Instead of lying on the beach or attending seminars in air-conditioned conference rooms, some of those attending the 20th annual Baptist World Congress here are volunteering their hands in community outreach.
"They want to interact and connect with local people and make a difference in the community," said coordinator John Vaughn, pastor of Kalihi Baptist Church.
Karen Hopkins, an accountant from a Baptist church in North Hampton, England, wanted to "see a bit how real people live, and do a little bit of help," she said while painting a stairwell at the Institute of Human Services this week.
"Like any big city, there’s a problem with the homeless. But I see they give a committed effort to look after and care for them. I was quite surprised that the government gives grants for the food and shelter," Hopkins said. About 70 people from the U.K. are here for the international convention, she added.
The Baptist World Alliance, representing 105 nations in the most recent tally, holds a "congress" every five years. Some 4,000 members have met at the Hawai’i Convention Center since the BWA Women’s Leadership Conference started the ball rolling last Saturday, said local organizer Rick Lazor. The congress ends tomorrow.
The volunteers have also painted sections of the IHS men’s and women’s shelters, and prepared and served food there. Other projects included putting together 10,000 rice-based meals for the Hawaii Foodbank and other agencies, eliminating graffiti around Ala Moana Beach Park, assembling hygiene kits for homeless people and setting up prayer tables in Waikiki and Ala Moana Beach Park, Vaughn said.
Reflecting on the Women’s Leadership Conference, held Aug. 24-26, local organizer Cindy Gaskins of the University Avenue Baptist Church said members were overwhelmed by testimonials and statistics on the pervasive abuse and poverty affecting women and children throughout the world.
"They’re going to go home and realize they may not be able to change anything on a major level, but that ‘I could be a safe place for women. I could offer a child a meal in my neighborhood. I could help a woman get an HIV test, or teach another woman how to read or learn a skill so she doesn’t have to sell her body.’
"We were so challenged to do one thing. … When we do that we can change communities."
"You can’t say, ‘I’m sorry you don’t have something to eat, but let me tell you about the gospel.’ It doesn’t work. When I give someone something to eat, people see God through me," she said.