Working with Refugees in Uganda

This week includes World Refugees Day.  The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida and CBF Global support the work of Karen Alford, a CBF missionary (field personnel) and member of Bayshore Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida.  Karen works with women’s health in Uganda, which includes refugees and others who are impoverished or displaced.  Here is her latest blog.

[Curated]

“Karen has Moved”

As an update for those who may not have heard: I am working in SW Uganda now as a programs advisor with an organization called Medical Teams International (MTI). My job has many facets and involves working with many programs. As I get to know and work with each one, I’ll be sharing stories and experiences about them all, but the first one I want to highlight is the obstetric fistula program.

The World Health Organization estimates up to 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia suffer from obstetric fistulas. Humanitarian groups who work with these women estimate that number to be far higher. Uganda is ranked third in the world for the highest number of fistula cases, with an estimated 140,000 to 200,000 women affected, and 1,900 new cases occurring annually. Obstetric fistulas are usually caused by difficult births. Many women in sub-Saharan Africa give birth in the bush or in their banana plantations – without a midwife or any other medical assistance. If there is prolonged pushing or if the baby is in the wrong position, tearing can occur and no one is present to stitch it up afterwards…[Read more on Karen’s Blog].

Report from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly

CBF Commissioning Service/Dallas 2015-Courtesy CBF

CBF Commissioning Service/Dallas 2015-Courtesy CBF

By Matt Sapp

Julie and I along with several other members of our congregation spent three days last week in Dallas for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) General Assembly. If you’re not sure what CBF is, Heritage was founded as a CBF church, meaning that we — and many other churches across the nation — pool our resources through CBF to support missions and ministry around the world.

The meeting, as always, was uplifting and hopeful, so I came away from the Assembly as I usually do, encouraged by the progress and energy of the Fellowship.  So let me share some of those good feelings with you.

Here are three observations from this year’s assembly that give me hope for our future together:

The Fellowship is moving forward.  We’ve upped our game in the last several years, and there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue.  A most noticeable difference is in our public image. For a few years our branding was clearly dated, and we fell behind the curve in our graphic design and live production capabilities.

This year at the General Assembly our live production work was flawless. The lighting and sound worked perfectly. Our video production (both live and recorded pieces) was top notch. In short, we looked like we knew what we were doing.

More importantly, the new color scheme and logo were showcased in fantastic ways, giving new energy and attractiveness to our printed materials, video segments, and online presence.

This might sound superficial, but image matters.  It matters a lot.  We live in a world that won’t look beyond our dated facade to hear our message.  If we believe we have a message worth sharing, what we look like and how we share that message matters.  A 2015 image is a REQUIREMENT to reach a 2015 audience, and the CBF nailed it this year.

Second, we’ve almost completely transitioned from our founding generation to a new generation of leadership. That in and of itself isn’t a good thing.  It’s just true.  Next year we’ll celebrate 25 years of CBF, and the Fellowship is going to miss the active, every day leadership of people who could say, “I was there from day one.”

We’ll miss their leadership for a number of reasons.  We’ll miss them for their courage, their conviction, and their moral clarity.  We’ll miss their personal history with theological controversy.  They understand the stakes of denominational leadership in ways that those who weren’t there never will.  And we’ll miss their integrity—integrity proved by the willingness to stand on principle even when the costs were high.

Our founding generation understands what’s required organizationally and spiritually to create something new on a national scale.  Think about it: They created seminaries, missions infrastructures, publishing houses and Sunday School literature, youth and children’s programs, state agencies and organizational partnerships.  And they did it all from scratch—or nearly scratch.

Even more, they led churches — big churches and small churches, urban churches and rural churches, progressive churches and conservative churches — to let go of past affiliations in favor of a new dream. Did I mention their courage?

But the good news is that there’s another generation behind them. Not an “up and coming” generation anymore, but a generation that is leading right now.  And there’s a third generation of leaders behind them!

The test of any dream is whether it can survive beyond the lives of those who birthed it.  The good news — the GREAT news — is that CBF will.  That’s not new news, but it is good news, and it was re-affirmed for me at this year’s meeting.

Finally, there are A LOT of creative people doing creative things to grow the Kingdom of God who are proud to be a part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.   That makes me proud to be a part of CBF, too.  As part of the Fellowship, we partner with creative and talented missionaries and church planters and chaplains; with leading theologians and ethicists and creative thinkers; with gifted artists and musicians; with inspiring preachers and teachers; and with dedicated deacons and choir directors and Sunday School teachers.

We partner with leaders who start new churches and renew old ones, with some who find new ways to proclaim the gospel in well-tilled soil, and others who blaze new trails to share Jesus with people who have never heard that name before.

Through CBF we support people who are dreaming new dreams, trying new things for Christ, and finding new ways to put their faith into action.  The collective newness of what they’re doing, the creativity they bring to their tasks, and the risk-taking involved in stepping into the unknown bring much needed energy to our fellowship.

As the world around us changes and as churches change, CBF Christians are finding more ways to use their talents for their churches and God’s kingdom — as writers, photographers, graphic designers, video producers and technology gurus — and as pastors, worship leaders, scholars and missionaries who are willing to re-imagine the church for the 21st century.

We are excited about much and proud to be a Fellowship church. We should never overlook the enormity of our accomplishments or the hope of our futures together.  There’s never been a better time to be a CBF church than now.

This article first appeared on the Heritage Baptist Fellowship blog.  Used with permission.

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has the power to engage God’s future with unfettered forgiveness

Last Friday in Tampa, tucked away in one of the small meeting rooms of the Marriott Waterside hotel, twenty Baptists gathered to worship with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.  This was one of the many breakout meetings of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, which attracted over 1600 registrants over a four-day period.

Our group shared a meal, sang hymns, and heard a devotional from the Reverend Julie Pennington-Russell of the First Baptist Church of Decatur, all of which revolved around the biblical principle of forgiveness.  Ours was a prayer of confession penned by John van de Laar: “Forgive us our wrongs, God, forgive us as we do not deserve; forgive us against the demands of justice; and forgive our obsession that justice be done to those who have wronged us.”

Forgiveness.  A word that, in my own faith formation last week, seemed to change the tone of the Cooperative Baptist General Assembly as a whole. In every Assembly I’ve attended, I get fired up about missions and ministry.  I become passionate about what God is doing all across the globe.  I am proud to be the type of Baptist that cherishes liberty and champions diversity amongst the leadership.

Forgiveness is an important life-lesson for our young people, many of whom will offer the Bread of Life to so many diverse people groups!

The topic of forgiveness did not diminish my fire, quench my passion, or squish my pride; rather, forgiveness reminded me of the interior space from which this zeal originates.  The liturgy brought me back home to myself, to the root of my faith.  It invoked a simple conviction from a Jesus who encourages us day after day to “forgive seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:22).

I once had a conversation with a friend in which we theorized how human history might be different if President George W. Bush forgave the terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.  It’s not that our nation could not forgive; in fact, with an annual military budget nearly twice the size of the budgets of the next two most powerful countries in the world combined, ours is a nation that can afford to forgive with incredible resolve.

Then it hit me.  After twenty wonderful years of ministry, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has matured to be an effective presence in the world.  Our partnerships and parishes have become meat-and-potato Baptists; we have outgrown the spiritual milk of our youth.  We have built up spiritual capital and garnered some serious ministerial and prophetic assets.  We stand on two feet, and we give powerful voice to an alternative, inclusive Baptist narrative that looks a lot different than that of our Southern Baptist counterparts.

And, despite a budget shortfall, we can afford to spend that spiritual capital with joy.  Consider, for instance, that our Fellowship has wrestled with its identity and future over the past few years.  Only organizations with enough spiritual capital can afford to wrestle like that.   This kind of struggle is something with which I am familiar–the little Baptist church I pastor has been discussing its own identity in recent years.  We do this because we know that God is not finished with us yet even though we have a small attendance; it communicates to the world that we can afford to move forward in the face of a high unemployment rate and a fragile socio-religious atmosphere.

If the Fellowship can afford to talk about identity, then it can afford to forgive.  After our breakfast, I asked several Fellowship Baptists if any CBF assemblies broached the subject of grief and forgiveness.  Since this year’s assembly was only the second one I’ve attended, I certainly did not want to jump to conclusions.  I explained that the CBF’s missions emphasis is ahead of its time, but our humorous barbs and jovial approach to Baptist life throughout the sermons and skits during the assembly appeared to point to an unresolved grief.

I cannot speak to previous assemblies no more than I have the authority or audacity to speak to grief in our fellowship.  As a person of mixed denominational upbringing, I did not experience the terminations, divorces, or odious conflicts that plagued Baptist life over the past three centuries.  Any good pastoral care practitioner would advise an outsider to avoid saying to this grieving family, “I know what your going through.”

Yet, I too make up a small patch in the larger quilt of Fellowship Baptist life despite my newbie status; and, assuming clergy positions will be plentiful in the near future, I have my whole ministry ahead of me.  Baptist life is where I intend to spend most, if not all, of that ministry.  It only makes sense to chart a future for me and so many ministers like me who want to walk mercy-paved bridges of grace and unbounded love, even if the other side of that bridge is hostile territory.

Using our spiritual capital as a Fellowship in order to forgive those who have hurt us and excommunicated us, then, seems reasonable and necessary if we want to build an identity that is proactive in charting this type of future.  To put it another way, if we want to be a Fellowship known for its unique ministry instead of its existence as a marginalized fringe community, then we need to cash in on the type of forgiveness and public confession that might shape a clear path of freedom from the shackles of conflicts of yesteryear.

My prayer for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is not that we Baptists will sing jolly hymns that help us forget our past and the struggles that so many brothers and sisters have fought in building this wonderful family.  My prayer is that we can include forgiveness in our spiritual repertoire and reflect the grief process in a way that envelopes our past in the very mercy and grace with which our Lord envelopes us.  How might we shape Baptist history differently if we were to forgive all those other Baptists who have attacked us, and to forgive boldly all in the name of Christ?