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Annual Gathering 2008

Soviet-bloc countries have a “gray box mentality.” The biggest danger is in the thinking of the
populace. “They don’t believe in God, but are waiting to be told what to do,” reasoned Oprenov.
The rapid growth of Baptists has created a backlash from other Christian groups. Bulgaria has a
strong Orthodox presence and the Orthodox religious authority is seen as the mediator between man
and God. Oprenov reported that a few months ago, an Orthodox offi cial sent a letter to key leaders
in Sofi a, the capital city. It said, in essence, “As the Easter season approaches, the Protestants are
on the move – especially the Baptists.”
The letter cautioned the leaders to warn the people against Baptist practices, and listed the
Baptists’ offenses: “They only believe the Bible, not in the traditions of the church. They only
believe in Jesus, not the saints. They feed the poor, which creates the danger that people would join
them because they are being fed. And, they sing lively music, which people might like, making
them want to attend their worship services. In this way, people might be stolen from the church!”
Oprenov reports that Baptists believed this letter was the best advertisement they could have
gotten! “One thing about the opposition we have endured; it keeps you on your toes,” observed

Chile – Growth and Challenges

The third presenter was the head of the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile
(UEBCC), Raquel Contreras, who represented the Latin American perspective. As in Bulgaria, the
church is growing in Chile and experiences opposition from established religious groups.
In her capacity as president of the UEBCC, Contreras has traveled to many of the union’s 500
churches and has spent time with pastors’ families. According to Contreras, a typical Chilean pastor
will be a married man over 30 who has at least two children. He will be poor and poorly educated.
Limited access to education and theological training creates problems. First, younger people
have access to good education, including at university level. This makes it diffi cult for young adults
to relate to a poorly educated pastor.
In addition, as evangelicals have gained infl uence in Chile, pastors are sometimes invited to
participate in governmental or social work. Pastors who are organizationally inexperienced and
uneducated do not do credit to themselves or to the church or to the denomination they represent.
This keeps Baptists from gaining the social respect and infl uence that would benefi t their work.
The greatest problem affecting the health of pastors is their poverty. “A pastor’s income is
very low compared to the people in his church and in society in general. He will live in a society in
which everyone has a car, but he won’t. Others will have houses, but he will not. He will live in a
parsonage. Not having a place to live in retirement, he will preach until he dies.”
Pastors often work long hours in secular work to support their families. The stress of being
the family provider and pastoring a church has created such health issues as ulcers, burnout and
In Latin America and in Chile in particular, the pastor does not have access to public health.
The position of a Baptist pastor is not offi cially recognized by the government and so the pastor is
not entitled to health benefi ts. In order to receive these benefi ts, pastors are often described as the
church’s administrator of facilities.
In order to address these problems, the UEBCC developed a center of Baptist studies for training
purposes that helps to form an identity for Baptists and pastors, which includes studying Anabaptist
roots. Seminaries are encouraged to change curricula to allow pastors to earn a certifi cate in less
time. The union is also opening nursing homes for pastors and is providing living accommodations
for retired pastors.
Jim White is editor of the Religious Herald, the news journal of the Baptist General Association
of Virginia in the United States. He is a member of the BWA Communications division executive
(Photo: Raquel Contreras)
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