When Tomás Mackey assumes the role of Baptist World Alliance president this summer, it won’t be how he thought it would occur. The theologian in Argentina won’t be in nearby Brazil for the Baptist World Congress that would’ve marked the handoff of the presidency from Paul Msiza in South Africa. Although coronavirus postponed the Congress until 2021, Mackey will still start his five-year presidency in July. But he’ll do so in a time of uncertainty and grief as Baptists around the globe struggle with the ongoing pandemic.
However, as Mackey considers the impact of the outbreak in Argentina and around the world, he told Word&Way this could be a critical Kairos moment for Baptists to live out the call of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:16: “make the most of every opportunity (Kairos), because the days are evil.” And helping Baptists engage the opportunities of this difficult moment might be the defining project of his presidential tenure.
As of May 6, more than 3.8 million people globally have been infected with the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, and more than 263,000 have died. In Argentina, more than 5,000 have tested positive and 264 have died. The country’s infection rate per one million people is 111, while the death rate is just six per million. By comparison, the U.S.’s infection rate is 3,790 per million, while the death rate is 224 per million.
Argentina confirmed its first case on March 3 with a man who had arrived from hard-hit Italy. A few days later, it confirmed the death of a man who had traveled from France — the first documented COVID-19 death in Latin America. After hitting more than 20 cases, the government on March 11 announced a mandatory 14-day-quaratine for people arriving from hard-hit nations. Three days later, they suspended schools and shut down their borders to non-residents.
Then on March 19, the president announced a nationwide lockdown to start the next day, making it among the earliest countries to enact such strict measures. And while the government’s actions are credited with saving lives, they have also hurt the already-struggling economy.
Mackey told Word&Way these restrictions included “the closure of borders, the prohibition of all public events (sports, social, religious), the suspension of the school year (which in Argentina runs from March to December) at all levels of education, and closure of practically all economic activities except for the essentials.” He added that while the “virus curve remains with very low growth,” the restrictions mean “the economy is suffering” and creating as much concern in the nation as the virus.
The restrictions have also impacted local churches. Mackey is currently pastor of Iglesia Bautista del Once, a Baptist church in the Once neighborhood of Buenos Aires. He formerly served as professor at the Seminario Internacional Teológico Bautista (International Baptist Theological Seminary) in Buenos Aires. He has also provided leadership in the BWA, especially in areas involving theological education.
“As results of the quarantine, all activities in our churches buildings were suspended,” he said. “March 15 was the last Sunday in which services could be held in our sanctuaries.”
But Mackey added that shutdown of buildings has meant more work to keep ministering during this time. Like pastors around the world, Mackey has been preaching from his home for online services.
“The pace of work continued but took another form through all the virtual means available, leading congregations to have virtual services and Bible classes, and pastors, leaders, and teachers to find new ways to communicate with their members,” he explained. “Material aid to those most in need has also increased in the form of different food programs. Small groups meeting virtually to pray for each other have grown.”
But as the pandemic continues, Mackey also wonders if this could be a Kairos moment for Baptists to learn from and grow in ministry even amid “countless problems for the world community.” He suggested seven opportunities in this crisis:
- “The opportunity to turn the crisis into a life-learning experience. Being a disciple of Jesus is trying to learn what Jesus would have done in our place.”
- “The opportunity to discover new ways of being a community that, without replacing the current ones, add up to them to show what it is like to be a community at a distance. We must bear in mind that even in times without a pandemic, most Christians live their day-to-day life at a distance from the rest of their community. The church community is a church community always.”
- “An opportunity to exercise remote pastoral counseling in critical situations.”
- “An opportunity to learn to take care of oneself in solidarity with others.”
- “An opportunity to generate dialogues about the ethical values and dilemmas that the situation poses.”
- “An opportunity to discover the closeness and accessibility of the Lord among the suffering and among those who risk their lives to serve others through their activity.”
- “An opportunity to remember that our present reality is challenged by a hope based on ‘God with us,’ which is a guarantee of power, love, justice, and grace.”
As Mackey assumes the BWA presidency this summer during a virtual handoff from Msiza, the pandemic may still be a global crisis. Thus, it could be a chance for global Baptists to seize the opportunities Mackey sees in this moment.