From a spark to a flame: BMS at the Baptist Assembly 2019

From a spark to a flame:

BMS at the Baptist Assembly 2019

BMS World Mission’s trailblazing sessions looked to the future with clear-sighted vigour for God’s ongoing mission.

“Land for the dispossessed, Rights for the weak, Voices to plead the cause, Of those who can’t speak,” sang legendary songwriter Graham Kendrick, along with the crowds in attendance at the BMS sessions during the Baptist Assembly in Telford. Kendrick’s classic worship anthem, equal parts prayer and song, brought a timely and important message, sung during a moment of reflection after footage from the South Sudan refugee crisis had been beamed onto huge on-stage screens. BMS launched South Sudan’s Conflict Survivors at the Assembly – a video fundraising appeal for 2019. As a kind of audiovisual invitation, the video appeal asks BMS supporters to step into refugee camps and stand with survivors of a brutal civil war which has torn apart the world’s newest and most fragile of states.

A crowd of people worshipping.
Kendrick’s songs set a tone of joy and Christ-centered unity at this year’s Baptist Assembly.

BMS speakers Steve Sanderson and Rachel Conway-Doel shared with those gathered the precarious and largely ignored situation in South Sudan, in conversation with Gareth Wilde of BMS partner organisation Hope Health Action. Kendrick called the crowds to prayer for the dispossessed of the South Sudan crisis and the world, but most of all, for God to move hearts. “Come, change our love from a spark to a flame,” was a prayer many saw answered at this year’s Baptist Assembly.

A man stands with a guitar and his arms outstretched.
Graham Kendrick leads BMS supporters in prayer for survivors of the conflict in South Sudan.
A woman's face on a screen.
The crowds prayed in response to powerful footage from BMS’ South Sudan’s Conflict Survivors resource

The sense of unity as voices joined in song set the theme for a day where the desire to see God’s kingdom come joins Baptists from churches, colleges and the Baptist Union of Great Britain in common cause. And it wasn’t long before those presenting from the front gladly stepped aside to invite other vital voices to take centre-stage.

The ‘BMS Café’ and later ‘Tell us what you think’ sessions were a chance for BMS to hear from our most valued contributors: our supporters. You fed back on issues from BMS’ past to our future: and in your collective opinion, it looks bright. Every answer will be carefully evaluated as BMS creates its new strategy for 2020 and beyond. Thank you so much for your contributions: you are the firm foundation on which BMS can build and grow.

A panel of people sit on a stage in front of large screens.
Interactive touchpads were handed out at the ‘Tell us what you think’ sessions, for live feedback from BMS supporters and a panel discussion on the key issues facing BMS.
A man and a woman stand and smile at another woman.
BMS representatives Jo and Kwame also valued conversations with many visitors to the BMS stand.

Combining humour, deft wordplay and irresistible silliness, kings of comedy Harry and Chris also took suggestions from the audience during their entertaining session. The resulting words (BMS, Brexit and cake among them) were instantly combined into a whip-smart song performed live. The performance was a way for BMS to show its supporters some love by booking this highly sought-after duo for an exclusive appearance. Harry and Chris’ stunt came straight after our ‘Tell us what you think’ session, where BMS responded live to views from the floor. So as well as being a huge dose of fun, their trick mirrored BMS’ supporter-focused, adaptable outlook.

Two men stand in front of microphones with a guitar.
Harry and Chris use humour to subtly weave Christian thinking into songs as eclectic and hilarious as an anthem on Brexit and a song about pandas.

But the Assembly wasn’t all about BMS. The two-day format was a hit with delegates, and with the space for networking and amazing programme of content also on offer from Baptists Together, the Assembly in Telford was a chance for the Baptist family to meet, worship and dream together. And to be inspired.

And inspiration came especially in the form of Abigail Francis. This 15-year-old gives Greta Thunberg a run for her money – being as eloquent, incisive and clever – and a whole year younger to boot. She delighted crowds with her five-minute tour-de-force on the Bible’s relevance for her generation. Looking towards BMS’ future, Abigail was perhaps the stand-out image lingering in the minds of many as they returned home after a jam-packed weekend. A young Indian girl in a bright red top, brimming with optimism, eyes shining as she spoke about God’s Word. BMS supporters agreed that our future looked bright. With members of the Global Church like Abigail rising up as our next generation of leaders, it’s easy to agree that it does.

Abigail Francis spoke on the theme of God’s word describing life as we know it, making it both irrefutable and searingly relevant.

What did you enjoy most about the Baptist Assembly 2019?
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Words by Hannah Watson, Editor of Engage.

You can help end modern slavery in the UK

You can help end modern slavery in the UK

Thousands of people are enslaved in our country. By learning to spot the signs, you can help to set them free.

You’ve probably met someone trapped in slavery. They might have washed your car, paved your driveway, or painted your nails. You might have passed them begging on the street, or avoided their gaze as you drove by them late at night. They couldn’t tell you they were being exploited and you would never have thought to ask. But they were there, and so were you.

The National Crime Agency previously estimated that there were 13,000 people being kept in modern slavery in the UK. It now says that number is the tip of the iceberg. Modern slavery and human trafficking are so widespread, ordinary people like you and I could unknowingly be crossing paths with victims every day.

Modern slavery is endemic in the UK. Those words should be shocking. Horrifying even. And they’re true. In our cities, towns and villages, vulnerable people are being exploited for the financial gain of others. They’re being forced to live in inhumane conditions and work extreme hours for little or no pay. They’re too afraid to speak to the police. And the rest of us don’t even know what to look for.

We sat down with former BMS World Mission worker Dan Pratt, who is tackling modern slavery in the UK head-on:

There’s so much we can do as churches and community centres

Christians should hate slavery – Jesus declared his mandate “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and… to set the oppressed free” in Luke 4: 18, and he calls us to do the same. By supporting BMS, you’re already helping in the fight against modern day slavery in the UK and overseas. And the good news is, you can do even more.

Richard* is 56. He’s been homeless for 40 years. He lives on the streets of Southend and a few years ago he was picked up by a travelling family who offered him work. “I was walking down the street and a 4×4 pulled up and they said, ‘do you want a bit of work?’ So I went with them,” Richard says.

That’s how easy it is for someone to inadvertently walk into slavery. People are desperate. They’ll say yes to a job.

Thankfully, Richard’s exploitation only lasted for a few weeks, but other homeless men in Southend have spent years doing forced labour. “They were given accommodation, and spent 16 or 18 hours tarmacking people’s driveways,” says Rev Dan Pratt, minister at 57 West, a church and community centre in Southend. “Often if they weren’t paid then they would want to leave, but through physical abuse, mental abuse, or even threats to their families, they didn’t feel able to.

“Some of the people we’ve met worked for those families for 12, 15 or even 20 years.”

Dan, a former BMS mission worker, has come alongside many people who have escaped slavery in Southend. His passion to set the prisoners free developed when he was working with BMS in South Africa. Now, we’re helping to support his work in the UK. In partnership with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Eastern Baptist Association, BMS is helping to fund Dan as he heads up Together Free, a network aiming to raise awareness of modern slavery and to help churches across the country fight it. That means, as a BMS supporter, you’re helping to fight slavery in the UK. And in order to fight it more effectively, all of us need to understand what modern slavery is.

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We read reports of children carrying hard drugs, and of pop-up brothels – where trafficked women are made to work with little or no pay. People have been kept in slavery at car washes, construction sites, and in people’s homes. It’s happening everywhere.

Since attending a workshop run by Dan and Together Free, Baptist minister Emma Hunnable has been spurred to act against modern slavery. She’s started speaking with her local council and police officers to find ways the church and community can work together.

People who are being kept in slavery have a fundamental right to life in fullness

“If it’s happening in Southend, then it must be happening everywhere,” says Emma. “It’s happening right
on our doorsteps. And as churches, we need to know. We need to be contacting our local councillors and MPs and asking ‘what is going to be the policy on this? What are we going to do about it?’”

Uncovering modern slavery is like trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle. No-one has all the information. But vulnerable people who are being exploited need to be helped and, while they are unlikely to talk to the police, they might speak to you. The traffickers and slave masters are smart, that’s why they can enslave so many people, and so we need to be smart too.

“There’s so much we can do as churches and community centres,” says Dan. “We’re often working with food banks, with homeless shelters, with crèches – we’re at the grassroots level in our community. We are the eyes and the ears, and we have the possibility of breaking the disconnection that lets modern slavery thrive.”

It’s a huge challenge. And it’s one that we, as Christians called to care for the least and the lost, need to seize. In the resource below you’ll find helpful advice for how to spot the signs of modern slavery and what to do if you suspect someone is being exploited. Your church doesn’t need to start a new initiative or raise loads of money to fight this – you’re already in the places where the people most at risk will be. We just need to be more aware. To be smart. To see.

“People who are being kept in slavery have a fundamental right to life in fullness, and this is what BMS is all about – going to the darkest places, to the hardest places, to the least evangelised, to the people who need to know God’s love the most,” says Dan.

We can break the disconnection that lets modern slavery thrive

That is what we’re about – everywhere we work. That’s why we’re working with people like Dan to raise awareness of modern slavery in the UK. And that’s why we’re asking you to help us. The Church is an army ready to be mobilised to fight slavery. We’re made up of doctors and rubbish collectors, teachers and food bank volunteers. If we all learn to spot the signs of slavery, together we can proclaim freedom for the prisoners.

*Names changed

This article appears in the new issue of Engage, the BMS magazine. Subscribe today by hitting the button on the right to read more about how your gifts are transforming lives around the world.

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