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Baptist World Alliance members convene in isles

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    Cindy Gaskins, middle, gives a lesson on making pancakes to her house guests from Myanmar, who are attending the Baptist World Alliance's Women's Leadership Conference. Marip Bawk Mai is at left, and Kyi Kyi Aung is on the right.

About 4,000 members of the Baptist World Alliance from 85 nations will converge this coming week at the Hawai’i Convention Center for the 20th Baptist World Congress.

The BWA Women’s Department will lead the way with a three-day Women’s Leadership Conference beginning tonight. The main congress will follow from Wednesday through Aug. 1, said Rick Lazor, chairman of the local organizing team.

"The congress will be one of the most colorful and ethnically diverse events ever held at the center. Song, dance and cultural expressions of worship from around the world will be featured," Lazor said. "Argentine reggae, rock from the Congo, Norwegian folk music and a 500-voice children’s choir from Korea are among them."

The Baptist World Alliance is a fellowship of 216 Baptist organizations with a membership of more than 37 million. The alliance, formed in London in 1905, consists of unions from Asian-Pacific countries, Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, North America and Latin America, according to

The Baptist World Congress is held once every five years.

"Another unique aspect of this gathering will be the effort made to use each afternoon to get attendees out of the building and into the streets to work alongside local Baptists to serve Oahu. They will be involved in homeless ministry, graffiti cleanup, feeding at local shelters and more," he said. The Institute of Human Services will be the beneficiary of most of the service projects.

Daily forums will focus on such issues as human trafficking, the ethics of tourism, faith and culture, Christian-Muslim relations, genetic engineering, persecution and cross-cultural mentoring of young leaders.

Cindy Gaskins, a local organizer for the women’s conference, said, "This has been a difficult time to have this event," with the unstable world economy and recent natural disasters. "People have sacrificed and planned far in advance to apply for visas and buy airline tickets to come to this gathering."

"Our family will host, first, two women from Myanmar and then later a pastor from Russia. We look forward to the rich conversation and insights we will gain," said Gaskins, whose husband, Emory, is pastor of the University Avenue Baptist Church.

About 800 have registered to attend the women’s event, which will hold forums on poverty and the abuse of women and children, she said. The Women’s Department represents 132 countries and 229 international Baptist women’s organizations, including the Woman’s Missionary Union of Hawaii.

"I am grateful for how women are encouraged, educated and given tools and resources to strengthen themselves," which in turn strengthens families and communities, said Gaskins, who has witnessed the BWA’s influence personally.

"I grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and watched my mother teach as well as learn with African women through literacy, nutrition, medical clinics and leadership development."

"My husband and I with our three children lived in Hong Kong for seven years, and part of my personal joy was working with women from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Africa, and China in literacy, early childhood development, health care and leadership development," added Gaskins.

David Coffey of Great Britain, president of the BWA since 2005, will open the congress with the keynote address Wednesday.

John V. Upton of Virginia will be inducted as the new BWA president during the congress.


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