American Baptists have just completed a remarkable Mission Summit (a felicitous rebranding of the Biennial) close by in Overland Park, Kan. How nice not to have to pack this time!
The most exhilarating aspect of the gathering was the significance presence of those comprising the Burma Diaspora communities, primarily of Chin and Karen ethnicity. They just kept arriving, traveling from Denver, Dallas, St. Paul, Indianapolis, Kansas City and other cities.
Chin and Karen choirs sang with irrepressible joy, which called forth new energy from a denomination seeking to be transformed by the Spirit.
As traditional instruments (including a big gong-like thing) accompanied the choirs, I felt sympathy for the sound engineers who had probably never set a microphone for such.
The Judson legacy has come full circle as we jointly celebrate the 200th anniversary of the arrival of these early Baptist missionaries in Burma.
On Sunday morning, I had the privilege of addressing the youth and young adults of Chin Baptist Churches U.S.A. The room bristled with leadership, and I felt as if I was witnessing the promise of the future.
Invited by newly commissioned home missionary and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) graduate, Ronald Nunuk, I marveled at the vibrancy of this transplanted expression of Christian discipleship.
Distinguished leaders from Burma (Myanmar) addressed the group, but it was clear that the young adults were laying claim to the future.
Challenges of assimilation – preserving culture, making a new home and remembering their larger ethnic family, mostly still in Burma (Myanmar) – are evident. Yet, with resilience and enthusiasm, they are embracing their new land.
Without question, the future of the American Baptist family depends upon listening to new voices. If we really desire to be transformed by the Spirit, we are in for some surprises.
More than once I have longed for the gift of tongues in these days so that I might passionately engage in theological conversation in Spanish, in Chin, in Karen and in Korean. The Spirit makes it possible for people to hear in their own languages the redemptive work of God.
The epistle reading on June 23 underscored the inclusive arc of the Gospel: “In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
And we might add, there is no refugee or native born.
Other new voices spoke at the Emerging Theologians’ Conference on June 20 at CBTS. More than 100 scholars gathered, both pastors and professors, and spent the day thinking about how attentiveness to pneumatology will shape Baptist life.
The Spirit is speaking through these new voices, and we are learning the spiritual practice of listening.