By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
Being around people like Neville Callam (see page 3), the new executive secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, stirs something in me. From where I sit, my corner of the world is easier to grasp — and deal with — than the whole wide world with which he must stay in touch. But the short view limits my responses.
At an introductory service and reception at First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit last week, the new BWA leader referred to himself as the “chief servant” among many other servants, acknowledging both his responsibility as a leader and his task of service to God and Baptist people worldwide.
Big-picture people help those of us who are more localized in our thinking, praying and visioning. Callam reminded listeners of a pastor on the other side of the world who was sentenced to two years of hard labor for gathering a group of believers and preaching. He told of a girl who knew the soldier approaching her would soon attack and rape her. Real persecution is easily shut out from my thoughts until I hear of incidents like these that are life-as-usual in some places.
Neville Callam says that believers who face persecution can take hope and draw strength from the assurance that God cares for them and promises to be a steadfast presence in their lives. Listening to his accounts of the experiences of several of the 200 Baptist conventions and groups that have found a home in BWA has a way of helping us understand how God would like for us Baptists to be linked.
Baptists share a good bit in common but the new executive secretary distills our commonalities down to the very basis of our relationship to Christ. We are united in Christ and have become new creations in Christ, clearly enough to link us for eternity not only with God but with each other.
We all live in our little part of the world, and we all render service to God that most personally is expressed within arm’s reach. But every believer can be a world Christian. That is certainly true for Baptists, who take pride in being on the front lines of what we used to call the modern missionary movement.
None of us can know what that first group of “modern missions” advocates envisioned for the future. Interestingly, generations ago they were convinced that God wanted them to win the world to Christ. And so the earliest among them set out to do just that.
It seems obvious to me that they also were plowing ground for future generations. The only missiological techniques they knew apparently came directly from a thorough reading of the Scriptures and prayer. And they understood the power of the written Word of God. They did the arduous work of translating the Bible into native languages. Many labored for years and years, preparing for the harvest that others would reap.
These folks and their successors simply had a vision for the world that helped them see the world through God’s eyes. They were hardly alone.
Supporters back home did crazy things to make sure the earliest missionaries received support and were reminded that they remain linked with “world Christians” back home and elsewhere. Women collected eggs, sold them and gave the money to missions. Modern Baptists and other Christians should give with as great a sacrificial effort today. Such Christians said with their financial sacrifices and their prayers, “You can count on us.”
A wonderful facet of the Baptist World Alliance is that it provides a framework for Baptists who are different to stay in touch and to be responsive to each other’s needs. We need to know about people who are starving on the African continent. We need to know when and where pastors and others are being sent to work camps for simple exercises of faith. We need to know about the girls in the Sudan who face the terror of rape. They need to know that those who make up a portion of the family of God care about them.
We in the West are recipients of the goodwill of Baptist brothers and sisters from around the world. When a hurricane named Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, Christians of the world showed their compassion. In overseas travels, I have been reminded that people in isolated and difficult places seem to be very aware of the spiritual needs in America. They pray for American Christians, that we will make a difference where we are. And they ask the same prayer in return.
It is a wonderful thing to be linked with God’s extended worldwide family.