BANGKOK, Thailand–Paul Montacute’s first airplane ride was to the 1963 Baptist World Alliance youth conference in Beirut. It was the first of many. Forty-plus years later, he travels the globe as the director for the BWA’s hunger and relief arm, showing a living faith that provides relief and development aid.
“Aid is a means of sharing the love of Jesus,” Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid, said this week in Bangkok on the first leg of a tour of nations suffering from the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster. “I believe you can share the love of Jesus without telling about the love of Jesus.”
Montacute noted that it was in the breaking of bread on the Emmaus road that Jesus was recognized by the disciples. “Actions speak a lot louder than words,” he said.
Raised in a Baptist home south of Bristol in Great Britain, Montacute followed in his father’s footsteps and became a tax collector for Inland Revenue, the British version of the Internal Revenue Service. Like his father, Ray Montacute, who headed up Baptist Men’s Movement, Paul also later left civil service to serve full-time in Christian service as a layman.
The decisive moment for Paul Montacute’s vocational change came when he encountered an alcoholic man in court, who was unable to pay his taxes. The judge ordered Montacute to help the man.
After spending the whole afternoon trying to locate social services for the man, Montacute said, “That evening, I decided that God wanted me on the giving side rather than on the taking side.”
Montacute attended Leicester College of Education, while continuing to work as a tax collector. After college, he worked in Wales and Canada with the Boy’s Brigade, a Christian-based program that promotes “drill and discipline” for boys ages 6-18.
In 1982, Montacute took a position with the Baptist Union of Great Britain as a youth director. Montacute joined the BWA staff in 1990 with a focus on youth. By 1994, his assignment was sharpened to Baptist World Aid.
Although his program responsibilities changed, Montacute has retained an ongoing commitment to working with Baptist youth. He teaches youth Sunday school at Vienna Baptist Church in northern Virginia. He and his wife, Judith, have two sons, Peter and Tim.
Traveling this week in Asia, Montacute told EthicsDaily.com that BWAid’s hunger-relief gifts totaled $1.35 million in 2004. In the first few weeks of 2005, contributions for tsunami aid had already surpassed $1 million.
Montacute viewed the influx of funding as both “a blessing and a responsibility to ensure that money is well used.”
Montacute expressed gratitude for the dramatic increase in giving but noted that Baptists tend to respond mainly to “media-genic events,” such as the tsunami. “We let the media determine our agenda,” he said.
“I wish we could get Baptists to see that needs exist through the year–seven days a week, 24 hours a day–and not just when something appears on television,” Montacute said.
As BWAid director, Montacute is responsible for implementing a three-fold hunger agenda:
–Relief. “Relief is first stage of saving lives and caring for people,” he said. “People need shelter, food and clean water.”
–Rehabilitation, Montacute said, “tries to puts people’s lives back together again. It helps them rebuild.”
–Development, the third emphasis, “is the longer term goal to help people achieve sustainability.” It includes agriculture, medical and educational projects.
Unlike some American mission organizations, which distribute relief through Western missionaries on the field, BWAid pursues its agenda through indigenous bodies.
“We recognize that indigenous Baptist groups stand alone, but [are] in fellowship with bodies around the world,” he said.
Montacute described the BWA’s indigenous approach as “entrusting, empowering and enabling.”
“By working through member bodies, we show that we trust them,” he explained. “Then, we empower them, helping them build up their own capacity for own work.”
“By providing resources, we are enabling them,” he said.
Montacute observed that “the tsunami opened up a whole theological discussion about where was God. How could God let this happen?”
It also raised the question of “Where is God in our response to the tsunami?” he said. “What does God expect from us?
“For me, it’s in the provision of the things of life—clean water, food and shelter.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com. He is traveling with Montacute to Sri Lanka and India.