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    CBF EST Presentation to North America Baptist Fellowship 2016

     

    PRESENTATION TO

    NORTH AMERICA BAPTIST FELLOWSHIP 

    THURSDAY, JANUARY 7, 2016

     

     

     

    INTRODUCTION

     

    I am grateful for the invitation extended to me to address you from a Caribbean perspective as you gather as leaders and members of the North American Baptist Fellowship. It is good when as Baptists from different cultural experiences we can gather in one place to have conversation and learn from each other as we focus on the Missio Dei. It would be remiss of me if I were not to express the greetings of our President, the Rev. Dr. William Thompson, executive and member bodies of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship as you meet for your conference. 

     

    When some persons hear about the Caribbean, they formulate a picture of a large mass of a single country somewhere beyond the Americas and the Gulf of Mexico. But the Caribbean is not as simple or straightforward as that. It is a region of the world that is made up of the Caribbean Sea and all of the Islands within it as well as those that border its coastlines. Some of the islands are independent countries while others are territories of other foreign countries. The Caribbean region can be found southeast of the North American continent and the Gulf of Mexico and north of the South American continent and east of Central America.

     

    This is a region that is diverse in its socio- religio – cultural realities. These diversities can be explained by European geo-political and economic expansion in the West that manifested itself in the inhumane extraction and enslavement of Africans and the related atrocities meted out to the indigenous inhabitants of the region. It all started when in 1492 Christopher Columbus made his first landing in the region in the Bahamas armed with the sword in one hand and the Bible in the next. This resulted in eleven years of Spanish dominance and colonization aided by the combined agencies of church and state. The British, French and Dutch who never accepted the Spanish declaration of dominance intervened in the colonizing and evangelizing process.

     

     It was the British; however who subsequently became the most dominant power in the region and as such had a greater impact on the culture and religion of the region. As a result of the expansionist ambition of the Europeans, the Caribbean region endured one of the longest periods of slavery and colonialism in modern history. However, the abolition of the slave trade and subsequent emancipation in 1838 unfortunately did not bring to an end the control of our people by out side forces. This gave rise to “neo-colonialism,” which is economic, social and political control by outside forces aided and abetted at times by inside privileged classes.  Despite the religio, socio cultural diversities of the region in terms of language, religion and custom, the Caribbean people share a common history of slavery, Colonialism and neo-colonialism. The features of the plantation culture, external political and economic control as well as missionary Christianity have left a devastating impacted on the Caribbean person in more ways than one.

     

    Baptists in the region are unyielding in their stance against passive dependency, a sense of inferiority and a negative self-regard, features of Caribbean realities bequeathed by colonial and imperial history.  The fact is the cultural vulnerability of the region makes it easier for the continuation of aspects of the negative impact of European imperialism. Outside forces from other centers of economic power and dominance have replaced the traditional colonial centers of dominance and control thus leading to the perpetuation aggressive domination.

     

    This background is painted to assist you to understand the complexities of the socio-religio – cultural realities of the region and to make the point that ministering in this context poses a challenge as there are so many issues that require serious ethical considerations. The Baptists in the region are known for their role in the liberation process of the Caribbean people. In some territories like Jamaica, the Baptists were not only instrumental in the abolition of slavery but also in the resettlement process of former slaves through education, provision of housing solutions and economic activities.

     

    Since 1970, the Baptists have been working together through the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship in mission and evangelism, relief and development, theological education and Christian education and stewardship. Given the historic experience of rugged and aggressive imposition, one will understand the insistence of Caribbean Baptists to define mission from the perspective of equality, reciprocity, mutual respect and cooperation.  Despite the fact external missionary centers imposed their understanding of God on the Afro Caribbean people; we should never overlook the fact that for faith to be authentic it must be rooted in the historic contextual realities of the people.

     

    As a region we celebrate the work and efforts of Caribbean church leaders such Ashley Smith, William Watty, Lewin Williams, Burchell Taylor and Neville Callam among others who advocated for the development of what is known today as Caribbean Theology - an offshoot of Liberation Theology. Caribbean Theology acknowledged the evil of Geo- Political Expansion and Evangelization, exposed missionary theology as a Theology of domination and gave visibility to the need for contextualization, indigenization and liberation for the affirmation of the Caribbean person. The Exodus story which is the paradigm for Liberation Theology presents  God as the one who identifies himself with the oppressed by working with them and engaging them in the process of their own liberation.

     

    It is this understanding of God that inspires Caribbean Baptists to embrace a liberating holistic understanding of mission.  Mission for us is not evangelism or Christian social action. Rather it is evangelism and Christian social action. This means that when the church carries out its social responsibility in terms of nutrition, health, housing, education, employment, rehabilitation and justice, it is done in the interest of people and as an integral part of their salvation experience and not for the purpose of control or manipulation.

     

    Once there is this shared understanding of mission, Caribbean Baptists are open to partner with others in bearing witness to the presence of God’s Kingdom.  The focus at this time in the region is empowerment through Christian and theological education. We are blessed as a region to be able to produce Sunday School Literature that is deemed contextually relevant and theologically sound for use in Baptist churches in the Caribbean. The problem though is that the literature is being produced in English for the most part. As you are aware, the Caribbean is a multi – lingual region given its unique history. Therefore, we need to cater not only for the English speaking Caribbean, but also the Spanish, French/Creole and Dutch speaking Caribbean. It is our objective to be able to produce Sunday school literature for the entire region irrespective of language. But we are aware of our limitations and therefore stand ready to partner with those who might sense a call to literature minister.

     

    A major concern for us at this time, particularly the Eastern Caribbean, is the absence of theological colleges/seminaries and as a result the lacking of trained pastoral leadership in some of the Baptist churches. In response the CBF has developed a special theological programme to be delivered online. This will be more of an in-service kind of training accessing modern technology. This programme is in its embryonic stage as we are faced with limited resources in terms of the technical skills needed to put the mechanism in place for the delivery of the programme. Accreditation of the programme is another concern. We intend to have dialogue with one of our Baptist seminaries to consider accrediting the programme for us, perhaps after it gets off the ground. While we have prominent and experienced theologians in the region, we stand ready to partner with anyone who feels a sense of call in this regard.

     

    One of the tragedies experienced by Caribbean people is the migration of historic documents. Therefore, the CBF has decided to establish a historic center to provide storage for historic documents and a place for research. Caribbean writers are being encouraged to donate copies of their work to the center. The establishment of such a center, we understand requires special expertise and physical layout. We admit that all the requisite expertise required for some of these initiatives do not reside in the Caribbean, and if they do, there is always room for complementarity.

     

    The Caribbean is a region that is prone to natural disasters. We know of the devastation caused by earthquake in Haiti and the numerous catastrophe experienced by territories resulting from tropical storms and hurricanes, the most recent being Dominica. We desire to establish networks with our Baptist sisters and brothers so that in these moments of crises we might be able to respond. Nothing beat a spirit of solidarity when people are hurting.

     

    God has placed us in our various locales for such a time as this. As Baptists in the world, we share a common heritage and faith. Let us unite as one people and work in partnership for the consolidation and or expansion of God’s mission. Diverse as we are, God wills unity so that our diversity may never at any time degenerate into division.

     

    Everton Jackson

    Executive Secretary/Treasurer


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