A Special Baptism
As the truck turned a sharp corner, I clutched the bar above me more tightly and braced myself, trying not to fall on top of anyone else. My friend Heidi nudged me and pointed straight ahead. “Look what we’re about to go through!” The dirt road had disappeared, giving way to a huge puddle! The driver carefully navigated through the shallow, muddy water, succeeding in not getting us stuck in the thick mud.
“I’m so glad we didn’t have to walk like those people did,” Brenden said gratefully, pointing to the people who were searching for the least wet and muddy way through the puddle.
As we continued down the narrow, bumpy road, we passed trees laden with huge jackfruit and papaya. The sugarcane in the fields on either side of the road waved in the breeze. Soon the sugarcane turned to flooded rice paddies. Weston climbed up on the railing and started snapping pictures; the truck hit another large bump, nearly knocking him off the side. “You better be careful up there,” I said, then gasped. “Oh! Look at those mountains!” We all drank in the lovely scenery around us and thanked God for allowing us to be there.
It was a sunshiny Sabbath afternoon, January 29, 2011, on the beautiful Philippine island of Negros. But this was not just any Sabbath, for this was the day that just over two hundred people, both young people and adults, were going to publicly commit themselves to the Lord in baptism. For months, local Bible workers had been giving studies and cottage meetings, seeking out and nurturing interests. Three weeks before, our Mission Experience team of 20 teenagers (plus several staff) from the United States had begun our own efforts in the towns of La Castellana and Magallon. Just last night, we had completed a 15-night evangelistic series for adults plus one for children in each location. The other youth and I had presented the gospel and God’s last-day message through songs, sermons, Bible stories, children’s crafts, and of course our friendship. In addition, we had shared the right arm of the gospel through health expos and lectures. Now, with joy in our hearts and praise on our lips, we were on our way to watch these wonderful people we had prayed and worked for be baptized. God is so good!
“Look!” someone called. “There’s the river!” The truck pulled off to the side, and we all climbed out, trying to avoid the mud. When we reached the riverbank, we laughed to see a group of men trying to chase, push and pull several water buffalo out of the water where the baptism was about to take place. The buffalo did not want to give up their
cool spot in the water just because some human wanted them to—but they eventually gave in and went to graze on the far side of the river.
“Where should we go for a good view of the baptisms?” I asked Heidi. “We won’t be able to see much from right here.”
“A bunch of people are going to the other side of the pool,” she pointed out. “Let’s cross on those rocks and sit on the far bank. We should have a good view from there.” I agreed. “Sounds like a plan.”
After crossing some rather unsteady rocks, we found a spot next to the water to kneel down in the grass—despite the buffalo droppings and mud everywhere. As we waited for everything to start, I took a look around. There were hundreds of colorfully
dressed people on either side of the wide pool. Many were holding umbrellas, shawls, or large leaves to shade themselves from the hot sun that was beating down so mercilessly upon us all. I was very thankful for the cool breeze, even though it was blowing my hair in my face. I listened to the conversations going on around me; they were almost all in the local dialect of Ilongo, except for those of my fellow American missionaries. The air smelled ever so faintly of water buffalo, mud and sweat.
Ten pastors entered the waist-deep water. I noticed Pastor Canopin, the district pastor for LaCastellana, among them.
“Wow,” I said. “I wonder how long this is going to take. There are 201 people getting baptized—and ten pastors.”
“A while,” Hannah replied.
“Yeah,” Weston said. “Guess we’d better get comfortable!”
I was kneeling on a small rock, and my knees were already starting to hurt. Oh well, I thought. I’m on a mission trip! Being uncomfortable is just part of the adventure. But when the first ten people stepped into the water, I forgot all about the rock.
As the first ten candidates waded out to the pastors, we all began to sing “I Surrender All.” It was so beautiful. The music swelled from both sides of the river and rose toward Heaven. I am sure the angels were singing with us. When we finished the first verse, one of the pastors had a prayer. Then they baptized all ten at once. Camera shutters clicked and everyone said “Amen!” and “Praise the Lord!” The people came up smiling from ear to ear. Many had tears of joy on their faces as they thanked the Lord for their new life. As each set of ten came up from the water, we sang the chorus of “I Surrender All.” I will never forget that scene!
I thought back to my own baptism, and right then I determined to renew my commitment to the Lord. I had learned on this mission trip to view other people the way I should: as precious human beings that Christ died to save—and I did not want to lose that experience. Instead, like these new converts, I wanted to learn more and more to rely on God.
These people’s decisions to follow Christ could not have been easy for them to make. While I had the support of my family and
friends for my decision to be baptized and join the remnant, many of them did not. A unified family is very important in Filipino culture, and if a Filipino decides to believe something different from the rest of his family, his family may disown him. It must have taken great faith for some of these new believers to take this step. Their strong faith in God inspired me. I pray that they will be faithful to the end, no matter what—and that we will, also.
“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.” Joshua 1:9.
Jaime Houtchens, age 16, participated in the biannual Mission Experience for teens led by Young Disciple Ministries, a ministry team dedicated to connecting youth with Christ through weekly faith-building magazines and Bible lesson quarterlies, annual youth Bible camps, and missions/evangelism training. For more information, visit www.youngdisciple.com or call 509-722-4300.