University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., celebrated Baptist Heritage Day Nov. 1 with the executive secretary of the Baptist World Alliance as the special guest.
The congregation is 70 years old this year, and the BWA’s Neville Callam preached in morning services and joined members in a tea and conversation time in the afternoon as they celebrated their missions priority from the very beginning in 1945.
Callam, who has been executive secretary of the 110-year-old worldwide organization of Baptists since 2007, gave the afternoon audience an insider’s look at BWA, fielded questions and visited after the service.
He recalled his election, noting that while he was a Jamaican, it was the British Baptists who nominated him to lead the body that represents 40 million Baptists in 231 conventions and 121 countries in 177,000 congregations.
Callam acknowledged that more than a century ago the challenge of forming a worldwide fellowship of Baptists was significant because of all the differences between Baptists.
But leaders discovered “admissable diversity” among Baptists, he explained.
In other words, he said, “our relationship with each other was born out of our relationship with Christ. It is a unity born of our incorporation in Jesus Christ. If we are in Christ, we are one.”
As a result, he said, “the organization is generous in its embrace” of diverse Baptist members.
The BWA population today is 51 percent North American, 26 percent African, 14 percent Asian/Pacific (not including China), 6 percent Latin America, 2 percent European and 1 percent Caribbean, he said.
He has been impressed to discover the vitality of young people enthusiastically sharing their faith, he said. Former mission fields have become effective missionary-sending bodies, he added. Brazil has 1,550 missionaries in 86 countries, and South Korea has 688 missionaries in 66 countries.
And in places like Nigeria and India (particularly Nagaland), “they are saying it’s time we pulled our own weight.”
He spoke off the record of Baptists he had encountered around the world who suffer for their faith but remain faithful.
He recounted the ministry of Baptists in the wake of massive natural disasters like the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and devastating earthquakes in Haiti and in Chile in 2010.
“We must do what we are called to do,” he explained. “The people of love must show love.”
The Baptist leader also said he supports dialogue with other Christian groups “to seek greater understanding” of our common unity in Jesus Christ.