“Heaven sends you” — the two-year theme of the Union of Evangelical Free Churches (Baptists) in Germany (BEFG) shaped the meetings of their Annual Conference end of May with 532 delegates and around 200 guests attending in Kassel and online.
Alan Donaldson, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation (EBF), was invited to preach at the opening service on Ascension Day. Asked by Christoph Stiba, BEFG General Secretary, at which occasion he had felt most clearly being sent by heaven, Donaldson told this story: “My grandfather always told me that I was heaven-sent. When I was just about 18 months old, I had learnt to climb up the stairs. At a holiday resort, I climbed up to the fourth floor. Unfortunately, there was a strut missing in the bannister, and I fell through. Because of sudden heavy rain, my grandfather just pushed the pram inside the building at the bottom of the staircase – and I fell four floors down, right into my pram! Of course, I do not remember the incident myself, but I surely know: this was a defining moment in my life.”
In his sermon on Philippians 2, Donaldson reflected on defining moments in the life of Jesus. He explained how the ascension was such a defining moment, as it throws light on the greatness of God, on the salvation of humankind and on the mission and calling of Christians: “Heaven sends you into this world this day.”
At the conference, an offering of nearly five thousand euros was collected for the ministries of EBF. Christoph Stiba expressed his gratitude for the togetherness in EBF: “Be it the support of the needy, church planting, questions of theology and education, children and youth ministry or the whole field of missional involvement – the networking and cooperation within EBF has been highly important for us for decades already. Together we are heaven-sent!”
What can Christians think, do, hope and pray in view of the war against Ukraine and the ravage and suffering caused by it? In a “talk at the kitchen table” four theologians spoke about their approaches and views on war and peace, and how these have developed and changed during their individual biographies. It became clear that while they agreed on peace as the common goal, they differed on the proper path to peace. The discussion led to a prayer for God’s mercy.
Ingeborg te Loo from IBTS Centre in Amsterdam spoke at the conference evening on “Developing vital churches”. From her 14 years of experience with “revitalization”, she told three stories of churches that had ventured into change and renewal. The BEFG Department of Mission has relaunched its “Project: Revitalization” to support and revitalise churches that have become weary and weak.
Nick Howard and Tim Faulkner, President and General Secretary of the International Baptist Convention (IBC), brought greetings to the delegates and guests. Several IBC churches are already members of the German Baptist Union, Converge International Fellowship Darmstadt was accepted into membership during the conference.
An international team led the conference evening on Thursday with an emphasis on the question “What does your heaven look like?” With a view from space to earth, astrophysicist Dr Efrain Gatuzz demonstrated how small our planet is, compared to the universe, but nonetheless how important every human being is to God. Agathe Dziuk, Coordinator for social ministries, sharpened the view of how locals and newcomers in our communities can be heaven-sent to each other. Mauricio da Silva Carvalho, the “kitchen pastor”, described how a piece of heaven on earth can be tasted when people come together for cooking, sharing food and fellowship. Roy Asabre from Hamburg blessed the conference with his songs.
The Annual Council deliberated and voted on several motions regarding climate justice, children’s rights and the new partnership between BEFG and the National Baptist Convention of Namibia (NBCN). “Heaven sends you” again was the topic for several Bible studies and the closing service on Sunday.
And of course, during the breaks, in the exhibition, the late-evening lounges and in Zoom-breakout sessions there was ample time and opportunity to meet and greet, talk and enjoy the fellowship.
Video greeting by Alan Donaldson for the BEFG newsletter „Bund aktuell“:
Article by Julia Grundmann, BEFG Public Relations Officer
Translated by Thomas Klammt, BEFG Coordinator for Integration and Training and member of the BWA Executive Committee
Photos by David Vogt