Middle East representatives came from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, where one of the newest Baptist churches was planted last January. Reports say that not only is the national Evangelical Baptist Church in Baghdad growing, but a second church is planned and already people are meeting in house groups there.
One young leader from Iraq said the church continues with meetings on Sunday and youth and women?s activities. While there is some fear, it does not stop church activities. He expressed some optimism that things will turn around with God?s help in his country.
The church is growing slowly but surely in the Middle East.
During the meetings, Middle East leaders encouraged their people and all present to preach Jesus Christ. This was summarized by Ghassan Khalaf, president of the Evangelical Baptist Churches of Lebanon, who told the delegates, ?I am a Baptist preacher and I will speak about Jesus Christ,? Khalaf spoke of pluralism and bemoaned the fact that there is no more preaching of Christ because all religions are equal.
?Pluralism challenges us to change the preaching of Christ to allow him to become one prophet among other prophets,? he said. ?From Beirut I cry out and say, ?Preach Christ! Preach Christ as supreme and alone! Preach Christ as the Son of God! We should continue to preach Christ as Lord of all, a unique reflection of God?s glory and the unique reflection of God?s image. There is no better spirituality than God the Father who showed His love through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and we must continue to show that love to the world. Christ is the final authority. There is no other revelation to come.?
One important feature of the meeting was the visit by European Baptist leaders together with Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, to the President of the country, Emile Lahoud, who is a Maronite Christian, one of the requirements of Lebanon?s constitution. At the same day the group met with Rafic Hariri, the nation?s prime minister and a Sunni Muslim. Hariri was quoted to have said, ?It is a matter of belief that this country is for Christians and Muslims.? Both leaders supported freedom of religion and especially tolerance.
Lotz thanked the President for his support of religious freedom and praised the progress of the country after a 15-year civil war that killed thousands of Lebanese. The meeting with Lahoud ended in prayer.
The Prime Minister stressed the need for peace between Israel and Palestine as an opening for further peace throughout the Middle East region. ?We encouraged the Lebanese government in its great defense of religious freedom,? Lotz reported.
The delegation to the nation?s leaders included Billy Taranger, president of the EBF, General Secretary Tony Peck and former General Secretary Theo Angelov. The Lebanese delegation was led by Nabil Costa, Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, Ghassan Khalaf, president of the Convention of the Evangelical Baptist Churches of Lebanon, and Lebanese Baptist Vice President, Samuel Kharrat.
Representatives from many of the 35 countries from Europe and the Middle East were also present at the inauguration of the new learning center at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. Although evangelicals make up only one percent of the population, they have a big influence through education, through their schools and through the Seminary.
Lebanese Baptist leaders were thankful that their brothers and sisters in Christ came to support them at what they say is a very critical time in the Middle East, ?when the church is coming into a difficult situation and particularly with persecution.?
Meeting with heads of state. (L-R) Samuel Kharrat, Lebanese Convention Vice President; Nabil Costa, Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development; Billy Taranger, EBF president; Ghassan Khalaf, president of the Evangelical Baptist Churches of Lebanon; Prime Minister Hariri; Tony Peck, EBF general secretary; Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary; Theo Angelov, former EBF general secretary.