A great privilege of serving as president of the American Baptist Churches is membership on the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance which met in Santiago, Chile this past July. It was an odd preparation experience to pull out winter-weight clothes while our air conditioner ran at peak levels trying to deal with the unusually hot and dry summer we were experiencing, but when I arrived in wintry Santiago, I was grateful for the warm layers of sweaters, gloves, and scarves!
Participating in various seminars, plenary sessions, and affinity groups, I was able to catch a glimpse of the breadth of the work we as Baptists help to carry out around the world. Along with the occasion to meet brothers and sisters from so many countries came the opportunity to share their joys and burdens, most intensely the persecution the leaders from Nigeria and Ghana have experienced as churches have been burned and Christians killed in a series of attacks.
An “ah-ha” moment occurred when two Chilean women greeted me with “Happy Independence Day!” on July 4th, my first day there! I had to sheepishly admit that I did not know when their independence day was! Another joy of these international gatherings is the series of “hallway” and coffee conversations with people most often found on the platform or behind the podium of meetings I have attended. I was blessed with such an opportunity to talk at length with Gary Nelson who was one of the keynote speakers at the Puerto Rico Biennial as well as with Tony Peck, General Secretary of the European Federation, among others, a good reminder of just how small and connected our world really is.
Finally, it is a delight and point of pride to know in what high esteem our American Baptist leaders are held. They have given effective, prominent, and appreciated leadership in the commissions that carry out the ministry and study projects of the Baptist World Alliance between the quinquennial gatherings. Part of the joy of this particular gathering was being able to witness Rev. Rothang Chhangte’s installation as the new head of Baptist World Aid, the world-wide relief and development arm of BWA. Attending my first session of the Baptist World Alliance was memorable, eye-opening, and inspiring, and I am grateful for the privilege of serving on your behalf.