Dennis Datta stood at the cutting edge of Baptist moral leadership in 2002, criticizing worldwide Baptists and calling them to support a bold plan to halve global poverty by 2015.
The Bangladeshi Baptist leader did so two years before the Baptist World Alliance passed a resolution supporting the Micah Challenge, a campaign to pressure governments to keep their pledges to fund the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. His advocacy came four years before the Baptist Center for Ethics’ pastoral letter supporting the Micah Challenge and six years before the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship pledged to support that initiative.
Writing in EthicsDaily.com about a world summit in South Africa to end poverty, Datta said: “Let me confess that over the last 27 years, I have been in touch with the Baptist World Alliance. We spent most of the time of the BWA General Council and BWA Congress in prayers, praise and fellowship. Our deliberation and discussion were almost exclusively limited to evangelism and church planting.”
Baptist World Aid “reports are full of relief and rehabilitation activities, but we hear very little about poverty reduction, eco-systems, bio-diversity and similar topics,” Datta wrote. “Our African brothers and sisters are combating AIDS, and African sisters are walking 3 kilometers each day to collect water.”
“How are we, as Baptists, planning to meet the challenges and suffering of our Baptists around the globe? What is the mission and vision of BWAid? I feel it is Kairos time (God’s appointed time) that BWA as a whole should arrange a global conference to meet the issues of 2015,” he wrote. “Jesus challenged the whole gospel to the whole world.”
Datta’s courageous spirit is one reason why he has been named the 2008 recipient of the Baptist World Alliance’s Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award.
BWA’s announcement noted Datta’s residency in a Muslim-majority country and his recognized advocacy for “Bangladesh independence, the restoration of democracy and the establishment of religious freedom in his country.”
Datta is a former president and general secretary of the Bangladesh Baptist Fellowship, a BWA participant for over 30 years and a member of the Freedom and Justice Commission.
BWA renamed its annual human rights award in 2006 in honor of its former general secretary and his wife.
The award is given “for significant and effective activities to secure, protect, restore or preserve human rights as they are stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or in other declarations on human rights from the United States.”
The 2007 recipients were Joao and Nora Matwawana, an Angolan couple, in recognition for their efforts at reconciliation and peace training. Their involvement included initiatives in Angola, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As former missionaries for Canadian Baptist Ministries, they are now retired in Canada. Their story is retold in a 2005 book, Wars Are Never Enough.
The 2006 recipient was Gustavo Parajon, a 70-year-old medical doctor and the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Managua, Nicaragua.
One of the BWA’s vice presidents for 2006-2010, Parajon told the Freedom and Justice Commission that while he was honored by the award that “it is the work of hundreds of people in Nicaragua.”
“Our country was torn apart, and asunder, by the revolution, by the war in the 1980s,” he said. “Churches in the conflicted areas were always very interested in bringing peace about.”
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and is attending the meeting in Prague.
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