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The 50th Annual Meeting of the churches of the International Baptist Convention (IBC) convened historically at the International Baptist Church of Sofia, Bulgaria October 21-24, 2013. It was the first such gathering of this convention in Eastern Europe.
Just imagine! What began 50 years ago as a small association of churches in Germany became the European Baptist Convention and is now known around the world as the International Baptist Convention. It is a remarkable history.
Linda and I left Texas on Thursday morning and arrived in Sofia on Friday evening. We needed Saturday to rest so that we would be “in our right mind” on Sunday.
IBC Sofia Pastor Scott Chadwich graciously allowed me to speak during the Sunday morning services. I shared how God is using IBCM to benefit English-language international churches. Dr. Jimmy Martin, IBC General Secretary, preached.
Jimmy Martin continues to serve the churches most effectively. The churches face enormous challenges in today’s stressed economies. Geopolitical conflicts cause the integration of a wide array of mixed international cultures. Local nationals rarely welcome them. Change is perpetual in the churches. Only God could perform so well in such a setting. He often uses Jimmy and his wife, Laurie, as the glue to hold churches together, especially when a church is pastorless.
On Monday it was my privilege to introduce IBCM during the New Pastors and Wives Orientation meeting. They were pleased to hear that IBCM provides scholarships for Pastors and Wives of financially stressed churches to attend Interlaken and the Spring Training Retreat.
The Annual Meeting was officially kicked off by out-going IBC President, Scott Corwin, who serves as Pastor of IBC Berlin.
I brought greetings to IBC Sofia from founding Pastor James Duke and his wife, Audrey. James would have given his eye-teeth to have hosted the annual convention in his church. He and Audrey persevere remarkably well in Texas in spite of health issues.
I brought greetings to the convention from the Dukes, as well as from Elizabeth Merritt, Queen Emeritus of the IBC. Elizabeth and John Merritt virtually founded the IBC. John was the first General Secretary.
Former Pastor Ray and Charlene Smith were present. So were George and Dorothy Hayner, who have served in a multitude of capacities in behalf of IBC Sofia as well as other IBC churches over a period of many years. Dorothy has also served on IBCM’s Board of Directors.
Local Bulgarian pastor, Dr. Theo Angelov, brought an inspiring message about rebuilding walls in Eastern Europe, while he eluded to the story of Nehemiah, the great “wall-rebuilder.”
Dr. Angelov has a PhD in physics, but has given his life as a humble pastor in this former communist country. During his pastoral leadership, he has also served as the President of the Bulgarian Baptist Convention, as well as General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation. He is an incredibly gifted individual.
Theo Angelov and John Merritt were dear friends. After the collapse of communism in 1989, Theo and John inspired the effort to begin English language international church in Eastern Europe.
Tuesday (like Monday) was filled with many wonderful reports from IBC’s Ministry Teams, which are comprised of leaders from the churches. Pastor Ion Miron from Muldova preached on the sovereignty of God. He spoke of unwavering, godly servants, who endured great hardship for the cause of Christ. The prosperity gospel does not exist in Muldova. Pastor Miron’s church has over 1,500 members. Many more attend.
Newly elected IBC President Erik Nielson preached an outstanding expository sermon on “koinonia.” This gentle, spiritual giant serves as the Pastor of IBC Copenhagen, Denmark.
The highlight for me on Wednesday was a message from Jimmy Martin. Jimmy’s heart overflowed with great empathy and genuine support for the pastors and other church leaders. Our hearts continue to beat with our prayers for him and Laurie, whose daughters and sons-in-law have undergone difficult sufferings.
Dr. Bob Marsh, a perennial favorite, preached Wednesday evening. This former pastor of Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia is one of the most gifted preachers on the planet. He and his wife, Myra, are great encouragers.
Long-term missionaries to Bulgaria, Dr. Paul and Judy Ridgway, led the music throughout the convention. They specialize in a ministry to children who are handicapped and live in orphanages.
A unique historical event occurred when the convention elected Paul Dreessen, Pastor of IBC San Jose, Costa Rica to serve as IBC’s 2nd Vice President. Paul will be the first IBC Officer to live half-way around the world from the home office in Frankfurt, Germany.
Paul Dreessen has been influential, along with Dr. Thomas Hill, in starting new churches, strengthen existing churches, and creating the Fellowship of International Churches in Latin America (FICLA). IBCM is providing the primary resources to hold a meeting of FICLA in Lima, Peru in February 2014. The purpose of the meeting is to lay the ground-work for starting an international church in Lima.
The most significant issue, which was handled during the convention’s business meetings, was the legal status of the IBC in Germany. There have been many complications. With the collapse of communism in 1989, the withdrawal of 100s of 1,000s of American troops (and their dependents), and the subsequent creation of the European Union, it has only become more complicated. Without the partnership with the German Baptist Union (GBU), the IBC would have no legal status today. English-language churches would suffer greatly. It appears that these legal issues are being resolved. The brethren at the GBU are indeed our friends.
Severe financial strain is normal to many English-language international churches. This strain-pain is passed on to the IBC, which has found it necessary to shrink its budget once again. These circumstances not only reflect the economic conditions of emerging countries, they also reflect the continued decrease of the presence of Americans, and the continued increase of people from seemingly every nation under the sun. Large numbers are immigrants and refugees. The opportunity to reach the world for Christ has never been greater. The need for our financial support has never been more opportunistic..
Expatriates and former members of IBC churches can see how important their gifts, which are made through IBCM, are today. It is my desire to cast this vision because expatriates and former members of churches know the great value of English language mission work in the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission directly.
Indeed there are still some strong, healthy churches in the IBC. These include IBC Stuttgart, Faith Kaiserslautern, IBC Berlin, Ramstein Frontline Community,,IBC Saudi Arabia, and others, but these are the exception rather than the rule.
IBC Sofia hosted the convention graciously and sacrificially. Led by host Pastor Scott and Sandy Chadwick, the small congregation marched the extra mile in behalf of all.
On Thursday two buses transported conventioneers to visit Philippi in Macedonia. This is the very place where Paul and Barnabas witnessed to Lydia and her family. They were baptized in the river there. A slave girl was also saved there. So was the “Philippian Jailer” and his whole family. Our journey to Philippi was comparable to a one-day visit to the Holy Land.
In conclusion, our experiences in IBC Sofia, Bulgaria, the IBC convention, and the journey to Philippi enabled me and Linda to establish some stronger relationships with many leaders in IBC churches. It was a special joy to encourage them during conversations at breakfast, lunch and dinner. We appreciated their concerns and listened to some heart-breaking set-backs. We experienced coffee breaks together. We visited in the hall ways and on the bus. These missionaries are devoted supremely to their Lord and to the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission. It was an incredible privilege to be with them.
In Christ’s name,
Dr. Larry J. Jones, Executive Secretary
International Baptist Church Ministries
P. S. Hope to see you at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth on January 31st for the Annual International Reunion and on February 1st for the Annual IBCM Meeting.
I trust that you are a member of IBCM. Annual Membership is only $25.00. Lifelong Membership is available, too. Applications can be downloaded here on our web site. If you have any questions or concerns about IBCM, please feel free to contact me at 806-928-7205 or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.