Seeing baptism through another’s eyes
By Rev. Bill Baldwin, Prairie Community Church, Lester Prairie
I was honored and privileged to have been asked to do a very unique baptism recently.
Checking messages at home one day, there was a message from a woman I knew had children at the school where my spouse, Cathy, teaches. When I returned her call, she said her sister-in-law and mother-in-law were coming to visit, and her sister-in-law’s one request for what she wanted to do while in Minneapolis was to be baptized.
As you can imagine, I was curious as to why she wanted to be baptized here, in Minneapolis, and why not at the woman’s local church in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she lives and attends a very large Chinese Baptist church.
It seems that when a person is baptized at her church, they are expected to stand up and make a testimony of faith, to talk about how they became a Christian and what God had done in their life. Aida (pronounced Ida) Chong is a very quiet and shy person who absolutely could not see herself standing up in front of a congregation and saying anything.
Still, she very much wanted to be baptized, and it occurred to her that it could possibly be a special part of her trip to see her brother- and sister-in-law in Minneapolis.
Having heard the story, I felt excited about the opportunity to administer this sacrament. Nowadays, churches are declining in popularity, people are fleeing from the church in droves, yet this beautiful Chinese woman wanted to proclaim her Christian faith to the world by being baptized.
Aida had been a Christian for a number of years, but never had been baptized in the faith. To have a middle-aged adult strongly desire baptism because she believed in Jesus Christ was a wonderful thing.
On the day of the baptism, I brought over a nice ceramic bowl, put some slightly warm water in the bowl, and added a few purple pansies with yellow centers. It made for a very festive looking baptismal font, plus I do believe the flowers have their own energy and essence when added to ordinary tap water.
I recited several Bible passages that had to do with baptism, professing faith, or believing in Christ. I mentioned Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan river.
I mentioned Jesus telling John that one must experience a spiritual birth in order to experience the kingdom of heaven, and the verse in that same chapter of John’s gospel where Jesus said that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.
I recited the passage from Romans where Paul cites the formula that if you confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
I also recited the passage at the end of Matthew’s gospel that commands his followers to go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Having said all this, I asked Aida if she confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord. “Yes, I confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” she said.
I asked her if she believed that God raised Jesus from the dead. “Yes, I believe God raised Jesus from the dead,” she answered.
Having confessed a Christian faith that was good enough for the Apostle Paul, we proceeded to the act of baptism. I asked her, “By what name do you wish to be baptized?”
“Aida Chong,” was her reply. I then was pleased to baptize her with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When it was done, her forehead was dripping, but her face was glowing with a mile-wide smile. She was finally baptized.
And when the service was over, Aida decided she wanted to save the pansies and press or dry them to remember this important day.
As Paul Harvey would say, now here’s the rest of the story.
Aida’s brother- and sister-in-law are not Christian. Her brother holds no particular religious belief, and her sister-in-law is a secular, or cultural, Jew, who has never practiced Judaism as a religion.
This was a great learning experience for them to have the opportunity to learn about the foreign rites of Christianity from Aida, and for me to learn from them about how they make sense of the world, and how they find what I take so much for granted to be very foreign, unknown, and peculiar to them.
I’m not exactly sure what they thought about the odd words I was saying and the application of water on Aida’s forehead, or whether they thought any of this could make any difference to Aida, to God, or to the world.
Yet my faith tells me that the world absolutely did change for Aida at the moment of baptism. I believe that God was truly pleased at the new pledge of faith that Aida made.
There are countless people in our communities who have never been baptized, who don’t know the basics of the Christian faith, and who are outsiders to whatever is going on inside churches on Sunday morning. It has been said that Christianity is always one generation away from going out of existence. We are closer to that happening now than ever, since the earliest days of the Christian church.
If we truly believe that God acted definitively by sending Jesus into the world to save the world from sin and death, it is essential that we get to work now, while there is still time, and let a new generation know of God’s love, and how we go about proclaiming and celebrating that love as the church.
Aida knows that Jesus died for her sins and rose again for her eternity with God. God sent Jesus for all of us to have life, and to have it in abundance.
I wish you peace as we return to our more hectic fall schedules and all that they mean for most of us.