other destinations, where they live as virtual slaves doing forced labor or working in the sex industry.
Datta talked about ways that people of faith can help to fight the massive problem of human trafficking, – a message that certainly needs to be heard.
The International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) hosted a “garden party” reception for participants during the evening, offering tours of the impressive facility that is owned by European and Middle Eastern Baptists. The library, said rector Keith Jones, has the largest English language theological collection in mainland Europe (he acknowledged that the Vatican makes the same claim).
Tours moved much more quickly than the one-lane serve-yourself buffet line, where I spent 45 long minutes of wondering if it was going to rain before I got anything to eat somewhere around 9:00 p.m. The wait was rewarded with fine fare (though the lamb chops and Thai chicken were gone by the time I got there).
The best part of the wait, however, came in the form of a beautiful rainbow stretching over the building that houses the European Baptist Federation offices.
I was grateful that someone held my place in line so I could step out and take a picture of it: some blessings, some moments are just too good to keep to yourself.
Freedom and justice are too good to keep to ourselves, too. It’s my hope that we will do more than pray about the thousands of captive children and women who suffer in the name of human greed, and work that they might live to see a rainbow of promise.