by Pastor Keith Jackson
Marshall Church of the Nazarene
As a missionary in Zambia, Africa, I enjoyed many opportunities to baptize new believers. One occasion in particular stands out.
I had traveled the 650 kilometers from my home in the city of Kitwe to the small fishing village of Samfya, located on the shore of Lake Bangweulu. There was a new Nazarene church in Samfya and I went for a week to preach and teach alongside the Zambian pastor, the Rev. Paul Katongo. The week culminated with the Sunday worship celebration.
The adult Sunday school class that morning was my opportunity to meet with the candidates for baptism, along with the rest of the congregation listening in. I spent the hour reviewing the significance of Christian baptism and listening to their faith stories.
The morning worship service was a joyous occasion with so many new believers participating! At its conclusion, everyone formed a grand procession for the kilometer hike from the small church building down to the shore of Lake Bangweulu. Everyone was singing and dancing as we made our way through the open-air market where dried fish and fresh vegetables were on display.
Though the Rev. Katongo was totally qualified to perform the baptisms, he thought that the new believers would be especially pleased to be baptized by the musungu -- white -- missionary, and I readily agreed.
At the shoreline, the congregation formed a semi-circle around the dozen baptismal candidates as I made my way out into the water. The lake is quite shallow and I had to walk out about 40 meters to where the water was waist deep. As I stood there, Rev. Katongo would shout out the name of the person being baptized. And one-by-one, I baptized them in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Of those 12 Zambians, I distinctly remember just one -- an elderly woman. She had only recently met Jesus and was so excited about her newfound faith. She literally danced her way out to where I was standing. Once she got into position beside me, she proceeded to try to "dunk" herself before I had had the chance to declare the "I baptize you now..." liturgy. So, before she could submerge herself, I pulled her back up. She was still so excited that she tried it again. And, I pulled her back up again! To prevent a third premature attempt, I actually lifted her off her feet -- she was a tiny little lady -- While I pronounced the baptismal rite and then immersed her. Bouncing up out of the water, she joyously danced her way back to shore.
As the congregation sang its way back to the church building, the Rev. Katongo commented, "Missionary, we Nazarenes sure have faith!"
"Paul, you're right. Isn't it great to be able to welcome so many into the faith?"
"Well, yes, but no, we Nazarenes really have faith!"
"Paul, I totally agree. And what a testimony to the village as we publicly celebrate with the baptism."
"Ah, missionary, we Nazarenes really have faith!"
At this point, I'm getting confused. "Well, Paul, I guess you're thinking of something else. Why do you say that we Nazarenes have so much faith?"
"All the other churches in the village baptize in the small river because they're too afraid of all the crocodiles in the lake. But we Nazarenes, we have faith!"
Unlikely that many folks in Marshall will ever have occasion to baptize believers in a crocodile infested lake. Yet there are innumerable "crocodile" situations that confront us on a regular basis -- situations where we find ourselves threatened physically, emotionally and/or spiritually. And our response to those "crocodile" situations will determine the character of our daily lives. Will we become cynical or discouraged? Will fear or anger define us? Or will an unshakable faith in Jesus Christ allow us to face those "crocodiles" head on with secure determination?
Faith in Jesus is far more than an "Oh, I believe in God" attitude. It's even more than an "I prayed the prayer" response. The faith that makes us over-comers rises from a determination to allow Jesus make each of our life decisions for us. It's responding in obedience to the direction of the Holy Spirit. Overcoming faith says to the Father, "Not my will, but Yours be done."
Does that describe your faith? It can!