The Baptist World Alliance concluded its most globally diverse gathering ever July 10 by celebrating its continued growth and outreach but also by remembering the life-threatening challenges faced by Baptists internationally.
The three-day virtual World Congress attracted 4,000 attendees from nearly 150 nations and offered an array of Bible studies, plenary sessions and workshops covering topics ranging from sexual assault, ministry and leadership, Baptist identity, the role of women, discipleship, and programs offered by BWA.
The closing worship and celebration event included an announcement that the next World Congress will be held in Brisbane, Australia, in 2025.
In a question-and-answer session held July 8, BWA General Secretary Elijah Brown said there is much for the world’s Baptists to celebrate but also much cause for concern.
“We are living through a time of the greatest expansion of the Baptist movement,” he said. “We’re seeing incredible growth all around the world. In the past 10 years the Baptist family has grown 29%.”
A key reason for that growth is Africa, he said, where the number of Baptists has grown by 134% in the past decade.
But many regions are afflicted with poverty, hunger, war and pandemic. Brown cited the kidnapping by gunmen of about 140 school children from Bethel Baptist School in Nigeria.
“Today as we gather in this Congress, students are being held captive,” he said. “So, we know there are real challenges in so many places around the world.”
As a result, there is much work to do, Brown added, citing expanding the areas of worship, unity, missions, evangelism, leadership and theological development in all BWA regions.
BWA has faced its own challenges as an institution in recent months. Originally scheduled to be held in Rio de Janeiro in July 2020, the just-completed quinquennial World Congress had to be delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision later was made to move to an online format as the coronavirus outbreak continued.
“I learned how to be a better Baptist by learning from Baptists in other parts of the world.”
And as a result of the delay, officials decided to omit BWA business from the global gathering schedule to keep the focus on celebration. Executive committee and general council meetings instead will be held in the fall.
“In the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, the BWA family came together in diversity, worship, mission and hope. In this historic moment with registrants from an unprecedented 146 countries, we declared again that we are united in Jesus Christ and united in living out God’s holistic gospel,” Brown said in a BWA news release announcing the conclusion of the gathering.
In the July 8 question-and-answer session, BWA President and Argentinian Baptist Tomás Mackey said the achievements and challenges of the world’s Baptists must be met with a spirit of unity.
“We are different, but we need to be one body,” Mackey said, adding that his own faith has been enriched by encountering Baptists from different regions and perspectives.
“I learned how to be a better Baptist by learning from Baptists in other parts of the world,” he said.
But developing a single way of being Baptist is not the goal, he added. “The goal is being different but being together. It is about being together but accepting our differences and doing both things at the same time. This is a learning experience and a very spiritual experience.”