12,000 gather in England for the Baptist World Alliance Centenary Congress.

By July 29, 2005

England (MNN/AP) — More than 12,000 Baptists from around the world celebrated a century of unity this week, opening their five-day meeting in Birmingham, England, with vibrant music, vivid pageantry and stirring stories of faith.

The Baptist World Centenary Congress returned to England, where in 1905 the Baptist World Alliance, now an international fellowship of believers from 200-plus nations, was formed. 100 years ago, 85 percent of the world’s Baptists were in Europe and North America, says Denton Lotz, general secretary of BWA. Now 65 percent of Baptists are in the Two-Thirds World, Lotz told the delegates. “This is the new paradigm shift,” Lotz said as he asked delegates from Africa, Asia and South America to stand.

The Southern Hemisphere may lack money, political freedom or clout, he said, but “they are going to re-evangelize the world.”

The July 27-31 Baptist World Congress in Birmingham is one of the largest gatherings ever of worldwide Baptists. Delegates swept aside any concern about recent terrorist attacks in nearby London. As they made their way through the legendary English drizzle to the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham’s city center, many were unaware that several Birmingham residents were arrested earlier in the day as suspects in the London Underground subway bombings of July 7 and July 21.

Delegates were welcomed to England with letters from Prime Minister Tony Blair, who called the world’s 35 million Baptists a “powerful force for good,” a diverse community “ready to challenge the powers that be.” Other messages came from the mayor of Birmingham and the private secretary of the Queen of England.

The opening session of the congress, which is held once every five years, introduced the meeting’s theme, “Jesus Christ, Living Water,” which also denotes a five-year BWA emphasis on evangelism. With drama, video and preaching, the delegates considered the centrality and life-giving nature of Jesus. A youth drama troupe from Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, acted out the biblical story of Jesus with the woman at the well, then accompanied a recording of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” with choreography.

“As water is essential to life, so is salvation,” said Korean pastor Billy Kim, outgoing BWA president, who delivered the sermon for the session. In stories from Korean history and his own life, he told of the power of the gospel to transform lives. He noted that 30 percent of South Koreans are Christians today, in part because of the courageous commitment of an American determined to take the gospel to the island nation.

Kim, who recently retired as pastor of Suwon Central Baptist Church near Seoul, one of the largest Baptist churches in the world, was followed on the program by the Korean Children’s Choir and orchestra, in traditional costume, who performed a medley of familiar Western hymns in Korean and English.

Other musical groups from around the world sang in their native tongues as well as English, the predominant language for the congress.

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