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Baptist Youth Gather in Hong Kong

About 4,000 registrants from every corner of the world gathered last week in Hong Kong for the 14th Baptist Youth World Congress.

Guests from more than 70 countries convened Aug. 4-8 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center overlooking the famous Hong Kong harbor.

The 211-member-body Baptist World Alliance sponsors an international youth conference on one of the continents every five years, for the purposes of promoting Christian fellowship, spreading the gospel and supporting and encouraging Christian values among young people from around the world.

The first BWA Youth World Congress of the new millennium, the meeting was originally scheduled last year but was postponed over fears that last spring’s outbreak of SARS wouldn’t be under control by July.

It was the first such gathering to be held in Hong Kong. The host was the Baptist Convention of Hong Kong, which has 161 churches with 62,000 members and sponsors a university, theological seminary, hospital, youth centers and schools.

“Staging the conference is not only a great honor of Hong Kong but also a milestone for Christians from all over the world to share the good news of God’s unchanging love,” Eddie Ho, local-arrangements chairperson, and Chu Wood-Ping, general secretary of the Hong Kong convention, said in a letter on the BWA Web site.

Formerly a British colony, Hong Kong was ceded to the People’s Republic of China in 1997. Under an agreement lasting until 2047, Hong Kong functions as a special administrative region with a high degree of autonomy from China’s socialist economic system in all matters except foreign affairs and defense.

Hong Kong proved an exciting place for youth and students to explore, marked by vibrant Christians and churches, said Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid, the BWA’s relief-and-development arm.

Young people from Hong Kong loved entertaining their peers from around the world, Montacute said. He said many described the experience as the best youth conference ever.

Eji Osato, a Japanese missionary in Thailand, was elected to a five-year term as BWA Youth President. He succeeds Donald Lawrence of Jamaica, who held the post since 1998.

Between congresses, the youth president chairs an executive committee representing all six regions of the BWA. The committee meets every March during BWA executive meetings and in July during meetings of the BWA General Council.

The conference theme was “Jesus Christ is the Life in All Its Fullness.” Youth president Donald Lawrence addressed the theme in a sermon on Jesus’ words about the Good Shepherd in John 10.

“As young people you can get involved in things that can land you in trouble, but there is no pretense in Jesus, who wants to give you fullness of life,” said Lawrence, pastor of the Grateful Hill Circuit of four Baptist churches in Jamaica, according to a news release. “Choose Jesus, who will guard your dignity.”

Youth enjoyed worship and music led by Judy Bailey, an international musician born in London, raised in Barbados and now living in Germany. She was accompanied by a band of musicians from all three places. Bailey described the opening day of the conference, which included music from Jamaica, Norway and Hong Kong and bagpipes, as “a taste of heaven.”

Scheduled plenary speakers included Emile Sam Peal, general secretary of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Education Convention in Monrovia; Bart Compolo of the United States, president of Mission Year, a Christian service program that recruits young adults for work in inner cities; Karin Olofsdotter, a woman pastor and lecturer from Sweden; and Enoch Lam, senior pastor of Crossroad Community Baptist Church in Hong Kong.

Workshops included AIDS, defending Christianity against skeptics, Bible study, persecution, Internet and multi-media and setting sexual standards.

It was the first time to attend a Baptist Youth World Conference for Melissa West. “I love it,” she said in a BWA news release. “It is awesome to see everybody here together doing our thing. Normally we do our thing separately, but now we are together and the music is great.”

The BWA Youth Department was formed in 1923 in Stockholm, Sweden. The first BWA Youth Congress met in 1931 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic.

Between congresses, the BWA Youth Department works to inspire young people in missions, spiritual growth, cooperation and training, according to the BWA Web site.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.