by Katie Cook for BPFNA
(Rome, Italy, February 9) — Close to 400 Baptists and others—including the larger Christian community and the Islamic faith—from more than 50 countries gathered at the Mondo Migliore conference center near Rome Monday for the 2009 Global Baptist Peace Conference. Many participants came from deeply troubled, war-torn regions. For many, simply making their way to the conference was a struggle.
The people have come together to share stories of their struggles to bring about peace, in their own communities and cultures and across the world.
Sharon Buttry, a minister from Michigan, said that, for her, the most beautiful aspect of the conference is the interaction between the people. “My theology is relational, and peacemaking for me is relational,” she said. “I had heard stories for years about many of these people, but I had only seen photos. They were two-dimensional to me. Coming here and meeting them is like seeing the statues around Rome and then seeing them suddenly come to life.”
The conference opened last night with a worship service conducted in Italian, Spanish, English and a Zimbabwean tribal language. The celebration of music ranged from traditional hymns, sung in various languages, to original, contemporary music written for the conference by Emanuele Aprile.
Rev. Anna Maffei, president of the Italian Baptist Union and a conference organizer, presented a plenary address, based on Matthew 18:14: “It is not the will of your Father in Heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”
Rev. Maffei spoke of the effects of violence on children in every country in the world. “There are 50 countries currently in armed conflict, but I do not think it is only 50 countries who have declared war on children,” she said. She spoke of those who plan conflicts and violence as those who look down from above and “play God,” instead of seeing the world from below as the victims do, and as Jesus chose to do.
“We need to stop playing God and become human beings again,” she said.
Lancelot Muteyo, a young Baptist from Zimbabwe, said his favorite part of the service came with an audio-visual presentation of children from around the world—child soldiers in Africa, street children, victims of bombings in the Middle East, and one child at whom a gun was pointed by another child.
“As I watched these pictures, I realized that I am not doing enough,” Muteyo said. “The future does not belong to us; it belongs to the children. And yet no one looks at the children. In my country there are so many children in the street, and no one cares about them.”
For Doug Donley, a Baptist minister from Minnesota, the music was what affected him most. “I felt awash in the diversity of the people, in the beauty of the music, and the ease of the inclusivity of the group,” he said.
This is the fifth international peace conference held among Baptists in the last 20 years. For the next five days the group will continue to worship together, attend a variety of workshops, and listen to the stories of others who struggle for peace and justice. Perhaps best of all, they will come to know each other individually, during breaks in hallways and during meals. Many peacemaking efforts now taking place around the world were born in conversations such as these.
Katie Cook is based in Waco, Texas, and is editor of BPFNA's journal, Baptist Peacemaker
. BPFNA is a sponsor of the Global Baptist Peace Conference