FALLS CHURCH, VA – Both good news and troublesome tensions were in the air as members of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Executive Committee gathered for their annual spring meeting in Falls Church March 6-9. In his annual report to the committee, General Secretary Neville Callam pointed to successful BWA initiatives during the year but expressed concern about the emergence of a new Baptist relief and development network called BReaD, created primarily by persons who have served on the Baptist World Aid (BWAid) committee of the BWA.
BReaD, an acronym for “Baptist Relief and Development” was envisioned as an alternative or supplement to BWAid as early as 2008, but did not take shape until January 2015, following discussions at a BWA conference on development in Izmir in 2014 and a meeting in England later that year.
BReaD is described on its website as “a network of Baptist agencies committed to collaboration, sharing of resources and contacts in order to ensure effective integral mission is achieved through adequately capacitated partners in vulnerable places.” Supporters say their network makes use of existing structures and agencies already in place, enabling them to work quickly and efficiently.
Both BReaD and BWAid have responded to natural disasters or humanitarian needs in the same locations, such as the country of Nepal, which was devastated by an earthquake in April of 2015. This led to confusion about who should be recognized as leading the Baptist response.
Concerns about how BWA and BWAid should relate to BReaD were raised during an Executive Committee meeting in Durban, South Africa last July, leading to the formation of a task force to study the matter. The task force has met several times, including conversations with leaders of BReaD.
Before the task force made its report, BWA treasurer Carolyn Fossen expressed concern that BReaD was drawing from the same donor pool as BWA and BWAid, “causing a tremendous financial impact to the BWA and BWAid.”
The task force cited BReaD leaders, who said that BReaD was born out of longstanding dissatisfaction with BWAid’s operation, believing that “BWAid represents a bad deal for donors, participating Baptist agencies and those affected by vulnerability.” BReaD leaders told the task force that they called for changes in BWAid’s approach for some time, to no avail. As a result, a number of member bodies stopped contributing through BWAid several years ago, they said, choosing other channels for relief work.
The task force asked BReaD to consider slowing down the development of its governance structures, but were told that was no longer desirable or possible. BReaD, in turn, asked for recognition by the BWA and for BWAid to work collaboratively within its broader network, primarily as an early responder disbursing grants less than $20,000, sharing information with BWA member bodies, sponsoring relief conferences, and providing training to local conventions or groups.
Both the emergence of BReaD and a potential makeover of BWAid represent a paradigm shift in the way Baptist relief and development aid is managed and distributed.
After a lengthy, emotional, and mostly charitable discussion, the Executive Committee voted that the Executive Committee should empower the task force to “continue conversations with BReaD leaders, granting the task force a broader brief to consider governance, how they will work together, and other matters that may enhance BWA.” President Paul Msiza, of South Africa, will be responsible for determining the ongoing makeup of the task force.
Clifford and other speakers expressed hope that the situation could yet be resolved and that a good result would be achieved going forward. “I claim the promise of Romans 8:28,” he said, believing that all things can work together for good. “This could be a healthy process for BWA,” he said.
On a happier note, the Executive Committee celebrated the successful BWA World Congress held last July in Durban, the first World Congress held on the African continent. The Congress was completed under budget, with income exceeding expenses by more than $100,000.
In other reports, Regina Claas of Germany, speaking for the awards committee, announced that the committee is re-examining the awards process, looking for creative ways to promote ministries that are awarded and to help them spread. The committee recommended that, since the study is ongoing, no Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award should be given when the BWA annual gathering is held in Vancouver this July.
A new evangelism award, financed by a $250,000 gift over five years from the Kowloon International Baptist Church in Hong Kong, will not be given until all of the funds are in place.
The human resources committee announced that General Secretary Callam has been granted a seven-week sabbatical later this spring. It also approved a proposal, made by Callam, to merge two staff positions due to budget restraints. The Missions, Evangelism, and Theological Reflection (METR) commission and the Freedom and Justice commission will have a single director. The Freedom and Justice position is currently vacant. Fausto Vasconceles, director of METR, will retire later this year.
The BWA had 21 full-time staff persons seven years ago, but now has 15.
The committee also announced, with regret, that Rothang Chhangte, who became BWAid director in 2012, had submitted a letter of resignation. Earlier, Chhangte had reported that BWAid had contributed to 69 relief projects during the year, with more than 25,000 persons receiving food assistance, and more than 9,000 assisted with projects in agriculture. BWAid provided help to14,253 refugees, she said, assisted more than 5,000 persons with healthcare, helped 41,674 persons gain access to clean water, and helped 10,844 persons gain access to education.
Following a report from the membership committee, the Grenada Baptist Association was approved as a new member body in the BWA. The committee also recommended membership for Faith Evangelical Churches of South Sudan, pending a letter of endorsement from the All Africa Baptist Fellowship.