By Paul Baxley
Across my years in ministry, I have experienced so many Easter Sundays in beautiful sanctuaries with large gathered congregations, our singing accompanied by majestic pipe organs and brass ensembles. Two years ago, like all of you, I experienced the power of the resurrection in my home with my immediate family, as the Risen Jesus met us in the earliest weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.
But two weeks ago, I was in a hotel meeting room in Sitges, Spain. I celebrated Christ’s resurrection with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Our singing was accompanied by violin, guitar and drums. We heard powerful testimonies of resurrection. Prayers were offered. Communion was shared.
I had the remarkable privilege of preaching. As I stood and faced those gathered, I was overwhelmed by the presence of so many remarkably gifted, deeply committed women and men. The longest serving of those present were commissioned in 1996, and the most recent in 2020. Almost all have served for more than a decade. Between them there are 384 years of faithful and beautiful ministry.
They are absolutely cultivating beloved community, bearing witness to Jesus and seeking transformational development in the midst of global poverty and global migration in partnership with the global church. They are sharing the Gospel, starting churches, teaching Bible study and making Scripture more widely available, offering pastoral care, providing medical care, encouraging physical health, fostering educational opportunities for children and adults too often left out of their national systems, encouraging economic development and entrepreneurship, helping refugees and immigrants find their way in strange and unfamiliar places. They are doing all this and more in collaboration with CBF congregations and churches across the globe.
We have said much about how challenging the past two years have been for us in the United States. But these field personnel with whom I celebrated Christ’s resurrection have served in settings that are even more isolated and indescribably difficult. They have experienced extensive lockdowns, political dysfunction, and war in their communities. Even as we gathered, our field personnel in Europe were coordinating relief for Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion. It has been less than two months since property of Village of Hope in Ukraine was destroyed. These months since early 2020 have been immensely challenging. They have served with even more commitment, sacrifice and risk.
The text two weeks ago was from John 20, and like the other Gospels, that text reminds us that the miracle of Easter took place “while it was still dark.” Not only was Jesus raised from the dead in the dark, but he also appeared to Mary Magdalene while she was weeping, searching and uncertain. He noticed her grief and even called her by name. In resurrecting love, he met her in the darkness and loved her through it. Then he sent her to tell the good news to the disciples who were still in the dark.
In our time together in Sitges, in worship and beyond, I believe the Risen Jesus met a community of ministers who have served in really challenging times and offered the gift of his love. I saw the Risen Jesus in the encouragement offered by field personnel to one another. Christ was at work in honest, challenging and hopeful conversations. I saw Christ’s love in their willingness to engage us in dreaming about an even more faithful future for CBF and our participation in Christ’s mission around the world. I learned much from them and came away with an even greater respect for their faith and their ministries.
In this remarkable gathering of our field personnel in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, I also saw with new power how they are offering witness to Easter faith while it is still dark. They are continuing to live the testimony of the Gospels. There is so much darkness and suffering caused by war, violence, political dysfunction, a pandemic and so much more. Across the world there is weeping. Yet, these sisters and brothers with whom I worshipped two weeks ago are sharing Christ’s love and participating in his resurrection while it is dark, following Jesus by asking: “why are you weeping?” and then offering a whole new life.
On this Sunday two weeks after Easter, that hotel in Sitges no longer houses CBF field personnel and a few of their colleagues from the United States. We have all returned to the places we serve and the ministries from which we came. And across our Fellowship we are gathered for worship. As we do so, I invite you to pray for our field personnel and their families by name and with regularity, not only those who serve in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, but also Asia and North America. Offer prayers of gratitude for their ministries and intercession that they will have all the gifts they need to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection in this challenging time. Pray that our Fellowship will further strengthen our resolve not only to sending field personnel, but to joining them in ministry and supporting their ministries and their families in much more compelling ways.
I encourage you to find new ways to engage with our field personnel, to offer support, to participate in their ministries, to know their stories and their ministries, because doing so will renew your faith and clarify your own sense of calling as congregations and disciples. We are called, after all, not only to partner with our field personnel to hold those weeping around the world in Christ’s love, but also to do the same in our communities.
Yes, these are dark, difficult, challenging and decisive days in our world and therefore for the Church. The Scriptures tell us that Easter begins in the dark. Christ is present among us inviting us to join him in the making of a new world. Will we join?
Paul Baxley is Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Learn more at http://www.CBF.net.