Rome (NEV), December 19, 2022 – We interviewed rev. Elijah Brown, General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), who is in Italy these days.
His Italian journey: an opportunity for sharing and dialogue. What are the most significant stages of your visit?
It has been an honor to join the Baptist World Alliance delegation in the final meeting of a third phase of the Baptist-Catholic Dialogue. This phase has focused on the Dynamic of the Gospel and Witness of the Church in the World. In a time where secularism is on the rise in many places, together Baptists and Catholics affirm our commitment to Jesus Christ and the call of Scripture to live the Gospel humbly yet boldly. In addition to many hours in session around the theme of the dialogue, the meeting this year included time touring the refugee community of Sant’Egidio, visiting with Cardinal Koch at the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and a private audience with Pope Francis. Previous meetings of this third phase of the dialogue occurred in Waco, Texas, United States of America; Warsaw, Poland; and in online hybrids due to the pandemic.
As part of my travel to Italy, I am also grateful to join together with the Christian Evangelical Baptist Union of Italy, an important part of the 246 member body family of the BWA in 128 countries and territories. We are spending time together in prayerful conversation about ministry in Italy and around the world at the office of the UCEBI, sharing meals with pastors, and joining into a time of celebration as the oldest Baptist church in Rome is rededicated following a time of renovation.
What are, in your opinion, the most pressing challenges facing Baptist churches globally?
The first pressing challenge facing global Baptist churches is the continued call to live with faithful Gospel witness in the world today. Every Baptist is a missionary. With the birth of a baby girl in the Philippines several weeks ago, for the very first time the world surpassed 8 billion people. In the foreseeable future, it is anticipated that the world population will grow by another 1 billion people, particularly in Africa and in Southeast Asia. In God’s abundant love, each person is invited to enter into a personal relationship with the God in whose image each person is made. Baptists are called to share the Gospel.
The second pressing challenge is to live as the presence of Christ in the midst of hunger, displacement, war and persecution. We are to accompany those in pain and to live as active peacemakers in righteousness, peace, and joy. A military coup continues to burn entire communities in Myanmar where last week Pastor Samson, a former General Secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, was unjustly arrested and is being detained in a secret military prison. 26.5% of all BWA Baptists live in a context where they experience the most extreme forms of hunger, war, and persecution. Even as millions have been unjustly forced to flee their homes in Ukraine, 46 Baptist churches have been damaged or completely destroyed by Russian military forces. At the same time the broader Baptist family has helped more than 1 million people who have been displaced. Our concern is not for Baptists alone or even for Christians alone but for all who are in great suffering, oppression, or injustice. Among the many wounds in the world, Baptists are called to live the Gospel.
What is your prayer for the worldwide Baptist family, especially here in Italy?
May the Lord fill each church with the creativity of the Holy Spirit in sharing and living the Gospel in the strategic location of Italy with its impact strongly present across Europe, the Mediterranean, and through many humanitarian corridors. In the midst of many political and economic transitions, may the Lord bring just peace and stability. And may each person within Italy, regardless of how they arrived, find within the church the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
Can you tell us one of the Bible verses you are most attached to?
This Christmas season may the world know the prophetic announcement of the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:17 and that the hearts of adults would be turned to children. May there be many meaningful celebrations and families filled with love as parents and adults work to enhance the experiential joy of the children in their lives. Yet just as surely today, there are children who are forgotten and neglected, exploited and abused, or trapped in the wars fought by their parents. It is easy in our own weariness to emphasize our needs rather than continuously sacrificing for children who do not yet have voice. In the violence of today, let us live as humble Christmas proclaimers who turn our hearts with love for all the children of the world.
Since beginning as General Secretary, I have often meditated on Romans 14:17. The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, or as we might summarize today, the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we can consume or what can consume us. Rather, the Kingdom of God is a call for each person to live with (1) righteousness, that is a right relationship with God; (2) peace, that is a right relationship with others; and (3) joy, that is a transformed character that lives with abundant joyfulness in all our many circumstances. In the midst of the isolating loneliness, demanding pressures, and persistent injustices may the Holy Spirit flow through us as we actively seek to live with righteousness, peace, and joy.