Vol 1 No. 6 BWA Meeting

As you may know from a previous letter, I found myself in Birmingham, England in late July,
celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Baptist World Alliance.  This association
of Baptists from around the world began in Exeter Hall in London in 1905.

The two hour opening celebration had such incredible variety that it was deeply moving. It
represented all the good that occurs when people whose sole unity is the person of Christ,
come together.  There were choirs and musicians from four different continents.  There was a
parade of nations representing the two hundred nations I have mentioned in a previous letter.
While a DVD of the conference will be made available later, I want to give you a sampling of our
time as the conference unfolded.

Rick Warren was one of the theme speakers at this conference (the Pastor from Saddleback
Community Church in California with whom many of us are familiar).  He had many things to
say, but two stood out: first he said that churches need to be known for what they stand for—not
always what they are against. I’ll let you discover what that particular observation means for you
in your own walk with God and your own church and community.  Secondly, (we will have the
DVD of this talk in our resource centre in October) he said that the church must slay the five
giants of the 21st century: spiritual dryness, self-centered leadership, disease (including,
obviously, HIV amongst others), poverty and illiteracy.  There are so many places that we need
to go with these topics but I will leave you with his words to begin to grapple with them.  The
second person who made a great impression on me was former American President Jimmy
Carter who spoke on the need to address more equitably the role of women in the life of our
churches in his Sunday morning Sunday school class before 13,500 people.  What I found
especially moving about Mr. Carter was when it was reported that as he received the Nobel
Prize for Peace, he announced before the assembled guests that “He lived his life because of
his faith in Jesus Christ”.  I wonder how many of us do the same—never mind actually take the
opportunity to say so.  Three women made a great impression on the conference.  CBM’s Carla
Nelson led an International workshop on AIDS.  Lauran Bethell received the BWA human rights
award for her work on the trafficking of women and children, for which, incidentally, Vancouver
has an internationally bad name.  Lastly the conference heard from Myra Blyth who was, for a
time, a senior associate at the World Council of Churches and who spoke with passion on a
clear and orthodox Christology which was part of the theological underpinnings of the
Birmingham conference.

For many people, the last time they celebrated diversity in their lives was when they went to
high school.  In our culture one of the few places you experience diversity is if you belong to a
welcoming and receptive Christian church.  The rest of the world represents so much of the
division and difficulty we find ourselves in that the church can represent a contrast.  I find it hard
to express the moving scene of so many diverse people with a simple and clear unity in Jesus.

This conference was not just another meeting.  It was truly and profoundly, in my view, an
opportunity for almost as many churches as are in the UN to re-covenant together in Christ.
That re-covenanting is around many topics that we explored that week at the Congress:
worship, evangelism, aid, justice, the alleviating of poverty, women and men, youth and many
other issues.  I’d ask that we do two things in the Baptist Union as we reflect on this Congress:
first, let us remember Alexander McLaren’s exhortation that we do all things in the name of
Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit; and second, might we simply for ourselves, our
churches and our communities, ask the Lord one thing in prayer—“Please, Lord, make yourself
known to me in Your Son’s name, Amen.”  May we continue to grow in our relationship with God
and one another and with greater clarity of what we are called to do in these challenging times.

There were so many people you would have known from our Baptist family in Birmingham and
I’ll pass on a list of those who would be glad to share their impressions in a future letter.

Warmly in Christ
Jeremy Bell

Vol 1 No. 5 UK Resources

We will pick up with the Baptist World Alliance meetings next week.

I want to comment briefly about the opportunities I’ve had to observe some resources for ministry in Great Britain as I spent some time before the Baptist World Alliance Centenary Conference. I intentionally set out to visit some churches that might model for us new life together in the Union and also have sought to find resources that we might apply to our larger work.

I went first to the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s Resource Centre in Didcot, Oxfordshire. Residing in a massive building in this small Oxfordshire town, the Baptist Union of Great Britain represents over 2000 churches and therefore has both the gift of great resources and a deep reservoir of diversity. The resource centre reflects this background. I have found some excellent work in the area of baptism and ethics and a new book on the subject of church and state which does not simply deal with the contrast between the Christian church and secular authority but also compares the Roman Catholic and Baptist approaches to this topic. Regent’s College, Oxford publishes a series of books on culture, common biblical commentaries & the arts and I was exposed to many other materials which we will inventory and add to our existing resources in the months ahead. Of particular value for us is a new book on worship which takes into account the British and Canadian experience that many Christians use during the church year (i.e. advent & lent) as helpful patterns for personal & corporate worship. I’ve also had a couple of lengthy conversations with Lion’s Publishing in Britain who put me on to what they believe to be an excellent bookstore/resource centre called St. Andrews bookshop (located in Greater Missedon. You have no idea what a hassle it is to get to this little town).

Many of you are familiar with Homestart in Vancouver which is funded by seed money from the Baptist Union Development Foundation. I have had conversations with Homestart in Great Britain, which has a considerably different emphasis and is based all over Britain, but in particular I have talked with those in Glasgow and Leicester. Homestart’s primary emphasis in Great Britain is not furniture but is, in fact, trained volunteers supporting families with young children through the difficult early years – but more of that later.

I asked for recommendations to attend a couple of unusual and renewing churches in Great Britain and received the names of two. I traveled to North London to visit Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship, an umbrella group of four related Baptist churches. I went to the mother church called Willesden Green. It is in a neighborhood which started out Irish, then embraced those from the Caribbean, Asia and finally from Africa. There are over 70 different nationalities worshipping in this church and it was personally very helpful to hear the preacher who happened that day to be from Ghana. His emphasis was on what he believes to be the lost discipline of Christians everywhere – waiting on God. His first illustration was the impatience he felt watching the microwave heat his food and he spoke in a way that challenged and renewed me. For all you Type A personalities out there (and there are many) he used the passage from Isaiah  40 that when we wait on God we renew our strength. So I came away from Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship with the encouragement to be more culturally diverse in the Baptist Union and to celebrate the diversity already found in the union. There are many stories that came out of my experience that morning that will have to wait for the personal conversations I know will come in the fall.

My Sunday evening church experience took me to North Watford (where I was born) to a place well known to many of you called ‘Soul Survivor’. If you’ve ever been to “The Place” at Lambrick Park Church in Victoria (former church of Tom Cowan, currently Sr. pastor at First, Vancouver) then you will have experienced much the same sort of thing I experienced that Sunday night. It is a church committed to contemporary arts, music & culture. There must have been almost 700 young people in attendance and it was a boisterous worship, a reverent and edgy time. One of the most interesting things I was able to take away was that when this church contemplates doing justice and outreach overseas, it does it in a big way. It was announced that a year from now they want the entire church (yes all 700 – 1000 of them) to go to South Africa to work in a township rife with AIDS and unemployment.

Well, that’s a sampling of a week of renewal, research, and personal challenges for me and Britain. The Lord be with us all as we ask Him to speak to us and make Himself known to us.

Warmly in Christ
Jeremy Bell

Vol 1 No. 4 Year of BWA

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Baptist World Alliance which first met in the
Exeter Hall in London in 1905.  That long ago event represented about 7 million Baptists
worldwide coming from a little over 2 dozen countries.  Now the Baptist World Alliance is
representative of 211 denominations in 200 countries which include 46 million baptized
believers and over 100 million adherents making it the largest body of Protestant believers in
the world.  The story is only partly told in the numerical growth of this part of God’s family,
there are also great expectations of what God will be doing in the future.

Before we look at the present and future, let me take you back to the opening night of the
BWA assembly where an actor playing the first Chairperson of that 1905 founding
convention, Alexander Maclaren, spoke to those of us assembled in Birmingham.  “Alexander
Maclaren” told us that we must remember two things that were foundational to our Christian
heritage and faith: first, we must do everything in the name of Jesus and secondly, we must
do everything in the power of the Holy Spirit.  I could not think of any better reminder or
greater encouragement to begin a series of meetings than that—it is instructional for personal
formation and for the deepening of our communities.  This exhortation was followed by some
gentle advice from the Archbishop-elect of York who brought greetings from the Anglican
church in Britain and then said to the assembled throng: “Stay close to God, stay close to
humanity and bring both God and humanity together.  Both these servants of God were not
aping spiritual clichés but laying a foundation for the week.  You got the sense in the first two
days of the BWA (which, incidentally meets every 5 years) that this was far more than the
meeting of a network but the re-covenanting of a people before God.

The theme of this week is “Jesus Christ Living Water” and that theme is being embellished in
talks on justice and mercy, visuals, and music in every form that remind us of our thirst yet
draw us to the source of how that thirst can be met in Jesus.  There is such amazing diversity
here with over 100 countries represented in the 13,500 delegates.  There are about 150
Canadians and we are well served and represented by Bruce Milne, a just-retiring BWA vice-
president and Gary Nelson, our general secretary and newly appointed vice-president.  I’m
going to ask them to share their impressions a little later on in the summer.

When the BWA first met in 1905, there were 3,000 delegates representing the developed
world in which 85% of all Christians lived.  This week in Birmingham is a reminder that a shift
in the face of Christianity has occurred with only 40% of Christians coming from the
developed world and 60% coming from the 2/3’s developing world.  Our diversity yet unity in Christ came, for me, in the high point of the first night’s service, when our actor friend
Alexander Maclaren, a woman from Africa and a young developmentally-challenged man
from England (who signed for us) led us in the Apostle’s Creed—one faith, one Lord Jesus
indeed.  Much, much more, next week…

Warmly in Christ

Jeremy Bell

Vol 1 No. 3 David Prital

Dear Friends,

As we begin a new stage of God’s journey and plans for us in the Baptist Union I would like to tell you about someone who changed my life earlier this year. Some of you have heard about him in my talk to the Banff Assembly in April but a refresher won’t hurt. I remind myself of this man at least every couple of weeks.

I discovered this “mentor” while reading Martin Gilbert’s book called The Righteous, a chronicle of Christians who saved Jews during the Holocaust of the Second World War. Gilbert is one of the most pre-eminent historians of the past thirty years and the official biographer of Winston Churchill. He does not suffer fools gladly and is particularly irate (as well he should be) about Christian inertia during the Holocaust. He writes however about a Ukrainain couple, farmers and Baptists, who looked out for those in need, offered hospitality and safety to a Jewish man hiding from the Nazis. They were a couple who were a people of the Bible and prayer and are just the kind of people I want to be like.

Finding two Jews who were hiding in the granary of a Polish peasant who had taken them in, David Prital told them he hoped to get in touch with those peasants who belonged to the Baptist sect. One of the Jews, taking him to a small gap in the wall of the granary, pointed out a typical Ukrainian house and said to him, “’In this house lives one of the Baptists, but you should be careful because in the adjacent house lives his brother who will kill you without any hesitation. Good luck!” In the evening, I left the granary and walked in the direction of the house that was covered with straw. I walked in the path between two fields, and my heart was full of anxiety and apprehension. Suddenly I saw a figure of a Ukrainian peasant walking peacefully in the fields. My instincts, which served me well in many dangerous situations, told me that I didn’t have to be afraid of this meeting. He approached me and immediately understood who I was. With tears in his eyes, he comforted me and he invited me to his house. Together we entered his house and I understood instantly that I had met a wonderful person. “God brought an important guest to our house,” he said to his wife. “We should thank God for this blessing.” They kneeled down and I heard a wonderful prayer coming out of their pure and simple hearts, not written in a single prayer book. I heard a song addressed to God, thanking God for the opportunity to meet a son of Israel in these crazy days. They asked God to help those who managed to stay alive hiding in the fields and in the woods. Was it a dream? Was it possible that such people still existed in this world? Why then didn’t I think about them while I was still in the ghetto? With their help and proper planning we could save many people!

They stopped praying and we sat down at the table for a meal, which was enjoyable. The peasant’s wife gave us milk and potatoes. Before the meal, the master of the house read a chapter from the Bible. Here it is, I thought, this is the big secret. It is this eternal book that raised their morality to such unbelievable heights. It is this very book that filled their hearts with love for the Jews.

One night, when David Prital was sitting in the granary, his host came in a sat beside him. ‘I see that you are sad and frustrated,’ he said. ‘I will sing you a song that may help raise your spirits.’ The peasant then started to sing from the Psalms: ‘When God returned the Jews to Zion’-and sang, Prital noted, ‘in Hebrew!’

[Excerpts from The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust, by Martin Gilbert.]

We live in different yet very challenging times. “Whenever you give a cup of water in my name,” said Jesus, “you did this to me”. (Matthew 25)

Whenever I look for those in need or trouble I am looking for Jesus. Whenever I comfort or offer hospitality, whenever I open myself to ridicule or danger, whenever I protect the vulnerable, I do this to Christ. If I give to others I must be a person of scriptures and of prayer just as this Ukrainian family was. If not, I will never be able to sustain whatever acts of justice and mercy I attempt.

These are people I want to be like. They even seek to speak the language of others as they serve and comfort.

These are people I want to be like. Please Lord, may it be so. These are people I want our group of churches to be like; seeking others, hospitable, risk takers, and people of prayer and the Bible. Change, challenge and encourage us Lord…even now in the midst of a world in great need.
Warmly in Christ,

Jeremy Bell

 

 

 

Vol 1 No. 2 BWA

Dear Friends,

This last week (July 14th) saw the Personal Committee Chair of the board, Marshall Miner, undergo successful heart surgery in Calgary. Marshall and his wife, Judi, are members of First Baptist Cranbrook and are heading home this week for Marshall to continue his recovery. Please pray for them.

There are several of our Baptist Union folk who are heading to the Baptist World Alliance meetings in Birmingham, England, this week. The conference occurs every five years and this marks the centenary of the Alliance founded 100 years ago in Burmingham. Dr. Bruce Milne is a vice president of the B.W.A.. Gary Nelson (a Calgarian originally) will represent Canadian Baptists as our General Secretary. Edna Mae Slade from First Baptist Vancouver will attend. I will also be there as well. We will add more names to the list as the event (which will host close to 15000) gets underway. Please pray for safety and for Denton Lotz, the B.W.A.’s General Secretary, and also for Jimmy Carter and Rick Warren who will be speaking.

For your information, Keats Camps packed out an open house on July 17 with over 342 guests on the M.V. Britannia. Along with campers and staff there were over 650 for dinner that night. Pelican Lake Bible Camp in Western Manitoba has had a 25% increase in attendance over the last year. Over 40% of their campers, this last week, were at camp for the very first time. Thanks be to God.

I have some exciting stories and personal lessons learned from a week of traveling and sharing with this outstanding and gifted cross-section of ministries in the Baptist Union of Western Canada.

On a personal note, I would ask for your prayers as I travel to England on July 20. I am joined by my wife Kerry (our children Jessica and Andrew are on Keats staff this summer) on July 30 as we go to Kenya to teach; Kerry to teach teachers counseling and I to team teach, with Brian Stelck, a group of church leaders. My deepest thanks to the Winnipeg Ministerial who laid hands of me and prayed for me last week. God is gracious and good. We’ll catch up again next week.

Warmly in Christ,
Jeremy Bell

Vol 1 No. 1 Greetings

Greetings in Christ,

Our Baptist Union family of churches is so diverse and spread over such a vast 
landscape that it is wonderful that we have a unity in Christ. It is this same Christ that the 
apostle Paul draws near to in Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor 
things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor 
anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God 
in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am drawn to the reassurance of God’s presence in times of joy, pain, loneliness, hope, 
fear and anticipation. It is anticipation that brings me to this first letter as I begin my 
service as Executive Minister this summer.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank God for my predecessor, Gerry Fisher and 
his service to us all. I carry a great respect and affection for Gerry and thank him for the 
ease of transition. I wish to also give thanks for the excellent privilege of serving with our 
Union staff and Union board under Sam Chaise’s capable leadership.

I have committed to write a weekly letter sharing our life together in the Baptist Union. It 
will appear every Wednesday with the exception of next week because several of us will 
be unavailable. The letter will include God’s stories in the lives of his people, news of 
past thanksgivings and word of things we are preparing for.

In this letter I would like to do three things. First, to tell you of some of the summer 
events I’ll be involved in. Secondly, to ask for your prayers. And thirdly, to invite you to 
begin to recollect some of God’s stories in your midst so that you can share them with 
others across the Union in the months to come.

I am working with the Calgary office group on July 4 and 5th and the Executive Staff 
(Area Ministers, Sam Breakey, Paul Pearce and John Prociuk; Jack Borchert of the 
Development Fund; Brian Stelck of Carey Hall; David Holten, our Director of 
Administration and Finance; and our Executive Assistant, Linda Kilburn). We will meet at 
the Carey Centre from July 6 to 7th. On July 9th I will fly to Manitoba for the 125th 
Anniversary of Shoal Lake Baptist Church to be followed on Monday by spending time 
with the Winnipeg Ministerial. That is a start for the summer. Could you pray for Ken 
Thiessen as he prepares to be the new Heartland Area Minister? Please pray for 
wisdom and perspective for me as I begin this new task.

I look forward to my time with so many of you in the Union. I also look forward to us 
meeting, praying, planning, and living out God’s call for us in Western Canada. As we 
remember that “nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ” may we also grow 
closer and stronger together in this same Christ who holds us together.

Warmly,

Jeremy Bell