For the past few days five of us from IBTS have been attending the annual EBF Council meeting, held this year in Bratislava, the capital city of our neighbours, Slovakia. We have been warmly welcomed by our Slovak sisters and brothers from the Baptist Union of Slovakia, and by our EBF president Oti Bunaciu, and our General Secretary Tony Peck. This is only the second time I’ve been to an EBF Council meeting. As the previous one was in Budapest I guess I must be working my way through capital cities beginning with B!
Just over halfway through the meeting I already have lots of wonderful experiences to think about and give thanks for. I thought it might be good to share some of them. We began with a welcome and worship service in the Palisady Baptist Church. For me, the experience of Christians coming together from so many places across Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, not to mention guests from North America, to give praise to our one God and Lord Jesus Christ was both very beautiful and inspiring. Tony Peck’s address was a powerful plea for celebrating unity in diversity, both within the European Baptist family and within the wider Christian community.
That call and the experience of unity in song and prayer have characterised the whole meeting. We have begun each day with worship and Bible meditations, using some of the Psalms. When we gather together as sisters and brothers to praise the Lord, we are in the fullest way the people of God, and to experience that across barriers of culture, language and history is a tremendous gift that can only raise the heart to give yet greater praise.
We have been privileged to welcome as a guest at the Council the General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, Dr Neville Callam. Dr Callam spoke of the importance of unity and diversity in the worldwide Baptist family. His talk was stimulating and a reminder of what we can do as one body, made up as the Apostle Paul reminds us, of many diverse parts. Only through diversity is unity possible.
A practical expression of this could be seen in the response to the powerful testimony of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Here both the diversity of the daily experiences of our life and the deep unity in Christ were strongly present. I am always amazed at the witness given by often numerically small Baptist communities in the Middle East. In a region where there is so much news of conflict, hate, death it is fantastic to hear stories of service and witness in deed and word, of Christians bringing peace, love and life.
Perhaps my overwhelming experience at the Council is one of joy, the joy of being together with fellow believers from so many countries, with so many differences, yet all united in their hunger to serve the Lord and to proclaim the gospel in their lives and words. It is something that we can never take for granted, but something to give thanks for and to rejoice in. For as the psalmist cries out and as we remembered in one of our meditations, “the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is within it”. I give thanks and praise for this, and that we at IBTS have been called to serve this family, united in its glorious and God-given unity.