Thursday, August 14, 2014

Baptists Without Borders

by Brian Kaylor

Standing before the immigration desk in a foreign nation - especially one where English is not the primary language - I always wait slightly nervously as an agent flips through my passport. I expect no problems (and have done nothing, of course, to warrant suspicion) but in that moment I recognize my freedom to enter lies in someone else’s hands.

Despite the slight uptick in my heartbeat, I always receive a stamp in my passport before being waved on to enter. As a privileged American, however, my concerns pale to the actual hardships many face as they attempt to cross borders for business, pleasure, or safety. Last month, a young man nodded to allow me to enter the Republic of Turkey for the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). Some Baptists from other countries - such as Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of the Congo - were not allowed to attend the gathering.

National borders sit as artificial human creations that can change on a whim. Yet these lines on a map can divide families, spell doom for displaced persons, or cause hardships for others. Those I am not necessarily opposed to national boundaries, I worry about the danger of allowing these arbitrary lines to shape the way I see the world. Do I see the world God put together or the one humans have cut up?

Many organizations work to cross national boundaries to work together and perform important work. Médecins Sans Frontières - also known as Doctors Without Borders - has served as one of the most important humanitarian medical groups since its founding in 1971. Often working in war-torn nations, this group of doctors serve all people and advocate for peace and justice. The group, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, made the news recently for their work in countries fighting the current Ebola outbreak.

I am a member of a similarly-named group: Reporters Sans Frontières (or Reporters Without Borders). This group supports journalists being harassed and attacked in various countries and advocates for greater press freedoms around the world. Many other groups also use the “without borders” designation, including Lawyers Without Borders, Teachers Without Borders, and Monks Without Borders (started by Buddhist monks in Japan).

EthicsDaily.com created a documentary on immigration issues called Gospel Without Borders that considers how U.S. churches should act. A fantastic film that explores the often-controversial topic with fairness and depth, the film reminds viewers that the Bible’s calling and teachings do not stop at our nation’s borders.

The BWA does not use the “without borders” tag in its name but the organization of global Baptists essentially functions as “Baptists Without Borders.” The BWA unites more than 230 Baptist bodies in 121 countries that represent 42 million members in more than 175,000 congregations. Churchnet, a member body, remains connected to the global Baptist family through the BWA. Gatherings, like the recent one in Turkey, bring Baptists from around the world together for worship, fellowship, missions, and ministry.

One of the resolutions passed during the BWA gathering in Turkey captures this message well. Addressing the conflict in Ukraine, the resolution affirmed Baptists in both Ukraine and Russia as they attempt to peacefully support each other even as the political leaders of the two nations remain in opposition. It also offered a prophetic reminder about the nature of the shared citizenship in the Kingdom.

“The General Council of the Baptist World Alliance,” the resolution explains, “believes that our allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord transcends all our national allegiances and aspirations, and that Christ, by his death on the Cross has ‘broken down the dividing walls of hostility’ (Ephesians 2:14), now and for all time to come.”

The church I gather with on Sunday is not the Church. Rather the full body of Christ crosses national boundaries and dividing walls. Thus, a Baptist from the U.S. worked with a Baptist from Central America to lead the writing of the BWA’s resolution passed in Turkey that deals with the issue of unaccompanied children refugees from Central America crossing the U.S. border.

My faith was enriched during the BWA gathering in Turkey as I heard from Baptists from Brazil, Iraq, Israel, Moldova, Poland, South Africa, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, and many other nations. We are better together because we are meant to be together.

I encourage you to check out the BWA’s website (www.bwanet.org) to learn more about the group and its work. I hope you will also read information about the BWA World Congress next July in Durban, South Africa. Start to make plans to join thousands of Baptists from around the world for the World Congress. Together we can transcend borders and declare the BWA slogan (borrowed from Paul) that we share “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” I am looking forward to the World Congress - that is, after those few minutes of waiting for my passport stamp as I try to cross yet another border.

You can contact Brian Kaylor, Churchnet’s Communications & Engagement Leader, at (888) 420-2426 ext. 704 or at bkaylor@churchnet.org.

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