As Baptists around the world struggle with the coronavirus pandemic, the Baptist World Alliance will lead a three-pronged effort during Pentecost weekend to bring global Baptists together for worship. Elijah Brown, BWA general secretary, announced the initiative during an interview with the Word&Way podcast “Baptist Without An Adjective.”
As of April 21, more than 2.5 million people globally have been infected with the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, and more than 177,000 have died. With confirmed cases in all but 15 countries — and most of the nations without cases being small, isolated Pacific Ocean nations — each of the 125 countries and territories with BWA member conventions has some COVID-19 cases.
As the pandemic grew in March, the BWA took several actions to respond. It postponed its Baptist World Congress — a large gathering typically held every five years — from this July to July 2021. It will still be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. BWA leaders like Brown also canceled the next few months of planned trips to visit Baptist groups in various countries.
On March 30, the BWA hosted a prayer call with reports from Baptist leaders from several countries (including remarks by Word&Way’s editor). That call launched 24 hours of prayer as Baptists signed up for slots to pray for the global responses to coronavirus. Brown told Word&Way that over 200 individuals joined the live prayer time, and more than 600 people from at least 44 countries signed up for the prayer slots.
On April 7, the BWA announced a grant program to assist any member body that needs emergency funds during the coronavirus crisis that has devastated economies and disrupted church services around the world. Initially offering a total of $250,000 in emergency grants, Brown also encouraged Baptists to join in raising a matching fund to double that amount. Brown told Word&Way that the BWA has so far given out 51 grants in over 30 countries, with some focusing on mission efforts and others going to hunger or humanitarian relief to add to what the Baptists were already doing.
“I think about Baptists in Latvia, for example, which are using this emergency grant to buy some time on a local TV station to broadcast their Easter service for the very first time,” he said. “They were also able to use this emergency grant to open three different prayer lines so that as people are watching this Easter service, they can call in and express their prayer concerns and have someone pray with them over the phone.”
“Baptists in Bangladesh,” he added, “noted that it’s impossible to have social isolation in those areas of the community that have the highest urban poverty. In some of those contexts, 25-30 families will share one faucet and one kitchen sink. So, the Baptist churches in Bangladesh over the last month have built 200 handwashing stations outside of their churches. And they are now feeding 5,000 people across their country. And they created a 24/7 hotline staffed by six volunteer Baptist doctors and two staff to just answer medical questions all day and all night long so that they can offer a service to their community.”
The BWA also created a monitoring process to track if any governments use the outbreak to violate religious freedoms, either by denying healthcare services to religious minorities or to attempt to make permanent any temporary health closures of church facilities. Although some individuals in already-persecuted areas have reached out through the new form, Brown told Word&Way that they’ve not yet seen any new violations of religious freedom.
A new response the BWA is now preparing will be for Pentecost weekend, May 29-31. Brown announced the news to Word&Way that the BWA will push three efforts to help connect Baptists around the world and demonstrate the oneness of the Baptist family.
“This upcoming Pentecost weekend,” he said, “we are inviting Baptists all around the world to give expression to this oneness.”
The first part of the BWA’s Pentecost initiative, Brown said, will be “a global worship experience” on the evening of that Friday (May 29) and afternoon of that Saturday (May 30). He added that Baptists “can tune in on social media platforms and join together to sing, to worship, to pray, to hear these stories” of Baptists ministering amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The second part, Brown said, is that for Pentecost Sunday (May 31) they are “asking every Baptist church to do something in their service to recognize the global family — maybe that’s a time of dedicated prayer, maybe that’s a mention in a sermon, maybe that’s sharing a testimony that you can get from the BWA website.”
The third part is asking churches to designate a portion of their offering on Pentecost Sunday, Brown said, “and give it away to Baptists around the world who are facing the greatest need.”
Brown expressed his hope that through this effort, Baptists could find new ways of ministering around the world. He noted that following the 1918 global flu pandemic, Baptists came together in 1919 to create Baptist World Aid, the humanitarian relief arm of the BWA.
“That very first [Baptist World Aid] gift went out in 1920 to respond to the ‘Spanish Flu’ and to issues of hunger that had emerged because of World War I,” he added. “A hundred years later — to the very year — on Pentecost Sunday, could we once again draw together as a global family with an opportunity to respond to a global virus and to needs of hunger and helplessness and homelessness all around the world, and to give expression as a global family?”
NOTE: Hear more about this topic from Brown in the latest episode of Word&Way’s award-winning podcast “Baptist Without An Adjective.”