Report on an EBF conference in Warsaw, 19-21 October 2023 by Joshua T. Searle
From 19 to 21 October, a theological consultation was held in Warsaw, organised around the theme of “Love, Truth and Unity.” This was a joint event of the Baptist Unions of Ukraine and Poland in cooperation with the European Baptist Federation (EBF). Senior representatives of the EBF were present, as well as delegates from various European countries, including Estonia, Great Britain, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, France, Poland and Ukraine.
The conference began on Thursday evening with two moving presentations by Valerie Duval-Poujol and Alan Donaldson. Valerie spoke about the power of the Psalms as a source of hope that reminds us of God’s faithfulness. Many Psalms echo the pain that we experience in this life. Yet even within the hardship, the Psalms express the unshakeable hope in the triumph of life over death and the ultimate victory of praise over adversity.
This theme of finding hope in adversity was continued by Alan Donaldson, who spoke first of the demonstration of unity expressed within the EBF family in response to the war in Ukraine. He reflected on how responding to these needs superseded theological, cultural and ethical differences. The challenge of his presentation centred on how we continue to demonstrate this level of unity with our Ukrainian Baptist family and also with our Russian Baptist family. The evening concluded in prayer and worship.
After a hearty breakfast the following morning, we were led through the Book of Lamentations and other Old Testament texts by Helen Paynter from Bristol Baptist College in a very insightful Bible study on coming to terms with pain and suffering.
Then Joshua Searle and Oleksandr Geychenko gave keynote talks on the war in Ukraine. The Englishman and the Ukrainian spoke about how the Russian invasion has caused Ukrainian Baptists to rethink their most basic theological convictions. While Searle criticised the traditional pacifist stance of many European Baptists, Geychenko spoke about how Ukrainians have been forced to redefine the meaning of reconciliation and church unity “in the shadow of Bucha.”
The conference continued after lunch with insightful presentations from speakers who addressed issues of justice, truth and integrity in times of war. Earlier in the evening, we also heard a poignant presentation by the President of the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary (Lviv), Yaroslav Pyzh, who spoke movingly but with great vision and clarity about how his seminary has responded to the Russian invasion by expanding its witness to the saving power of the gospel. Pyzh explained that the seminary had gone through a difficult process of strategic repositioning in response to the “disruptive reality” of the war. He outlined the extraordinary ways in which the seminary had managed to grow not only in terms of student enrolment, but also in its gospel impact on the whole of Ukrainian society.
The Friday ended with a very informative panel discussion, moderated by the Vice-President of the Ukrainian Baptist Union, Igor Bandura, on what reconciliation looks like in the context of war and how theology could contribute to the transition towards peaceful relations between bitter enemies.
The following day (Saturday) began with another insightful Bible study, followed by thoughtful and challenging presentations from two talented Ukrainian speakers, Eduard Sablon and Oksana Grytsiuta.
The conference was a lively and engaging event that enabled the exchange of ideas in the context of a highly intercultural encounter. It was a rewarding experience, organised with great competence by the EBF leadership and well hosted by our generous Polish hosts at the Baptist Seminary in Warsaw.
A personal highlight was the opportunity to meet so many Ukrainians in person or to see them again after many years. Despite the terrible hardship and deprivation they are experiencing due to the war, they remain determined to continue their gospel ministry, be it in church work, national leadership or leading seminaries.
Their courage and faith to see opportunities for the spread of the gospel even in the darkest of times was both a challenge and an encouragement to us conference participants who take it for granted that our meetings and classes will not be suddenly interrupted by air raid sirens.
The conference was further confirmation that the Baptist family across Europe needs to show unwavering solidarity with our Ukrainian friends in these dark and uncertain times. They deserve our help and support as they defend the gospel values of freedom and dignity.
Our Ukrainian friends face great challenges and we should do all we can to support them in their endeavours. This can be done in various ways, such as providing financial resources for humanitarian aid, or through prayer and moral support. However, as well as supporting them, we can also learn from them about what it means to witness to the gospel of Christ, even in the most adverse circumstances of war and scarcity. It is right and necessary that we as a European Baptist family show our solidarity with our Ukrainian friends and partners.
Joshua T. Searle
Professor of Missiology and Intercultural Theology
Theologische Hochschule Elstal
Photos by participants