What do you do when— in what may be the only time in your life—Baptists from all over the world come to your country for the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance? Chilean Baptists decided to create a moving experience. They were not going to miss the opportunity to show Baptists from around the world the spirit and zeal of their passion, and their ability to celebrate with preaching, music and dance.
Monday evening almost 300 participants in the BWA gathering in Santiago, Chile were taken by bus to an unheated theater for a welcome worship and cultural celebration with Chilean Baptists. This experience was hosted by the Union of Evangelical Baptists of Chile [UBACH] and the National Baptist Convention of Chile.
At the theater, participants were treated to a welcome reception, and then later ushered into the main hall where well over 1,000 Chilean Baptists were already experiencing praise music and inspirational preaching delivered in Portuguese and translated into Spanish so effortlessly that it appeared the preacher and interpreter were one. By the enthusiastic response of the Chilean Baptists this was already a moving and inspiring gathering.
As they concluded the portion of the program focused on Chilean Baptists, we were treated to high quality praise music with 15 singers and 10 instrumentalists that contemporary worship congregations in North America would envy. Intermingled with the praise music was an obvious patriotic spirit with Chilean flags waved by many nationals. BWA participants were given a Chilean flag and encouraged to wave it. This was not unlike some North American congregations who practice a brand of civil religion around Canada Day [July 1] and Independence Day [July 4].
Following an interlude, BWA participants were officially welcomed by Chilean Baptist leaders and experienced the reading of Philippians 2:5-11 in Spanish, a historic native language of Chile, and English. It is always moving to me to hear people read scripture or pray in their heart language. Seldom do I understand the words, but I can better sense their passion when not concentrating on the words.
Then what seemed to me to be the main event started. A band reminiscent of the big band era in North America performed numerous songs and hymns in various styles. Their quality was great and truly moving. Many of us would like to have taken them home with us.
The highlight of their music was when they played “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” in a 1950s American Bandstand style that if people had been dancing the “jitterbug” it would have fit. I kept thinking Dick Clark was going to step out to emcee the rest of the program. Truly their music speaks to a certain segment of people in the churched and unchurched culture of Chile.
Appropriately, they ended with their Glenn Miller era rendition of “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” It was delightfully moving and their signature song since the name of the group was Los Bronces of Jerico”. The program included several other dancing and singing groups and individuals.
Another moving experience for me was when the General Secretary of BWA, Neville Callam, a native of Jamaica, brought greetings in eloquent Spanish to the whole assembled body. It was obvious he had worked hard to present a message in Spanish to this worship celebration.
So, if the world of Baptists came to your city, what would you do to create a moving experience during this once in a lifetime encounter?