Last week I had the privilege of attending the European Baptist Federation Council meeting in Lviv, Ukraine. Though I have attended other EBF conferences this past year, this was my first time attending the council meeting– the annual meeting where delegates from many of the 52 member nations from all over Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia gather together as one.
For four days I was blessed to spend time with my Baptist siblings from Spain to Russia, and Norway to Lebanon. It is always a profound and beautiful experience to be a part of such gatherings; to see the diverse body of Christ together.
The theme of the council meeting this year was reconciliation in Christ– a powerful and sometimes tricky subject to broach with such a diverse group of people. But especially relevant, for as we met in Lviv on the western side of Ukraine, war rages in the east where Russia currently occupies two regions of Ukraine.
It was immensely powerful then to see Russian Baptists and Ukrainian Baptists stand shoulder to shoulder to worship and reflect and pray together. A bold act of reconciliation in Christ.
The whole council meeting was a miracle of reconciliation in its own way. Anyone who has ever picked up a history book would see that not only Russians and Ukrainians gathering together is a miracle. Having Poles, Germans, French, Israeli, Palestinian, British, Bosnian, Austrians and so many more all gathered peacefully is a miracle. All to proclaim a kingdom that transcends borders. Gathered to pray for and support brothers and sisters who share a holy citizenship. A beautiful miracle of reconciliation indeed.
Throughout our time together we discussed and reflected on where reconciliation was needed in Europe, in the world, and in the Church.
Paul Msize, the current President of the Baptist World Alliance, spoke on his experiences growing up in Apartheid South Africa. A story of reconciliation that is still unfolding.
He pointed out that Apartheid in South Africa was supported by a theology. That in South Africa churches propped up and encouraged racial discrimination and segregation. To this day churches all over the world prop up and encourage not only racial discrimination but other forms of discrimination and division. These theologies and practices of the church hinder the words of the Gospel and the work of God’s kingdom.
I confess, I sometimes don’t have hope for the Church. It worries me how often churches support bad theologies and are content with the silent suffering of the marginalized. I worry how much the church is getting in the way of the good news.
And I wonder if the scope of reconciliation needed in the world and in the Church is so much wider than we sometimes think.
That the work of reconciliation includes hearing the pain of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, displaced peoples, disabled people, and foreigners. Reconciliation work is expansive and difficult, but it is work that we are called to as peacemakers in God’s Kingdom.
Paul emphasized that our humanity is bound up in the humanity of others. What dehumanizes you, dehumanizes me.
This past weekend I was able to be a part of a conference in my church where we hosted Tony Campolo. He echoed Paul Msize’s words in my mind and furthered them, pointing that our actions towards others are indeed actions done unto Christ as we see from Jesus’ words in Matthew 25.
Yes, there is much work of reconciliation to do in our broken world. I am thankful for a God who forgives and teaches us to forgive as we march and stumble along on in this work of reconciliation.
We ended our time in Ukraine together with worship and prayer. I sat and listened as everyone prayed for one another. A low murmur of dozens of voices joining together in a sea of prayer.
I let myself get lost in the ebb and flow of their words.
Every so often I could hear a word rise above others, crests in the sea: Peace, grace, mercy, love, encouragement, blessings.
God’s spirit glided like a breeze above their sea of prayers.
It’s moments like these that give me great hope for the Church. Where I see Christ’s body taking bold actions towards peace and reconciliation in our world.
I am continually thankful to be present amongst European Baptists. To learn from them, to work with them, and to experience God amongst them.
May we all continue to listen well and fight for reconciliation.
If you would like to hear more about the reconciling work of the EBF, especially in Ukraine check out this article here. Pray for peace and safety in Ukraine.
As I hit publish, I am sitting in the Vienna Airport waiting to board my plane back in the States for a few weeks! I look forward to being home, spending time with family and friends, and seeing how God is working back in the US.
Grace and Peace