Thousands of Baptists from around the world have converged in Honolulu this week for the 20th Baptist World Congress.
Absent from the seats at the Hawai'i Convention Center, however, were some 1,000 persons who were denied visas to enter the United States.
"After showing all the required documents ... several of us were rejected today for no specific reason," wrote a Baptist World Alliance delegate from Sierra Leone, according to Associated Baptist Press.
Almost every five years since 1905, BWA delegates have gathered together to fellowship, learn of each other's contexts and mission progress, and unite in worship and Word.
But this year, the denial of visas and challenging economic times, among other things, have brought attendance down. The last BWA event in Birmingham, England, drew some 13,000 people. About 4,000 people from 105 countries are attending this year's congress.
Nevertheless, the global gathering has continued to provide Baptists an opportunity to celebrate the diverse cultures of fellow believers and the fact that there are Baptists all over the world. BWA has a membership of more than 37 million baptized believers and a community of 105 million.
The international organization is comprised of 216 Baptist conventions and this year three new bodies were added, including the Baptist Fellowship of Zambia, Baptist Churches in Vietnam, and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention.
Outgoing BWA president David Coffey expressed the need to "demonstrate the ongoing vitality of being a Baptist," according to the Texas Baptist Standard.
"The next generation may not want to inherit our institutional structures, but they want our vision," he said, as reported by the Texas publication.
Coffey opened up this year's gathering on Wednesday challenging Baptists to hear the Holy Spirit.
It is evident whether a believer or body heeds to the Holy Spirit, he noted.
"When the Holy Spirit is truly upon people, Jesus is leading his people and it shows. It produces healthy churches and fruitful mission," he said, according to the Texas Baptist Standard. "The greatest sign of the Holy Spirit on us is that God makes us part of his action plan for winning a lost world."
The 2010 Baptist World Congress is featuring smaller sessions focused on such topics as: how do Christians live in the competing claims of their culture, persecution in the 21st century, ministry to a church leader's family member who don't believe in Jesus, and what it means to be a Baptist today and the future of Baptist expressions.
BWA General Secretary Neville Callam announced earlier this week that the 2015 congress will be held in Durban, South Africa. Honolulu was selected as the Congress location for this year because of its proximity to the Asian mainland – where the church is among the fastest growing in the world – and for its excellent facilities, according to BWA.