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Baptists Seek Aid for Victims of Georgia-Russia Conflict

The Baptist World Alliance on Wednesday gave an initial grant of $10,000 to help people affected by violence between Russia and Georgia.

“We condemn this wanton taking of human life and mourn the death and suffering of all the peoples of this region,” said Paul Montacute, director of BWAid. “Baptists of the world pledge their support for all in need with their prayers, expressions of concern and their giving.”

The money will help Georgian Baptists in their relief programs. Tens of thousands of people have reportedly fled South Ossetia to escape hostilities in the breakaway region.

Merab Gaprindashvili, general secretary of Georgia’s 5,000-member-strong Evangelical Baptist Church, told European Baptist Press Service that a scheduled family conference had been called off and finances collected for the event will be used instead to aid what he estimated to be as many as 45,000 refugees.

Gaprindashvili said many members of the country’s 75 Baptist congregations were fasting and praying around the clock for peace. Georgian Baptists called both on their own government and Russia to end the war, saying political questions should not be resolved through force.

“Every evening the municipalities are trying to come together to pray and fast for the preservation of the boys who are called to serve in the Georgian army,” Gaprindashvili told a Dutch ministry Web site. Prayers were also focused on small towns, where word about the fate of Baptists came slow.

Russian forces cut off telephone lines and Internet access, seeking to cut off communication with the outside world. At least one small Baptist church in South Ossetia’s capital city was reportedly destroyed, while its 37 members apparently survived bombing by the Georgian air force and fled to the nearby city of Gori.

The World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches joined heads of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Georgian Orthodox Church in calling for a ceasefire, negotiations between the combatants and respect for the peoples involved. The groups also encouraged churches around the world to support relief work by the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, a member of the Conference of European Churches.

“We recognize that good relations between neighbors are a gift of God and an obligation of all people,” the statement said. “We ask that our member churches pray for the people of Georgia and its neighbors, and for all who in these days work for peace and reconciliation.”

Other calls for peace came from Pope Benedict XVI and from the Church of England.

Though small in number, Georgia’s Baptist churches have earned a reputation for promoting peace and reconciliation. Malkhaz Songulashvili, the group’s presiding bishop, currently in London and unable to return home because of the crisis, also launched an appeal for aid.

In June a delegation of Baptist leaders from around the world, including BWA General Secretary Neville Callam, traveled to Georgia to attend Songulashvili’s wedding.

Gaprindashvili called on Baptists in Europe to pray for a quick resolution and for peace in that country, while at the same time expressing concern that Georgia’s close ties with the West are apparently perceived by Russia as a threat. “This amounts to a very difficult situation for us,” he said.

Tony Peck, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, called on the Baptists of Europe to pray for peace in the Caucasus region.

“We are very concerned about the whole situation and urge a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Peck said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Also see:

Georgia, Russia Clash in Beach Volleyball

Pastor Wonders About Friends in Georgia War Zone

Baptist Leader Decries Georgia-Russia Conflict