Where we have come from...
The birth of EBWU is a story worth telling.
In 1948 Baptist world leaders convened a meeting in London, England,to consider issues of peace and reconciliation with particular reference to post-war Europe. Countries were specifically invited to include women in their delegations.
The programme was a full one, but late one night the American and European women made time to meet in a hotel foyer in order to explore the possibilities of closer future co-operation.
Women whose husbands and sons had been fighting on different sides during the war came face to face with each other - and discovered two things: on the one hand they recognised an underlying desire for an increase in fellowship and reconciliation; but on the other hand many of the twelve or so women uncovered their feelings of anger and bitterness - the legacy of war.
Could any progress towards reconciliation be made even among this small group?
During the previous 40 years women on both sides of the Atlantic had cherished the dream of a world-wide fellowship of Baptist women. Poor communications and 2 world wars had postponed the dream several times, but here was an opportunity by God's grace not to be missed.
One of the American sisters was inspired to invite the group to stand in a circle and, while holding hands, to repeat the words of John 3.16 each in her own language... The Holy Spirit moved among the women; tears flowed and melted bitter hearts. A sense of unity in Christ and the reality of the love of God enabled them to overcome the past, and to lay the foundations for a new Europe-wide fellowship of Baptist women.
Overnight it seems a constitution was drawn up, interim officers appointed,a conference planned for the following year, and the resolve taken to institute an annual day of prayer as a visible sign of the newly formed fellowship.
Throughout the next 40 years, against the background of a divided Europe, women in the western unions went from strength to strength. The regular conference programme was a continuing inspiration; new national women's groups were set up in several countries, and the day of prayer was faithfully observed (in company with women from around the world).
But always the prayer went up: "Lord give us fellowship with our sisters in eastern Europe." Various presidents established contact with women behind the iron curtain, but travel in both directions was almost impossible.
In 1987 EBWU elected its first President from a former communist country: Julia Gero of Hungary, who was able to travel extensively in the east, and who carried with her the assurance that the churches in soviet countries was not forgotten by the west.
The 1989 European Baptist Federation congress in Budapest welcomed several small groups from such churches, and later that year the whole of Europe rejoiced when the Berlin wall was dismantled.
At last the freedom to meet was technically present. Other aspects of freedom have not been so beneficial, but over the past decade it has become more possible for travel between east and west, although as late as May 2003 visa problems have been experienced.
In 2002 members of the EBWU committee were invited to Kiev, Ukraine, to participate with responsible sisters from several former soviet countries in their conference. The opportunity was taken to recount the story of EBWU, and to re-enact the founding, this time setting the scene for closer co-operation between east and west.
In 2003 our second "eastern" President was elected. Ewa Gutkowska of Poland has re-learnt her forgotten Russian, and this fact alone will ensure greater understanding and better communication in the future.
During the 1990s the opportunities of meeting were eagerly embraced. Sisters from both east and west discovered each other - and learnt that we have our differences! We are also learning to praise God for those differences: that is the way He has made us, and each can be enriched through a deeper understanding and tolerance. We accept each other in the love of Christ.
Whatever the next decade holds for EBWU, as the strong areas of women's mission and ministry move ever eastwards, we can know for certain that the God of peace will be with those who live and act as peacemakers.