On Saturday I left for Santiago, Chile to attend the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance. I look forward to seeing current friends and making new friends from throughout the world.
Periodically I am asked by a Baptist in North America why I would spend a week and several thousand dollars to attend a gathering of Baptists on another continent. Either they are saying they are envious, or they are really questioning the value.
I must admit it is an easy question for me to answer since I have been in and around BWA activities for most of my life. Also, I lead the North American Baptist Fellowship. As my friend, Daniel Vestal, of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship says, “It is about relationships.” Here is how I would drill down and express various aspects of these relationships.
First, it is about People. It is about building relationships with Baptists from throughout the world around a common faith and a common community. It is perhaps a global Acts 2 church. I see people who inspire me by their commitment to the gospel, the risks they take to minister, and the actual physical harm they face.
Second, it is about Prayer. When you have a relationship with people from throughout the world and know their personal and ministry stories, then you can pray more appropriately for them, and they for you. It helps you to pray about real people in real ministry situations in parts of the world where travel and even communication may be difficult.
Third, it is about Perspective. Too often we are myopic in our perspective on the ministry situation of kindred Baptists. We see things primarily from the ethos and cultural of our own part of the Baptist world. We do not realize the true diversity of Baptists in the more than 200 organized Baptist denominations around the world.
Fourth, it is about Partners. At the gathering laypersons, pastors, and denominational leaders learn more about the ministry needs of current and potential partners in ministry, and how to best connect with them, channel resources in their direction, and learn and be blessed by them. They also have much to offer us for our ministry.
Fifth, it is about Principles. Yes, there are theological dialogues at a BWA gathering, but more than that there are dialogues and actions around applied theology as we address issues of missional engagement, liberty, religious freedom, and human rights. Baptists are a big voice in countries where they do not necessarily have big numbers.
Sixth, it is about Promotion. Make no mistake about it. The more than 120 North Americans who will be present in Santiago this week will be the object of promotion both formally and informally. We still have the largest number of Baptists in the world and the greatest economic capacity. There will be opportunities to learn how to focus our resources.
Seventh, it is about Pictures. I can always count on my ministry colleague Yutaka Takarada, a leader among Japanese Baptists in North America, to take thousands of pictures at each annual gathering so we can see the faces of real people who are as deeply Baptist as you and me.
If you missed the opportunity of Santiago, do not worry. I will post several times from Chile to share with you what is going on. Next year the BWA Annual Gathering will be in Jamaica.