One of the largest gatherings of international Baptist leaders ever held in Alabama occurred at Samford University in Birmingham in July.
More than 400 Baptist leaders representing 54 nations met in Birmingham for the Baptist World Alliance Annual Gathering, and another 150 from 12 more nations participated online.
With more than 600 participants from 66 nations, the 2022 event was the largest BWA annual gathering in history and marked the first time this meeting has been held in the U.S. in 37 years.
BWA is a network of 246 national Baptist bodies in 128 countries and territories representing more than 51 million baptized believers. Individual Alabama Baptists have participated in various ways through the years.
Bob Terry, editor emeritus of The Alabama Baptist, has supported and been involved in BWA for nearly 30 years. He currently serves as chair of BWA’s constitution and bylaws committee and as organizational parliamentarian and was chosen to chair the host committee for the event.
Terry, who wrapped up his work as Samford’s adviser to the president for faith networks at the end of July, incorporated his focus on the BWA gathering into his goal of increasing Samford’s standing among Baptists around the world.
Samford leaders exercised flexibility during the four-year journey from invitation to actual meeting, he said.
The pandemic brought continual changes, “but everyone cooperated and made the meeting a success for BWA and a success for Samford,” Terry noted. “I’m grateful former Samford President Andrew Westmoreland shared the vision of bringing the gathering to campus and appreciate President Beck Taylor supporting that vision.
“Now I look forward to seeing how Samford will be able to impact Baptists of the world going forward and how Baptists of the world will impact Samford.”
Birmingham Metro Baptist Association also joined in supporting and promoting the event.
Volunteers from Shades Crest Baptist Church in Hoover greeted registrants as they arrived at the airport.
Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Homewood provided a minibus and volunteer drivers to transport them from the airport to campus.
At the end of the week Dawson again provided drivers for the shuttle runs to the airport with assistance from Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills.
On the opening Sunday, 15 local congregations invited speakers from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Latin America and the Caribbean into their churches.
The next evening about 400 Birmingham-area Baptists joined BWA participants for a welcome celebration featuring Alabama Baptist Singing Men and Alabama Baptist Singing Women.
The Men of Distinction, a men’s chorus from Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, shared favorite Black gospel songs. Others provided southern gospel, bluegrass, classical, sacred harp singing and more.
Patricia Terry, a former international missionary and retired Samford professor, closed the service by leading the group in prayer in both English and Spanish.
“Racial Justice” was the meeting’s theme. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin spoke to the group about Birmingham’s story. Attention also focused on racial justice in South Africa and other places around the world.
Other topics were addressed by BWA leaders and Samford personnel, including Beeson Divinity School founding dean Timothy George.
Baptists also learned from one another.
Baptists from Ukraine reported how they are responding to the war raging in their country. It was BWA partners who sent relief supplies into Ukraine within hours of the war starting. And it was Baptists in Ukraine and Central Europe who responded by making 51,000 beds available each night for refugees and internally displaced persons.
Other reports shared about the suffering created by the military coup in Myanmar, the crisis in Nigeria produced by Muslim extremists and the growing threat to Christians and other minority religions in India from Hindu nationalism backed by the government of Prime Minister Modi.
Other parts of the week focused on planning together for missions and evangelism, learning from one another about theological education and discipleship development, as well as promoting Baptist unity through worship.