By Leland May
Two women with explosives in their suitcases were arrested in Birmingham, England, on the first day of the Baptist World Alliance Centenary Congress.
On Day Two, the hot humid air that had presided over London, for a few days preceding the congress spawned a Birmingham tornado, bringing immense destruction to areas of Moseley and Kings Heath.
But the threat of other tornadoes and the ever possibility of a terrorist attack did not dampen enthusiasm nor prevent the Baptist World Alliance July 27-31 from being a glorious celebration of its centenary year.
In contrast to the first Congress in 1905, when 3,000 delegates represented 6.2 million Baptists from 26 countries, more than 13,000 delegates from 118 countries registered for this congress. For the delegates the congress offered a life-changing experience, fellowship with Baptists from around the world, colorful encounters with different cultures and languages, and a feeling of spiritual kinship with a part of the 32 million world Baptists.
Opening night began with an emotional parade of nations. With joyful weeping in the international stadium, individuals from countries such as China and many former Communist Block countries for the first time, with banners and flags waving, marched down the aisles, declaring that they were Christians and a part of the world Baptist community.
Korean Billy Kim, the Baptist World Alliance president for the last five years, brought a message on the Congress theme, "Jesus Christ, Living Water." His message was moving and personal as he shared his testimony. During the Korean War, when just a lad, he was befriended by a Sgt. Powers, a GI who eventually brought him to America to be educated.
While in college and desperately homesick, a student came to his dormitory room and invited him to come to the Lord. Kim asked, "Will the Lord take away my homesickness?" "Not just your homesickness, but your sins also," replied his friend. Kim made his commitment to Christ, received the "Living Water," and became a worldwide witness.
After becoming a Christian, Kim made a pledge to God, "I'll go back to Korea and preach Christ. Nothing will stop me."
The United Kingdom's Myra Blyth, former general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and now a lecturer in worship and doctoral student at Regent's Park College, brought the keynote address.
She used the experience of her mother's death two days earlier to challenge the world delegates to see suffering people and to extend to them compassionate "healing waters."
"Our responsibility is to take seriously what it means to be made in the image of God to reach humanity in all its needs,"
There was a pause during the lively opening Latin America music and before her address for the victims of the Birmingham tornado.
The dialects and accents in the various prayer groups of four to six persons were different, but the prayers were universally directed to the God Who provides healing waters.
Leland May is a retired university educator and a Word&Way trustee, who attended the BWA Centenary Congress with his wife, Linda, and another trustee, Carole Zahnd, and her husband, Larry. (08-10-05)