Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A deputy governor, a house church, and Ephesus

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam met with Haluk Tuncso, the deputy governor of Izmir province, who confirmed the country’s commitment to peaceful co-existence among the different faiths.

We then took a trip to the ancient ruins of Ephesus, and stood in the massive theater that was the likely location for the events recorded in Acts 19:23-41.

On the way from Ephesus back to Izmir (Smyrna), we worshipped and had fellowship with a local house church. The new congregation, which began just a few months ago, has 17 regular worshippers.

The activities of our Turkey trip closed at the Baptist church in the evening, where I was privileged to lead the Bible study.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Press conference and meeting with Turkish pastors

Neville Callam spoke at a press conference Monday morning where the Association of Izmir, a group of persons from various faith traditions, announced plans for Turkey to intentionally become a heritage site for Christian pilgrims. The seven cities mentioned in Revelation chapters two and three are all in western Turkey where Izmir is biblical Smyrna.

Callam stated that “for Christians, this is a holy land, and being a heritage site would help Christians to connect with western Turkey.”

In mid afternoon, a meeting was held with the pastor of the Protestant Baptist Church in Izmir, and another pastor from the Black Sea region who travelled 700 kilometers, or more than 400 miles, to meet Callam. The hope is that they and their churches would be able to establish relationships with the wider Baptist family.

Both pastors minister in difficult circumstances where their lives have been threatened by radical Muslims.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Worshipping in Izmir

The Protestant Baptist Church in Izmir, Turkey, welcomed us – Neville Callam and I – at its worship service on the morning of Sunday, March 22.

In his sermon Callam declared, “We have a faith to live by and to die for,” and made reference to the example of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was martyred by the Romans for the Christian faith more than 1,900 years ago.

Izmir is the city of Smyrna mentioned in Revelation chapter two.

When Polycarp was ordered to recant his faith, he announced, before being burnt at the stake, “For 86 years I have served Christ, and he has done me no evil. How could I now curse my king who saved me?”

The Protestant Baptist Church started in 1999 and is one of only two recognized Protestant churches in the city of more than 2.5 million people, with five additional house churches.

After the worship service, we were taken on a tour to several historical sites of the city, including to Kadifekale, where it is believed Polycarp may have been martyred.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Arrived in Izmir

Neville Callam and I travelled to Izmir in Turkey on the afternoon of Saturday, March 21, after a hectic week in Jordan. The highlight of the week in Jordan was the official opening and dedication of the Baptism Center by the Jordan River. The Baptism Center is closely approximate to the place where it is believed John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

Asia Minor, mentioned in scripture, is roughly equivalent to modern western Turkey, where Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, Miletus, and other towns and cities mentioned in the Bible can be found. Izmir is biblical Smyrna, one of the seven cities referred to in Revelation chapters two and three.

The trip to Izmir is a pastoral visit with Baptists in Turkey.

Friday, March 20, 2009

More than 120 persons baptized in Jordan

More than 120 persons were baptized in the Jordan River on Friday, March 20, by pastors from the Jordan Baptist Convention.

The baptism was the culmination of an afternoon of celebration in which the Baptism Center at Bethany beyond Jordan was dedicated for use by Baptists and other evangelical Christians.

Baptist World Alliance (BWA) General Secretary Neville Callam, who gave the main address, said, “Today, as we assemble by the Jordan… we unite to mark the opening and dedication of this Baptism Center – a place where people from all parts of the world may assemble for a journey and an experience.”

The BWA leader expressed the hope that “the waters of the Jordan extinguish the crippling fires of hopelessness that burn in the hearts of those who have no knowledge of God.”

Also speaking at the dedication ceremony was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair, who established a faith foundation upon demitting office as British Prime Minister, commended King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein and Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammed for exhibiting courage in the inauguration of the Baptism Center. The Center joins buildings of other churches, including the Orthodox Church, which have recently been constructed on the official Baptism Site of Jesus Christ. Blair stated, “In dedicating this site, let us renew our faith in our God, our Lord, and in His message.”

BWA President David Coffey and Fawaz Ameish, Jordan Baptist Convention president and BWA vice president, expressed gratitude to King Abdullah and Prince Ghazi for facilitating the construction and dedication of the center.

The offer of a designated plot of land for the Baptism Center was made by King Abdullah in September 2007 during Coffey’s visit with the Jordan monarch. Prince Ghazi is the chairperson of the Board of Trustees for the baptismal site. The location is closely approximate to the site where it is believed John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

Coffey read greetings from former United States presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both Baptists, and from prominent Baptist pastor from the US, Rick Warren, and presented a gift on the behalf of the BWA to Prince Ghazi.

A plaque was unveiled to be placed on the building upon its completion. The plaque reads, “The Commission of the Site of the Baptism of Jesus Christ welcomes here visiting pilgrims from the member churches of the Baptist World Alliance.”

Also participating in the event were Imad Maayah, a Baptist and former Member of Parliament in Jordan, Toma Magda and Tony Peck, president and general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, and Nabeeh Abbassi, former president of the Jordan Baptist Convention and chief organizer of the dedication and opening.

An estimated 1,700 persons attended the dedication and opening ceremony.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Baptists and Muslim scholars meet in Jordan

A number of groups joined together for a midmorning meeting on Thursday in Amman, Jordan, to discuss common interests and to review plans surrounding the official opening and dedication of the Baptism Center in Bethany beyond Jordan.

The opening of the center takes place on Friday, March 20.

In addition to leaders of the BWA and European Baptist Federation, there were leaders from the Jordan Baptist Convention, Lebanese Baptist Society, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Oxford University in England, the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon, the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

The same group participated in an afternoon meeting at the offices of Islamica magazine to discuss the BWA response to the Muslim letter of October 13, 2007. Muslim participants were young Islamic journalists and scholars, including Sohail Nakhooda, Editor in Chief of Islamica.

Paul Fiddes, Professor at Oxford, and Chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Interchurch Cooperation, summarized the BWA response that led to a lively discussion among the Islamic journalists and scholars and the Baptist leaders and scholars.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Arrived in Jordan

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam and I arrived in Amman close to 8:30 p.m. Jordanian time, after more than 12 hours of flying from Washington, DC, with a stopover at Heathrow Airport in London.

Other BWA leaders in Amman are BWA President David Coffey, European Baptist Federation President Toma Magda, and General Secretary Tony Peck.

We are of course here in the Kingdom of Jordan to participate in the dedication of the Baptism Center in Bethany beyond Jordan, closely approximate to the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. The dedication takes place on Friday, March 20.

Callam and I were told on arrival that the Jordan Times reported that some 100 people who have committed their lives to Christ are to be baptized in the Jordan River as part of the dedication service. Several pastors are to share in the baptismal service.

It is the first time that Baptists in Jordan had received such prominent coverage in any of Jordan’s major media companies.

We detect a high level of excitement among Jordanian Baptists. The hope is that the dedication of the Baptism Center, and the presence of BWA leaders, will help in speeding the official recognition of Baptists in this Muslim-majority but mostly moderate country.