A colorful procession of banners from Baptist World Alliance member nations streamed through the floor of the International Conference Center in Birmingham, England, as diverse delegates to the BWA Centenary Congress celebrated their unity in Christ.
More than 12,000 Baptists representing over 100 countries gathered there in what some called the Baptist Olympics. They were commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the largest fellowship of Baptists the Baptist World Alliance, which has members from 200-plus countries at the place of its founding: England.
Denton Lotz, the General Secretary of the BWA, noted that many things changed since 1905, but none more notable than the shift of Christianity from the North to the South.
"This is the new paradigm shift," Lotz said as he asked delegates from Africa, Asia and South America to stand. The Southern Hemisphere may lack money, political freedom or clout, he said, but "they are going to re-evangelize the world."
Lotz told delegates that when the BWA first began, 85 percent of the worlds Baptists were in Europe and North America. Now, 65 percent of Baptists are in the developing countries.
The shift was seen at the Congress as delegates in native dress weaved their way around the arena floor, heard as traditional music from Korea and India soared through the room, and experienced as diverse delegates inter-mingled with one another in the hall.
The incoming BWA President David Coffey of Great Britain juxtaposed this diverse unity with the terror situation in London just two hours away from Birmingham.
"We prayed that you would come, despite the bombings and the terror alerts," said incoming BWA President David Coffey of Great Britain. The delegates' presence, he said, was a witness of faith to the victims of terrorism and to persecuted Christians around the world.
The BWA Centenary Congress is one of the largest gathering ever of worldwide Baptists. The Congress, which began on July 27, ends on July 31, 2005.