Washington (BWA)-- Baptist World Alliance (BWA) General Secretary Neville Callam visited Bulgaria, Austria and Spain in October.
Callam spoke at a conference to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the founding of Baptist witness in the town of Russe in northeastern Bulgaria between October 7 and 9, and preached at the Baptist Church in Sophia, Bulgaria's capital, on October 10.
He commended Bulgarian Baptists on "the remarkable history of the Baptist movement in Bulgaria." He recounted the contribution of Baptist pioneers in the southern European country, including V.A. Pashkov, Martin Heringer, and Georgi Chemonev."We give God thanks for your faith and faithfulness," despite challenges faced by Christians in the country of 7.5 million people, Callam told the gathering.
Callam updated the Bulgarians on the level of growth being experienced by Baptists worldwide. "Between 1985 and 2009, membership of Baptist churches associated with the BWA has grown significantly," Callam said. African Baptists grew from 1.3 million to 7.6 million members; Asia and Oceana grew from 1.8 million to 5.4 million; and South American Baptists numbered 1.7 million members in 2009 from a previous figure of 677,000 in 1985. "Some of this growth reflects the addition of new BWA member bodies from these areas, but most of it is a sign of the growth of the Baptist churches in these areas," Callam stated.
Such growth did not happen by accident, Callam claimed. "Many Baptist Christians are leaving their homes and traveling to foreign lands to spread the Gospel." For instance, there are 650 Korean Baptist missioners in 47 countries, and 563 Brazilian Baptist missioners in 65 countries. "Baptist Christians in South Africa are bearing witness to the gospel in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Swaziland, and Malawi," he informed the assembly.
Many Baptist Christians, Callam said, "are living out the demands of their faith even while facing persecution," rendering "costly service for the benefit of humankind to God's glory."
Callam visited with the Baptist Union of Austria from October 11 to 14 where he congratulated Austrian Baptists on their faithfulness and commitment to the cause of Christ and their involvement in the worldwide Baptist movement. "We are grateful to God for what has been accomplished here through Baptist witness," he stated. "Yours has not been an easy journey. From time to time, you have faced opposition," he said, recalling that, in times past, Baptists were expelled from Vienna, Austria's capital.
Callam informed the Austrians that, of the number of Baptists around the world, 2.1 percent are in Europe. The largest number of Baptists is in North America at 57.1 percent with Africa having 20.2 percent, the second largest total. Asia/Pacific comes next with 14.5 percent, Latin America at 5.3 percent, and the Caribbean at 0.8 percent.
In addressing the 58th convention of the Evangelical Baptist Union of Spain in Valencia, held October 14-17, Callam highlighted the work of the BWA in fostering unity and fellowship, mission and evangelism, relief and development, freedom and justice, and theological reflection. "As Baptists, we are a missionary people and we believe that the mission of God is the fundamental reason for our existence," Callam declared. "This is vital for our purpose under God. The Baptist World Alliance is a vehicle to encourage all Baptists in the task of making disciples of all nations."
The Christian commitment to mission is grounded on the understanding of God as Creator, Callam told the Spanish delegates. "God is owner of all that is." As such, we are stewards, "given trusteeship of the resources of life and creation," making us "answerable to God for the ways in which we exercise responsibility for all that has been entrusted to us." Stewardship, Callam emphasized, "Is concerned with every sphere of life, every aspect of life, every moment of time, and all that we think, feel, say and do."
Tony Peck, BWA regional secretary for Europe and general secretary for the European Baptist Federation also attended the meetings in Bulgaria.
The BWA, founded in 1905, is a fellowship of 219 Baptist conventions and unions in 120 countries.