February 2010 Issue
Baptists' Global Ambassador
by J. Gerald Harris
With Southern Baptists no longer
being a part of the Baptist World Alliance, Bobby Welch, former
Southern Baptist Convention president and former pastor (for thirty-two
years) of First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Florida, has
helped the denomination write a new chapter in international relations.
Since March 15, 2007, Welch has been Southern Baptists' ambassador
of goodwill to Baptist and evangelical bodies around the world.
Southern Baptists voted overwhelmingly to break ties with the
Baptist World Alliance on July 15, 2004, at their annual meeting
held in Indianapolis.
Baptist Press reported, "The BWA is not a governing
body, but is a fellowship organization with headquarters in Falls
Church, Virginia. The BWA, which includes 211 member Baptist conventions/unions,
was formed in London, England, in 1905, in large part by Southern
Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson explained why
the Southern Baptist Convention should approve the recommendation
to withdraw from the BWA by stating, "We have noted with
sorrow in our hearts, a continual leftward drift in the BWA. We
have attempted ... through letters, statements of concern, and
appeals to the body to do something to right the direction of
the BWA. We have had no reception on the part of the BWA leadership."
The Washington Post reported that Southern Baptists withdrew
from the BWA due to "a drift toward liberalism that included
a growing tolerance of homosexuality, support for women in the
clergy, and 'anti-American' pronouncements."
Some felt that that the decision to withdraw from the BWA would
leave some kind of void or create an inappropriate isolationism.
However, in announcing Welch's new role in Baptist life, Morris
H. Chapman, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee,
stated, "Southern Baptists are opening a new chapter in international
relations [by] preparing to renew old friendships and by making
new friends around the world who are conservative evangelical
Christians. There is no thought of duplicating an organization
similar to the BWA. However, Southern Baptists are not and never
have been isolationists. We have a heart for the world, [and embrace]
both like-minded Christians with whom we enjoy fellowship and
the unsaved for whom Christ also died on the cross."
Welch's title is strategist for Global Evangelical Relations
(GER), and he has logged tens of thousands of miles as Southern
Baptists' ambassador to the nations. He recently circled the globe
visiting Baptist leaders in Vietnam, Latvia, and Germany. His
mission has taken him to over thirty countries and to every continent
except Antarctica. However, Welch plans to visit people on some
of the scientific bases in Antarctica the coldest, windiest,
southernmost continent on the globe.
He remarked, "I have been asked to be the strategist for
Global Evangelical Relations. I feel like I need to do
what I do globally or we need to call it something other than
global. I feel like we should go to the four corners of the earth
and build relationships."
Through GER, Southern Baptists are actually doing more to build
bridges with Baptists and evangelicals worldwide than ever before,
and doing it with less money.
Welch's recent stop in Vietnam, where he became a U.S. war
hero in the 1960s, took him to Ho Chi Minh City, where he delivered
the keynote address to 725 Vietnamese believers, former missionaries,
and government officials celebrating fifty years of Baptist work
From Vietnam, Welch's whirlwind trip around the world took
him to Riga, the capital city of Latvia, where he met Baptist
leaders including Peteris Sprogis, bishop of the Union of the
Baptist Churches in Latvia and director of the Baltic Pastors
Latvia is a country in the Baltic region of northern Europe.
It is bordered to the north by Estonia, to the south by Lithuania,
to the east by the Russian Federation, and to the southeast by
Belarus. Across the Baltic Sea to the west lies Sweden.
Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union (1940-41, 1945-1991)
and Germany (1941-1945), but regained its independence on August
21, 1991. Today, Latvia is a unitary parliamentary republic with
a population of 2,377,383.
Fourth Highest Suicide Rate
In 2007, the country reported 23,100 births and 16,300 abortions.
Only 3 percent of the people say they are "very happy";
the country has the fourth highest suicide rate in the world.
The primary religious groups are Roman Catholics, the Evangelical
Lutheran Church, and the Latvian Orthodox Church. Although about
60 percent of the total population claims some sort of church
affiliation only 3 percent are in church on any given Sunday.
The Latvian Baptist Union consists of only eighty-seven churches
and sixty pastors. One-third of the pastors will be retired in
five more years. Sprogis stated, "Most of the churches are
struggling, and two-thirds of the pastors are bi-vocational. Furthermore,
the churches are required to register with the federal government
and do not have the advantage of being tax exempt."
When asked how the current condition is better than life under
Communist control, Sprogis commented, "We are in the wilderness,
but at least we are no longer in Egypt.
"In fact," Sprogis added, "for the most part,
Baptists are viewed with favor in the nation and have a good reputation
among the people."
His observation was verified the next day when he participated,
along with other religious leaders, in the nation's "Freedom
Celebration" at the famed Riga Dome Cathedral. The cathedral,
built near the Daugava River in 1211, is considered to be the
largest medieval church in the Baltic States. The nation's most
prestigious leaders, including the president and prime minister,
attended the "Freedom Celebration."
After serving as a pastor for ten years, God gave Sprogis a
vision to connect the Baptist churches in Latvia, start an additional
one hundred churches, and provide the pastors with an opportunity
for a theological education. Sprogis has launched the Baltic Pastoral
Institute to equip pastors for an effective ministry.
Sprogis was the facilitator of the meeting with Welch and had
assembled the most notable Baptist preachers in the nation to
meet the SBC ambassador of goodwill.
Nothing More Than an Adapter
Aspiring to encourage the room full of Christian leaders who
had gathered to meet him, Welch stated, "When I travel to
the different countries of the world, one of the first things
I do is look for the power lines that provide electricity. I like
electricity. I like electric fans, electric razors, and air conditioners.
I like to be able to use my laptop. When you have electricity,
good things happen. If you don't have electricity, you can be
"However, in most countries you need an adapter in order
to effectively use the electricity. An adapter is fairly useless.
It only does one thing. It connects. It connects the electrical
power with appliances and all the electrical gadgets that make
life easy and comfortable.
"I am nothing more than an adapter. I don't buy, sell,
or give anything away. I don't really have a hidden agenda. I
just want to connect Southern Baptists with evangelicals around
the world. I want to go with you on a journey. I want to help
Southern Baptists take bold, innovative, creative steps to connect
with the world. I want to draw Southern Baptists closer to the
"I dream of a day when we can sit down and talk about
how we can win this world to Jesus Christ. We want everyone in
this world to have an opportunity to say 'yes' to Jesus Christ.
In fact, I refuse to die until everyone on this planet has the
opportunity to say 'yes' to Jesus Christ; and you can look at
me and tell that won't be long."
By the time Welch and his entourage had departed Latvia, he
had endeared himself and Southern Baptists to the bishop of the
Latvia Baptist Union and his colleagues in ministry. The door
is open for an effective ministry in this country formerly identified
with The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Perhaps there are churches or associations that will want to
partner with the Latvia Baptist Union or one of the churches in
this historic Baltic State. The door is open and the need is great.
From his visit to Latvia, where Welch initiated a connection
with Baptist leaders, he turned his face toward Germany to continue
to develop a connection with German Baptists, which he had already
As Welch arrived at his hotel in Heubach near Stuttgart, he
breathed a sigh of relief and acknowledged that it was quite satisfactory
and very unlike some of the places he had visited.
Welch recalled, "I had accommodations in one country where
the building was old, the room was tiny, there were constant power
outages, and bugs had come up out of the ground and built a mound
of dirt in the bathroom.
"But I am happy to embrace whatever I get. My rule is
that I will never complain. If it gets worse than what Jesus and
Paul experienced, I might complain then."
Not Alone in the World
Heinrich Derksen, the president of the Bibelseminar (Bible
Seminary) in Bonn, and Nils Dollinger, host pastor of Heubach
Baptist Church, facilitated a splendid banquet to welcome Welch
to Germany. In acknowledging Welch's ministry, Derksen remarked,
"It was a good day when we found out that we were not alone
in the world."
The German Baptist leader added, "We were happy when Southern
Baptists got out of the Baptist World Alliance. It convinced me
that the Southern Baptist Convention was conservative."
The Southern Baptist connection with German Baptists is strong
and flourishing. The seminary in Bonn has a working relationship
with Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Derkson and a
representative group from Germany attended the SBC annual session
this year in Louisville, Kentucky. Furthermore, the relationship
that has been developed with German Baptists is being replicated
in dozens of other countries.
Welch explains, "The Convention is too big and the world
too small for us not to be doing what we are doing. We must nurture
and cultivate relationships. Every year, thousands of our Southern
Baptist people go around the world. We need to have relationships
with Baptist and evangelical groups across the globe for their
sakes. We must have more of a presence in this world. We win the
right to say something at the meeting if we have a presence there.
"I look forward to the day when we have people from 193
countries sitting down to discuss what we can do together to advance
the cause of Christ."
Within eight days Welch had traveled thirty thousand miles
as Southern Baptists' "adapter" connecting believers,
bridging gaps, building relationships, and serving as our denomination's
J. Gerald Harris is a member of Ephesus Baptist Church in Villa
Rica, Georgia, and is editor of The Christian Index, the state
paper for the Georgia Baptist Convention.
Welch Visits Vietnam, Thankful for Wounds
by Tess Rivers
"For forty-three years, there hasn't been a day in my
life that I haven't thought about Vietnam," Bobby Welch told
a crowd of nearly 725 Vietnamese believers, former missionaries,
and government officials celebrating fifty years of Baptist work
Welch, strategist for Global Evangelical Relations for the
Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, attended the
November 15 celebration at Grace Baptist Church in Ho Chi Minh
City and delivered the keynote address during the worship service.
Speaking on the theme, "Walking with Christ: Yesterday,
Today, and Tomorrow," Welch recalled his visit to Vietnam
in 2005 when he was president of the SBC. He also touched on the
time he spent in Vietnam in the 1960s as a soldier in the U.S.
Welch recounted his story of being shot at point-blank range
on a jungle trail by a Viet Cong soldier. Thinking he would surely
die, Welch prayed a simple prayer and miraculously survived his
life-threatening injuries. That experience led him to recommit
his life to Christ and embark on a life of service to God.
"I have often told my wife that if I could find that soldier
who shot me, I would bring him to my house, give him the best
room, feed him the best meal, and embrace him like a brother because
of how God used him to change my life," Welch told the crowd.
Welch applauded steps by the government of Vietnam to provide
more religious freedom. In January 2008, the government officially
recognized the Vietnam Baptist Convention and its work across
"I was in Vietnam yesterday," said Welch of his visits
to the country. "I am here walking with you in Christ today,
and if you will allow us, we will be here walking with you tomorrow."
Reported by the Baptist Press international
© 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee
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