Thursday, July 24, 2008

BWA Meeting in Prague

I am in Prague in the Czech Republic this week for the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance. On Tuesday we visited Terezin. In the late 18th century the Habsburg Monarchy erected the fortress near the confluence of the Labe and Ohre Rivers, and named it after Empress Maria Theresa. The fortress was never under direct siege. During the second half of the 19th century the fortress was also used as a prison. During World War I, the fortress was used as a prisoner-of-war camp. During WWII, the Gestapo used TerezĂ­n as a ghetto, concentrating Jews from Czechoslovakia, as well as many from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark. Though it was not an extermination camp, of the over 150,000 Jews who arrived there, about 33,000 died in the ghetto itself, mostly because of the appalling conditions arising out of extreme population density. About 88,000 inhabitants were deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. At the end of the war there were 17,247 survivors. It was liberated on May 9th, 1945 by the Soviet Army.

The visit caused me to have some of the same feelings and emotions I experienced last year as I visited the Slave Castle in Ghana. It is incredible what men will do to their fellowman. Sadly, many times it is done in the name of or with the blessing of religious organizations or institutions.

During our session yesterday morning we had a presentation about the life of John Hus. He was a Czech religious thinker, philosopher, reformer, and master at Charles University in Prague. He was greatly influenced by the teachings of John Wycliffe. The Roman Catholic Church considered the teachings of John Hus heretical. He excommunicated in 1411, condemned by the Council of Constance, and burned at the stake in 1415. Hus was a key contributor to the Protestant movement whose teachings had a strong influence on Martin Luther. As a church history major, I enjoyed the session. It is good to be reminded how much we owe to those who have gone before us. John Hus believed his salvation was based upon Jesus Christ rather than the church. He wanted to scripture to be available in the common languages of the people.

Yesterday afternoon, we heard a report regarding the situation of Palestinian Christians living in Israel (particularly those living in Bethlehem). While no one objects to Israel’s desire to fight terrorists, the extremely difficult situation and living conditions created by the “walling in” of the Palestinian communities is not the answer. Ten of thousands of Christians including many Baptist brothers and sisters have been forced to leave their homes and Israel because of the of governments policies. Many other innocent people continue to suffer. I hope you will join me in praying for peace Israel and for the Christians living in Israel. I am praying for peace, justice and freedom for all people in this trouble part of our world.

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