Paul Montacute (right), greeted by a Buddhist priest in Sri Lanka in February. (Photo by Robert Parham)
Time Magazine named Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates as their persons of year 2005, recognizing them as global Good Samaritans committed to ridding the world of poverty, disease and indifference.
Baptists have their own global Good Samaritan. He lacks Bono's rock star status and the Gates' enormous wealth. He's not even a household name within the Baptist world--but he should be.
Paul Montacute is EthicsDaily.com's Baptist of the Year.
As director of Baptist World Alliance Aid, Paul faced a year of unanticipated, horrific natural disasters--the tsunami, the earthquake and the hurricanes. He mobilized and motivated the Baptist community. He communicated with and coordinated Baptists around the world to work together. He worked tirelessly and effectively through indigenous Baptists bodies and leaders to provide a handout to those in crisis and a hand up toward recovery and self-reliance.
In addition to emergency relief, Baptist World Aid has supported reconciliation efforts in Rwanda, rehabilitation programs for young drug addicts in Chechnya and primary healthcare services in Nicaragua.
One of the highlights of my year was traveling in February with Paul to Sri Lanka and India, watching him interface with Baptist leaders as he offered them support and encouragement for new initiatives. I observed the breadth of his network and the depth of trust that global Baptists have in him.
At the end of the previous year, I had watched him at the United Nations, supporting the launch of the Micah Challenge, a justice campaign calling for responsible government actions to halve worldwide poverty by 2015.
While too many Baptists--especially white Southern Baptists--have for too long focused only on hunger relief work and ignored social reform, Paul combines the two, cleaving to the biblical mandate to feed the hungry and pursue justice for the poor and dispossessed. He exemplifies what it means to be a Good Samaritan and a prophet like Micah.
As EthicsDaily.com did last year, we again place a Brit at the top of the list as the Baptist of the Year.
Along with Montacute, Hungarian Baptist Aid deserves recognition. HBAid rushed a team into Sri Lanka soon after the tsunami struck. They also rushed to Bagh, Pakistan, where they built a canvas city for hundreds of earthquake victims, providing mattresses, blankets and lamps.
HBAid has developed a well-deserved reputation as first responders. Hungarian Baptists have access to places where Americans cannot go, making HBAid a critical partner in relief and recovery efforts. HBAid operates under the name Aid24 and is led by Bela Szilagyi, its director.
Another member of the Baptist World Aid family is Baptist World Aid Australia, which earned honors for its efforts to meet human needs. BWA Australia received over $3.4 million from Australian churches, individuals and entities for tsunami-related relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. Its national director is Les Fussell, who like Montacute, is a leader of the Micah Challenge.
Montacute, Szilagyi and Fussell stand out within the global Baptist family. They deserve our respect and gratitude. May their tribe increase.
Robert Parham is executive editor of the Baptist Center for Ethics.