Craig Sherouse visits with Todd Still, dean of Truett Theological Seminary, during the Baptist World Alliance's 2016 annual gathering in Vancouver. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) has been a part of my life for four decades.
My participation with the BWA began as an academic interest in their remarkable history and advocacy for religious liberty, peacemaking and racial reconciliation.
I attended my first BWA Congress in 1980. I have served on commissions, committees and on the general council. I have quite a collection of BWA meeting lanyards and nametags. In other words, I am something of a BWA groupie!
I have been to some interesting places through the BWA - Cuba, Malaysia and South Africa, to name a few. And I have met some remarkable people - well-known international Baptist scholars and leaders as well as never-heard-of pastors of small churches in forgotten places.
I have preached in a Seventh Day Baptist church through the BWA friendships I have made. I have met all of the Baptist pastors (four) in Turkey. The stories of the local Baptists in such places have humbled and inspired me.
I have heard many firsthand accounts of religious persecution in places like the Middle East, Nigeria and Romania.
I have shed tears and emptied my wallet in response to stories I have heard about refugees, ethnic-cleansing victims and evangelistic successes.
As a local church pastor for 41 years, my ministry and missional partnerships have been greatly enriched by the connections I have made through the BWA.
A 20-year partnership with Bahamian Baptists started through the BWA. Those churches are now a part of CBF Florida. Our church started a pastors' school in central Haiti, helped greatly by connections made through the BWA.
The beautiful diversity of the Baptist world family is always on display when the BWA meets, particularly in the worship music of the congresses, held every five years.
I have heard in the same setting a 450-member Korean children's choir that could teach Disney World a thing or two about choreography, a gospel hula dancer, a Nagaland Male Choir and a traditional choir from Brazil.
American folk singer Kate Campbell and South American classical guitarist Rodrigo Rodriguez played their guitars, but they sure played them differently! And is not that the Baptist way?
Some of my most moving spiritual experiences have been in BWA settings.
Several hundred of us worshipped one night in the basement of the still rebuilding Lutheran Frauenkirche in Dresden, Germany. We met directly beneath where the great dome had collapsed during the WWII Dresden firestorm.
We met there, German and British and American, Russian and Czech and Romanian, Chinese and Japanese and Australian, Albanian and Serbian, Hutu and Tutsi, Palestinian and Jew.
And in the underbelly of a bombed-out cathedral, we had communion. We came to the cross. For where else could we come? Who else has the power to make from so many, and such former enemies, one?
There, at that communion table, we could see the ultimate expression of suffering: He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
There we could see the miraculous power of suffering to reveal God's mighty works, even the power to forgive our sins! - "For with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). There we, who once were enemies, have been reconciled through the death of his son.
Where else than a BWA meeting could I have had such a profound spiritual experience?
Founded in 1905, the BWA is a fellowship of 235 Baptist conventions and unions in 122 countries and territories comprising 40 million members in 177,000 churches.
It is committed to:
- Promoting worship, fellowship and unity
- Nurturing the passion for mission and evangelism
- Responding to human need through relief and sustainable community development
- Defending human rights and justice
- Promoting relevant theological reflection
Every year, "Baptist World Alliance Day" is celebrated around the world the first weekend of February. This year BWA Day is Feb. 4-5.
I encourage your church to participate in BWA Day. What better time than now? What better way than this to learn more about the beautiful tapestry and powerful ministries of our international Baptist family?
Craig Sherouse is senior pastor of Second Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia. He has served as the chair of the BWA Heritage and Identity Commission.
Editor's note: This article is part of a series of articles about the Baptist World Alliance, informing churches about the BWA and encouraging participation in the annual BWA Day observance to be held on Feb. 4-5 in 2017.
The previous article in this series is:
How the BWA Opened My Eyes to Global Baptists