The Baptist World Alliance Executive Committee meetings March 6-9 at BWA international headquarters in Falls Church, Va., produced significant news.
With longtime Baptist World Aid Director Paul Montacute of Australia retiring in July, a search committee enthusiastically presented its recommendation to succeed him. Her name is Rothangliani Rema Chhangte and she comes eminently qualified to assume the reins of BWA's relief and development arm on Aug. 1. She was approved unanimously by the Executive Committee on March 7.
Chhangte is currently an advocate for Burmese refugees, serving through American Baptist Home Mission Societies.
The newly elected BWAid director wasn't present as the committee announced the results of its international search. Instead, she was busy fulfilling an obligation in her current role. She introduced herself in a video and described her excitement and willingness to serve.
The new director has served on the ministerial staffs of Baptist churches in Philadelphia and served on the BWA General Council from 2001-2007. She has been program analytic coordinator with Church World Service, director of ecumenical formation for the American Baptist Churches USA, executive director of the Asian American Youth Association, and administrator at the Oxford Conference in Christian Faith and Economics.
Chhangte's relationships with the broader Christian community will likely serve her well in her new role. Since 2006, she has been a member of the central committee of the World Council of Churches and of the executive committee and governing board of the National Council of Churches. She co-chaired the latter's Interfaith Commission 2004-2007.
She holds a master of divinity degree from Palmer Theological Seminary and a master of business administration degree from Eastern University. Both are Baptist-affiliated schools near Philadelphia. She was a business major in her bachelor's degree work at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., and holds diplomas from the Oxford Summer School of Theology in the United Kingdom and the Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies in Switzerland.
Chhangte received a human rights award from the Human Rights Commission of Philadelphia in 1998 and a community service award from the Association of Asian American Educators in 1996.
In addition to her service on the BWA Coordinating Council, the new BWAid director has attended several Baptist World Congresses and Youth World Conferences.
Executive Committee attendees praised the search committee for selecting an Asian and for naming a woman to head one of its divisions.
The recipient of the BWA's Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award - Edgar Palacios, a Salvadoran who serves as associate pastor of Christian education at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington -- also was announced. Palacios is being recognized for his role in helping to negotiate peace in El Salvador during its 1980-92 civil war. During the conflict, his life and those of other pastors and church leaders were threatened. He has taught at several universities, colleges and seminaries in Latin America, as well as the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Falls Church.
Palacios will receive the humanitarian award during the BWA General Council meeting in Santiago, Chile, in July. The new BWAid director will be formally introduced during the same meeting.
BWA meetings like the one earlier this month are unique in that participants come from all over the world. At the Executive Committee, each day began and ended with worship. Sometimes, these representatives are invited to read Scripture or pray in their native -- or "heart" -- language. Such experiences add power to worship.
For BWA events, time and travel resources are precious, so a lot is pressed into a limited amount of time. International travel schedules -- and delays -- are simply part of the challenge of spending time and developing cross-cultural relationships face to face. It is a little harder to be ignorant of the challenges facing Baptists of the world when you are in such settings. It is not hard to stretch your prayer life around the world. Naturally, the fellowship is highly valued.
Most of the Baptists I know would do well to acquaint -- or perhaps re-acquaint -- themselves with the work of BWA, which includes in its Baptist membership 221 groups from 120 countries. In addition to coordinating aid responses, the organization pushes governments and nations to address human rights abuses affecting not only Baptists, but others in the far corners of the world.
BWA reminds Baptists how important each of us is to Baptist brothers and sisters, no matter where they live. Rancor is at a minimum when these Baptists gather; they are mostly focused on what unites them in their Christian faith.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.