I was able to be present at one of our newest believer’s baptisms recently. We have strived from the very beginning to replace ourselves in ministry so that the work can go on without us. This, for the most part, has worked very well. However, this means we’re usually not present anymore for most baptisms.
Hank* (from Ayorou but now living in Niamey) had led a friend to Christ and we’ve been moving through the E2E together every afternoon. When we got to the section on baptism, much like the Ethiopian in Acts, Andy* said, “The river is right here, why not get baptized right now?!”
I asked if I could tag along and they agreed, so off we went to the river. We actually walked for what seemed like forever even though I was constantly assured “a si mooru" ("it’s not far"). I’ve learned in almost 6 years here that phrase is as trustworthy as the promises on As Seen On TV products!
We finally arrived at the spot and Henry led Andy into the cool water, asked him several questions and then baptized Andy. I love baptisms here because they seem to capture most accurately what baptism is supposed to be all about: proclamation of the Gospel.
It’s just normal now in the States for baptisms to occur inside the church building in front of a mostly Christian audience. This is how baptisms growing up for me were done. There were some questions asked and a very girly robe donned and then as the new creation rose from the water, applause usually erupted. It’s like wearing a Peyton Manning jersey through downtown Knoxville: everyone is in agreement, everyone is happy, everyone is saying, “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!” It is a celebration, and rightfully so, as what once was dead is now, in front of their new community and family of faith, being declared alive!
However, baptisms here are often different. At Andy’s baptism there were at least twenty people watching/staring who were not in agreement, who were not happy about what was going on. Andy was not greeted with applause at his decision. His friend (now brother in Christ) smiled and I encouraged him but everyone else in “attendance” that day did not share our joy. Even as Andy returned home he was not met with gladness over his decision but rather, at best, disinterest and, at worst, disgust.
But back to the river. For those twenty or so there, and especially the unbelieving friend Andy had invited, got a front row picture of the Gospel. They saw, to quote a song by Andrew Peterson, “a sinner who sinks in the river then emerges again delivered.” Andy was declaring to a group of peers, “I am in Christ now, I am a new creation now! I have been buried with Christ!” Andy’s baptism wasn’t just a simple symbolic act. No, this was warfare, this was proclamation, this was the Kingdom of Christ advancing.