This story updates and replaces the earlier report posted Thursday morning as part of developing coverage of the 2005 Baptist World Congress this week in Birmingham, England.
"Every person needs the Living Water from our Lord Jesus Christ," said BWA president Billy Kim, recently retired pastor of the 15,000-member Central Baptist Church in Suwon, Korea.
David Coffey, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, will be nominated later in the Congress to succeed Kim for a five-year term as president of the 211-body fellowship, which represents 32 million baptized believers around the world.
"We prayed that you would come," Coffey said in a greeting to delegates. "We prayed that you would come in great numbers. We prayed that you would come in spite of the bombs and security alerts."
Saying that Congress planners determined to press forward and hold the meeting to show solidarity with victims of violence from around the world, Coffey said: "We believe the current climate provides a context for God to speak to us in a deeper way. We want to prove there is nothing that can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord."
Adding to anxiety stemming from the July 7 terrorist attacks in London and the arrest this week of suspects in Birmingham, 20 delegates from the Democratic Republic of Congo were evacuated after a freak tornado smashed a window at a church where they were staying on Wednesday.
One young child was taken to the hospital with a cut hand, and a walking mission-awareness tour group nearby narrowly missed the small but intense storm, with winds clocked at 130 miles per hour, according to a Baptist Times report by Alan O'Sullivan.
"We were driving through Sparkhill and there were cars turned over and refuse everywhere," said Lesley Hubball, a volunteer sent out to retrieve the group. "There were also ambulances, police and fire brigades. It was all very scary."
"We could see dark clouds in front of us and then saw stuff up in the sky but thought nothing of it," added Gareth Wheeler, who accompanied Hubball. "Then there were trees uprooted and houses with their roofs ripped off, utter devastation. It was all very unnerving."
The five-day Congress, held every five years since 1905, ends Sunday.
Friday's schedule includes morning Bible studies in various languages, focus groups and seminars, mission awareness tours and an evening celebration featuring Solomon Ishola, general secretary of the 1.5 million-member Nigerian Baptist Convention, the largest BWA member body outside of the United States, as keynote speaker.
In one of a series of pre-Congress meetings, BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz on Wednesday told the group's General Council that Baptists in North America more than made up for funding lost when the Southern Baptist Convention left the Baptist World Alliance last year.
Lotz told Baptist leaders that churches in North America gave more than $500,000 to the BWA last year. Three years ago the SBC contributed $425,000 to the BWA's annual budget. Southern Baptists reduced the allocation to $300,000 two years ago before defunding the global body altogether in 2004.
Based on the financial report, the General Council adopted a 2006 budget of $2.3 million, an increase of $320,000 (17 percent) over 2005.
In other meetings preceding the 2005 Baptist World Congressan estimated 750 women from 63 countries attending a Women's Leadership Conference July 23- 26 at Aston University.
"In Africa a woman is treated like a child, slave, or piece of property," said Dorothy Selebano of South Africa, the incoming president of the BWA Women's Department. "Our culture teaches that a woman may not ask questions. She must do as she is told."
Ksenija Magda of Croatia, a Ph.D. student at the London School of Theology, said the Bible has been misused to teach that women are inferior to men. Rather than viewing women's identity through the paradigm of the Fall, she encouraged women to read the Bible through a new paradigm, Redemption.
"When we read the Creation story though the paradigm of Redemption we must recognize the good of God's creation: Men and women are created as equals," Magda told the conference. "They belong together to fulfill the task of creation."
Bible study leader Amparo de Medina of Colombia said it is not the Bible's message that has marginalized women, but rather "the prejudiced reading of its message." She urged women to seek truth in Scripture beyond the lens of a culture that has been "influenced by sin."
Participants adopted a declaration affirming that as women they are "called to exercise our diverse gifts and ministries in full partnership with our brothers in Christ" and denouncing "false and oppressive visions of God, ourselves, our families, the church, the Bible, ministry and reality" that lead to exploitation, injustice, violence and oppression against women.
Selebano is the first president from Africa in the women's department's 50-year history. She succeeds Audrey Morikawa of Toronto, Canada.
Another pre-Congress meeting attended by 100 people from 22 countries focused on problems of oppression around the globe. Baptist minister Michael Taylor, former CEO of Christian Aid, told delegates at a Wednesday Freedom Conference that the West needs to be more proactive in dealing with conflict and corruption in the Third World, where the people do not have the resources to tackle them by themselves.
"The only potentially realistic way to get western governments to tackle these issues is to build the strongest, most proactive networks of activists around the world," Taylor said. "This will mean linking with other Christians and with people of other faiths, working together in different ways for the common good."
The next BWA Congress, scheduled in 2010, will be held in Hawaii.
With reporting by Esther Barnes of Link & Visitor, a bi-monthly magazine for Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec; Robert Dilday of the Religious Herald in Richmond, Va.; and Chris Hall of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
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