Paul Msiza, a South African pastor serving as president of the Baptist World Alliance for 2015-2020, traveled to Jefferson City, Mo., in March. During his visit, he stopped by the Word&Way offices for an interview with Editor Brian Kaylor. Learn more about the BWA at bwanet.org.
You’ve been president of the BWA for about 20 months. What has it been like so far?
It’s been great. The welcoming of the BWA family has been exceptional – way beyond expectation. I’ve been received well. It’s been a great honor to serve in this position so far. I think if one asks, I would say it’s the greatest privilege anyone could have, to serve the Baptist World Alliance. As president, you travel, you meet people and see how much people appreciate the World Alliance and appreciate the president. And you ask yourself, “What have I done to receive this appreciation?” But it’s all out of the love for the Lord and the love for God’s work.
So you’ve traveled a lot. What’s been a trip that stands out — obviously, coming to Jefferson City, Mo., is the highlight.
[Laughs] It is! [Laughs again]
What’s been a different trip that stood out for you?
So far, Ukraine. It was my first visit to that part of the world. Even though I was kind of informed and told about the life of Baptist witness in that part of the world – but to be there, to experience it, to see Baptists that are so committed to missions and to see people coming with such great numbers to the church — it really gave me a great joy. And to meet the leaders of the Baptist Union of Ukraine and to share with them, it was, for me, the highlight of these first few months.
The second one was just a recent one. I went to Chile. The first time I went to Chile I was in Santiago, a city. This time I went to a small town out on the coast. It used to be a coal mining area. And I was just moved by it, by the kindness of our people. You see the commitment to God’s work.
You’ve been involved with the BWA for a while. But in this new role, what has been the biggest surprise?
I still find a lot of Baptists when I travel who don’t know the Baptist World Alliance. And I find that it gives me a challenge. Now, I came from St. Louis and I met a number of pastors and I was surprised that some of them — in their senior years of pastoring — had never been connected with the Baptist World Alliance. I took for granted that if I come from South Africa [and know the BWA], then, for example, I’m in the United States and everybody would know the Baptist World Alliance. And same when I was in Chile. I would come across people in meetings who did not know the Baptist World Alliance.
So why is the BWA needed today?
The BWA is needed so much today. First, is that our Baptist witness — both to encourage missions and evangelism — is needed so, so, so much. Somehow — I don’t know if it’s intentionally — there’s a decline in evangelism. That move of reaching out, telling people the good news, it’s somehow not as strong as it used to be. There are congregations who go months after months without baptizing new converts, without having a definite outreach program. Therefore, the Baptist World Alliance is the strongest, most powerful network which is able to mobilize churches for missions and evangelism.
Second, the days we are living in are full of challenges. I never thought that we would face so many challenges relating to human rights. The more we become “civilized,” there’s trouble. The Baptist World Alliance is needed more than yesterday to do advocacy — but more than that, to equip the membership to be able to do advocacy on the local level. When we come to our gatherings, people go back being equipped to be able to face the issues that we face related to justice, related to human rights.
We sometimes take for granted that Baptists are doing well, treated well everywhere. We have parts of the world where Baptists are a serious minority. Under threat, there’s no freedom. And the only body that can speak on behalf of them is the Baptist World Alliance. So we need a stronger World Alliance. We need to pray to God to strengthen this world family.
You have most of your term left. What are the things you hope particularly to accomplish or see at work in the next few years?
One thing I am praying for is to encourage unity. I want to see our voice become stronger and stronger. Baptists are the largest Protestant church and my desire is to see our impact equal our presence. It is always a great privilege to be in the Baptist World Alliance gatherings because it is where the prayer of the Lord is manifested, when he said, “I don’t only pray for these, but I pray even for those who will hear the word through them, that they may be one.” Because when we sit in that [BWA] meeting, we come from all tongues, we come from all tribes, we come from all shades and colors of the world and we all pronounce one name — the name of Jesus. Let us continue to build this world family that presents Christ, that becomes a testimony in a divided world—a world that is full of conflict, a world that is full of hatred.
My second desire is to help — in any way God can use me — to bring aboard the Baptists who are in the fringes, who are not part of the Baptist World Alliance. I believe that what I have been enriched with since I’ve been in the Baptist World Alliance, people are missing. I have grown; I have been inspired — I am inspired and I am growing every day. And I see people who are not in that space, they’re losing out, their world is shrinking. In the Baptist World Alliance, your world grows every day.