Voices: My missiological journey with Baptist World Alliance

Igor Bandura and Dennis Wiles during the Baptist World Alliance 2022 annual gathering in Birmingham, Ala. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Wiles)

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Seated in the back of Reid Chapel at Samford University this past July, my mind was challenged and my soul stirred as I listened to an impassioned message from Elijah Brown, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.

He asked all of us to consider the risky actions of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea as they stepped forward to care for the body of our Lord after the crucifixion.

Personally, the setting for that message could not have been more appropriate. I was born and reared in Birmingham, Ala. So, I had returned to my hometown for this meeting.

My ministry calling has led me literally around the world, and I was surrounded in that room by Baptist leaders who represented 51 million members of the global Baptist family. I could not help but reflect upon how much that family has impacted me since I left Birmingham for seminary many years ago.

My introduction to BWA

I was introduced to the work of the BWA during my early years as a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In those days, the Southern Baptist Convention was still a part of the BWA family, and numerous professors encouraged seminary students to learn more about the meaningful BWA ministries across the world.

William Estep, my major professor for my Ph.D. work, was a strong advocate of the BWA, and he influenced me during those formative years in my missiological development.

At another crucial point in my missiological journey, while serving as pastor of First Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., I met Denton Lotz for the first time. He was then the general secretary of the BWA, and he became a true mentor for me in ministry.

Denton challenged me to deepen my understanding of what it means to be a global Christian, and he led me to a broader awareness of the work of the BWA. His influence in my life would bear more fruit when I moved to Texas to become the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Arlington in 2001.

Our church’s missiological journey

Fast forward to today. Our missiological journey at First Baptist in Arlington has been a beautiful testimony to one church’s desire to live into the calling of being a church with the world on our heart.

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Our church now operates four global centers across the world where we have sent our church members to live and serve cross-culturally. Our work in these centers has been enhanced by and deepened through our connections with the Baptist family through the BWA.

For example, one of our centers is in Slovenia, led by a family in our church. When the war in Ukraine began, we immediately responded to the need to assist refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Our church established an emergency relief fund, and we sent most of the offering directly to the BWA. We also sent an offering to the relief efforts led by Texas Baptist Men as they were assisting in caring for Ukrainian refugees.

Our team in Slovenia has joined in the relief efforts on the ground by assisting the ministry led by Hungarian Baptist Aid, a BWA ministry in Budapest. Our money and our people joined together through the BWA network to offer direct assistance to those fleeing the conflict and seeking refuge.

Our current general secretary, Elijah Brown, recorded a personal message of thanks for our church family that we shared in our morning worship services. Then, in an unexpected experience for me, I was able to connect with Igor Bandura, associate director of the Baptist Union of Ukraine, at the BWA meeting in Birmingham a few weeks ago. He shared with me his deep appreciation for our church’s investment in relief efforts in his country.

Needless to say, our church is deeply appreciative of the tangible and practical ways the BWA has provided for us to be invested directly in one of the worst human needs crises in the 21st century. And the work is all being done in the name of Jesus.

Better together

I also am grateful to report my missiological journey continues to be shaped by the influence of the BWA.

For the past few years, several pastors, educators and mission leaders from across the nation have been meeting together to seek God’s direction regarding the mobilization of like-minded Christians in a synergistic missional effort that will advance the kingdom of God further across our world.

This movement of God has been led by and facilitated by John Upton, former president of the BWA. John is a true global Christian. His connections forged through his years as the volunteer leader of the BWA have been invaluable as our vision and commitment has developed. John’s broad vision, practical missiology and seasoned perspective continue to shape this movement.

As the future unfolds before us, I will continue to lead our church to be engaged in missional efforts through the BWA. I have attended several BWA meetings through the years. I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with Baptist leaders from across the global Baptist family. I continue to be inspired by their ministry efforts in some of the most troubled places on our planet.

Because of my past experiences with the BWA, I was not surprised to hear of the many Baptists who have been standing at the ready in Romania, Hungary, Germany and throughout Europe to care for those in need due to this latest crisis. These kinds of Christians engaged in ministry make me proud to be a Baptist.

I’m honored to be in partnership with Elijah Brown and his team at the BWA. We are better together than we are on our own. In the days ahead, I continue to pray God will use this global Baptist family to be engaged in his grand plan of redemption for his world.

Dennis Wiles is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

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