This time round my wife Delma and I are Australian delegates at the 20th Baptist World Congress, held every fifth year, this time, Honolulu, Hawaii. Five years ago it was in Birmingham (we were there too) and five years before that, Melbourne, and we were there for that one as well.
At the 2000 Melbourne Baptist World congress it was Delma's and my privilege to have led a very well attended seminar on Sports Ministry where we had a panel of Baptists who were sports chaplains to some of Australia's major professional sports.
Sadly, Birmingham or Hawaii's programs chose not to replicate such a seminar, perhaps it's because Aussies are so passionate about their sports, it was a case of the hand fitting the glove in Melbourne, 10 years back.
Tourism Ministry is a major issue in Delma's and my ministry. Behind Mining as number one, Tourism is the next biggest dollar spinner in Australia. Yet, neither Birmingham or Hawaii saw fit to include a workshop on the value of looking at how tourism might be an avenue for both evangelism and ministry.
What is desperately disappointing is that there is a focus group session at this Hawaii Baptist World Congress, titled, wait for it, "Immersion or tourism". Rather than seeing how tourism can be a mission field, it's seen as one of the great anti's of the Christian religion.
So there you have it! The 20th Baptist World Congress, by its own admission, according to the very detailed program and list of speakers, yes with 12,000 delegates from around the world, will be a hot bed of holy huddles.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for a seminar of Living Water, Serving the Present Age, Embracing and Releasing, Salt of the earth, A Balm in Gilead and the rest of it, but having witnessed a practical ministry subject as Sports, touching the heart beat of the communities in which we live, once again, my voice is one of crying in the wilderness.
No one has quite been able to convince Baptist world leaders who design these Congress' that down town suburban Bankstown (Sydney) or Altona (Melbourne) or Geebung (Brisbane), Elizabeth (Adelaide) or Osborne (Perth) – or for that matter any suburban centre in any major city in the world – are really not interested in 'A Balm in Gilead' ….. rather what interests them is sport and for small businesses, their back pocked, the tourism dollar.
So this provided an opportunity to seek answers from the Panel of four at the first press conference for the 20th Baptist World Congress. On the panel were the President of the Baptist World Alliance the Reverend David Coffey (UK), the General Secretary Neville Callam (Jamaica), Youth Department Emmett Dunn (Liberia) and the Hawaii Congress Chairperson Rick Lazor.
Neville Callam took the floor and acknowledged that he took the 2000 Melbourne Congress seriously and introduced sports ministry in Jamaica with Cricket. But the ball was dropped from a BWA perspective. As to Tourism, his reflections centered on first world visitors to the third world showing respect to the local culture and developing an ethics of tourism in that 3rd world workers get recompensed as in 'fair trade'. Callam acknowledged that Tourism Ministry in now on the future agenda of the BWA.
Having said all that, Honolulu has out done itself making the world's Baptists very welcome. Banners and flags are out in force, bus timetables are readily available and the Hawaiian Baptists on the registration and information desks at the Congress have out done themselves.
Delma and I are glad to be here…