Rev. Lauran Bethell, a global consultant for International Ministries (IM), American Baptist Churches USA delivered a stirring closing message for the biennial of American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA), challenging attendees to go into the dark places of the world and minister to the "least of these."
The biennial, held in Washington, DC from June 29 through July 2, 2007 celebrated 100 years of ABCUSA history and cooperative mission.
Speaking at the closing worship service of the biennial, on Monday evening, July 2, Bethell told her listeners she was uniquely positioned to speak to the historic conference's theme, "Arise and Shine," because of the darkness she has encountered in ministry.
"God has called me into some of the darkest corners of this world and has given me the privilege of witnessing God's bright glory rising and shining," Bethell said. "And what is so freeing is it is truly God's glory -- not mine or the people I work with -- but God's. God has let us know if we simply 'arise,' if we simply 'show up,' then God will do the shining." Bethell encouraged the centennial gathering to show up in those dark places of the world and minister to the least of these, so that indeed, God may reflect God's glory through their work and witness.
Bethell has spent 22 years working for IM with partners to empower women and children emotionally, economically and spiritually, particularly those at risk for human trafficking. From 1987 to 2000 she was director of New Life Center in Thailand. In 2000, she moved to Czech Republic, where she formed Project Hope. From eastern Europe, she has worked around the world, garnering acknowledgements of her service, including the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) human rights award in 2005 at BWA's centenary conference.
However, Bethell did not focus on her work. Rather, she told stories of colleagues around the world who showed up at great risk to themselves. A Dutch taxi driver rescued and married a prostitute from the red light district of Amsterdam. A pastor in Moldova gave up opportunities for a well-paying job to minister to children -- particularly young women -- who were being tricked or trapped into prostitution by the mafia. The pastor has courageously and loving confronted mafia threats and intimidation to his ministry.
These heroic ministries, Bethell lamented, rarely arise from within the local church.
"Very often," Bethell preached, "the local, institutional church is the most resistant and puts up the most roadblocks to the development of ministries in dark places â€¦ Why is this, I have to ask?"
Bethell answered that many churches believe such ministries are "too risky!" Bethell told the audience not to become so comfortable that "saving lives isn't as important anymore as making sure the air-conditioning is fixed and the utility bills paid."
But she also celebrated how American Baptists had supported her, first in Thailand, and now as a global consultant confronting the trafficking of women and children into prostitution from Czech Republic and around the world. "I believed God called me because God knew that I belonged to a believing body of Christ's arms and legs on this earth, who we call American Baptist Churches, who were going to be praying for me." The support of the American Baptist churches -- in prayers, in giving, and in visits had undergirded Bethell's ministry, and she called for the faithful to show-up with her "in dark places, with more questions than answers, living on the edge, risking it all, being God's hands and feet."
IM is a Baptist mission agency, established in 1814, which serves the more than 5,800 churches of the American Baptist Churches USA. Globally, IM relates to more than 500 educational institutions and 125 hospitals and medical facilities. Missionaries work in partnership with some 15,000 trained national workers, who serve about 22,000 congregations and nearly 3,000,000 baptized members.