There’s a lot going on in global ministry in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and that means there’s a lot going on at the Baptist World Alliance.
The Falls Church, Va.-based international ministry is responding spiritually and financially to the worldwide pandemic, with prayer requests and financial contributions at record levels.
“BWA has provided more aid grants in the last four months than at any other point in the last 100 years,” General Secretary Elijah Brown said.
The May police killing of George Floyd and the social justice movement it inspired have been another big focus for BWA, which is forming a task force to guide its involvement in racial reconciliation efforts.
“We are grateful for these movements for drawing attention to the incredible disparities in the United States and around the world,” he said. “We will continue to be engaged in these areas.”
Brown spoke with BNG about the ways the pandemic and protests are impacting Baptists and the ways Baptists are responding.
What has your summer been like?
It has been incredibly active. It was marked by our very first virtual General Council meeting in July. In these meetings we handle the business portion of BWA. It was essential we be able to appoint our new officers and commission and committee members.
How much did it hurt to postpone this year’s BWA World Congress?
As you know, we rescheduled the Congress, which is held every five years, until 2021. We are doing a thorough review about next year’s gathering and we are prayerfully considering how to draw together a global audience. We’re in the middle of that process right now.
At Pentecost this year, BWA hosted, for the first time, a virtual worship gathering. We sang songs and prayed and heard updates from all six regions of the Alliance. Over 10,000 joined into that global worship service. As we think about our Congress, we are continuing to learn and build upon these opportunities to build our global momentum.
Has the BWA had to furlough or lay off employees?
Fortunately, we have not. We have been able to retain all our team members at full-time levels. In fact, on July 1 we were able to continue to add a new BWA director of integral mission, Everton Jackson. He had been appointed in March. There are so many questions on how we do church and mission and engagement in this environment, so we needed to move forward knowing he could bring a good voice to our global commitments. And we anticipate announcing, around the beginning of September, a new BWAid director.
How are Baptists faring around the world?
Experts tell us that because of COVID-19, 480,000 million people will take a step back into poverty due to the long-term impact on economies, education and health care. In the middle of this pandemic, BWA began offering emergency grants to our conventions around the world. Since April, we have distributed 182 emergency aid grants to 82 different countries. We are hearing stories of heartbreak and loss, but also of incredible ministry as Baptists give witness to their faith.
How are some of those grants being used?
A grant in Indonesia was used to provide food for widows of pastors. Another grant was used to feed orphans in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We issued a grant to Baptists in Bangladesh to build handwashing stations outside their facilities. In Mexico, Baptists used a grant to send lifesaving medicines into areas where there are no hospitals. We can go on and on with these stories of Baptists striving to give a global witness.
Can that level of aid be sustained?
We had anticipated announcing at the Congress this year the formation of a new BWA network related to aid. We have activated that network sooner and have begun implementing it much quicker than planned due to the pandemic. It’s a network already of over 20 different aid agencies and Baptists who engage with aid from a professional standpoint. Its mission is to help Baptists continue to respond to this crisis. It has already spent well over $1 million in the last few months through Baptist agencies around the world.
Is there any nation where Baptists are suffering more than others?
Brazil has the second-highest number of cases in the world. Bangladesh has significantly been impacted. It is hard to generalize. The United Kingdom has been significantly impacted. Italy. If it has been in the news, almost assuredly there is a Baptist body there that has suffered along with the rest of the country.
From where you sit, do you see silver linings in all of this?
I keep coming back to the book of Acts and this reminder that the apostles all heard the Great Commission given by Jesus. They saw Jesus ascend into heaven and heard his words, “Go into all the world and make disciples.” But at the beginning they remained in Jerusalem. It took the persecution of Stephen to send the church out to proclaim the Great Commission they had received. I am wondering if we are living in one of those moments. The global pandemic is opening churches and ministries and individuals to new ways of engaging in God’s mission. And the pandemic has opened important conversations on racial justice and inequalities around the world.