A fairly small minority of Baptists actually attend the annual Baptist Assembly, the joint gathering of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and BMS World Mission. This year’s event was held May 1-4 in Bournemouth. While many if not most churches are represented, all of them have the right to be. It represents one of the few occasions when the members of our denomination really come together to hear and be heard.
Inevitably on such an occasion, timetables are tight. There is a degree of audio-visual sophistication that means too wide a departure from the schedule causes palpitations among the techies.
But the Spirit is not bound by a printed running order, and space was given to hear a very specific and entirely unexpected challenge. It was from BMS World Mission worker Daveen Wilson, and it related to the scarcity of new vocations to full-time Christian service overseas. Where, she asked, were the Baptist Christians who were prepared to devote themselves to long-term commitment in the foreign mission field?
Short- or medium-term service is valuable and welcome, but to be lastingly effective in a ministry abroad one has to get under the skin of a culture and become at home in the language. This can only be done with a lasting commitment.
It’s even more surprising that there seem to be so few willing to offer this sort of service when we think of our Baptist history and the heroic early days of the Baptist Missionary Society. The first missionaries went out with very little support, exposed to violence and disease, isolated from other Europeans and with unreliable communications. It is not to deny the real difficulties faced by mission workers today to say that the world has changed.
Have Baptists changed? The needs are as great; the opportunities greater. Why, then, are the laborers so few?
Many Baptist ministers responded to the call to go home and tell their congregations about the need. This may prove to be one of those occasions when the Assembly is a pivotal moment for the denomination.