As I mentioned in a previous post, while in Tanzania most baptisms took place at the church Easter Conference. Candidates for baptism had finished the catechism period, had been examined by a group of church leaders and most were declared fit and ready to be baptized. This happened in the nearest suitable pond where most of the congregation assembled to sing and witness the baptism.
On this day I did the baptism. It was an exhausting job; there were 132 candidates. Because, according to Sukuma tribal custom, all had “in house” names given upon birth (which reflected a special condition or occurrence at their birth), each candidate was asked what name he or she was taking. They would state their choice of name and I would say, “you, [name], I baptize you … .”.
The line of candidates was just about finished. There were only about two or three more to do. I breathed a sigh of relief. At that point, I heard the roar of a vehicle and a Land Rover drove up to the side of the pool. Church leaders congregated around the passenger door.
As soon as the last candidate in the line had been baptized and before I could begin to come out, a leading church elder waded into the pond carrying a young girl in his arms. I would say she was about 14 or 15 years of age but her legs were severely deformed. The church elder put her into my arms, told me that she couldn’t stand or walk but wanted badly to be baptized.
Holding her, I asked her the name she wanted and, after she replied, I said, “Anna [or was it Maria?], I baptize you in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” (of course, in the Sukuma language!), did a deep-knee bend to ensure she was immersed, stood up and the elder cleared the water off her face with a dry cloth. The congregation on the bank of the pond, with renewed vigor, broke out in a song of praise to our Lord and the elder carried the girl back to the Land Rover.
I will never forget that baptism service. My exhaustion was gone; my spirit revived and, as together later we observed the Lord’s Supper, my calling to such ministry reaffirmed.