The Association of Baptist Churches in Israel announces with great sorrow the passing away of one of the giants of Baptist work in recent times. Dwight Baker, veteran missionary in Israel and India went to be with the Lord after a heart attack in Dallas Texas, on November 28th, 2011. He was 92 years old. This comes a few months after the passing of Emma, his wife and partner for more than 70 years, who died in May 2011.
Pastor Ibrahim Simaan who served with Dwight wrote the following:
Dwight Baker was sent to Nazareth, Israel in the early 1950ies with a clear mission, to rebuild the Baptist Mission to the Holy Land, and reorganize the Baptist Church, whose majority of the members, and leadership were dispersed throughout the whole Middle East due to the Arab-Jewish War of 1948.
The young missionary worked very hard to get the church in Nazareth re-started, as well as the Nazareth Baptist School and worked very hard to sustain an orphanage which included some 19 kids. He was joined later by Paul Rowden, and the Baptist Convention in Israel was founded with Dwight in the North and Bob Lindsey in Jerusalem.
In Nazareth, Dwight recruited a good team of new young believers, and initiated quick training for them, with the vision of indigenizing the local church. The church and the school sponsored Sunday School, Brotherhood, Royal Ambassadors, Girls Auxiliary etc. He believed in the theory that churches survive if they develop a missionary outreach. Therefore, The Nazareth Church under his leadership started village work covering Cana of Galilee, Tur’an, Eilaboun, Rama, and Acre in 1964.
Having turned over the pastorate to a national pastor (Pastor Fuad Sakhnini) he had another phase of his vision for the Baptist witness.
In 1963, he came back from furlough and established the Christian Training Center, with a mind set up on this vision, therefore he moved to Haifa, as a more central location in the country, where he started this Center, as an extension to Southern Baptist seminaries.
During his stay in Haifa, several generations of Baptist potential leaders were located and got their training at the CSTC, including Pastor Edward Souti, Pastor Suheil Ramadan, and me. And later on, the CSTC extended its services to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza.
Dwight was a great preacher, great pastor, a great writer and historian. He wrote many articles for well known papers, like “Christianity Today” and the local Baptist publication “Hayahad Digest”, and started the Arabic magazine “Al-Jama’h” with me as secretary editor. Dwight even had a vision to start work among the Bedouins of the Negev, so he worked as an English language teacher at Kusefeh Secondary School near Arad, and moved to live there. He served for two terms in India, and taught church history and Islam at Baylor University.
But I think that his first love-field-of-service was the Holy Land to which he returned as a volunteer-missionary for one year, after his retirement.
He helped found the Christian Council in Israel, and was its chairperson several times.
He did not forget his labor in the Holy Land, and the Baptist House in Nazareth, home to the Nazareth Evangelical Seminary, and the New Life Baptist Church, was purchased in 2005 by the Association of Baptist Churches due to a generous donation from his personal resources.
Many generations shall remember you, Father Dwight.
I am indebted with most of what I know to Dwight Baker, having associated with him so many years, and worked under his leadership for more than 15 years.
His remembrance shall be forever! (Psalm 112:6)
Bader Mansour, external relations coordinator for the Association of Baptist churches adds:
The Association of Baptist Churches in Israel mourns one of the giants of Baptist witness of our times, indeed a hero of faith. We all remember the tears at the Centennial opening celebration of Baptist witness in Israel, held in Nazareth on May 12, 2011, when a video greeting from Dwight and Emma was projected for the audience to view. We have arranged for a friend to make the video several days earlier and email it. It was a special experience for all to see and hear Dwight and Emma from their home in Dallas.
Dwight spoke words of appreciation and encouragement to the group in Arabic and then in English, recalling their years in Nazareth, Haifa and among the Bedouin. His voice was strong and he spoke with great feeling.
Emma looked lovely as always and spoke softly as she recalled serving among the ladies and children. The group responded with a standing ovation accompanied with tears flowing freely. Their images and the impression of their words will remain with all, together with the years of friendship and partnership in ministry in Israel.
Few weeks after the celebration, Emma went to be with the Lord and today, Dwight also went to be with Jesus in glory.
Following the broadcasting of the video, the following email was sent by Rania, a local Baptist, to Dwight and Emma:
Dear Dr Dwight
I was very happy to see you tonight on the screen with your lovely wife in the 100 year for the Baptist church in the Holy land, my eyes filled with tears. I felt that I’m watching an old dear friend, one of the people who led me to Christ even if we did not meet.
I am thankful to God for his wonderful and faithful workers in his field. I thank you and your family. It is a privilege for me to know you Sir even if it was by Email. I Sellout you Sir and Madam for being a faithful workers in Gods’ Land God Bless you all And be with you”
Most of the current generation of Baptists in Israel do not know Dwight in person, but heard so many stories about him.