The year’s Easter Conference was to be held at the largest church in the district. I was to be the speaker in the main meetings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and to conduct the Communion Service after the Baptismal event. Other church leaders were to be in charge of the “devotional” meetings.
There were two main characteristics of these annual Easter meetings. First, the central church was host to all who came from each of the outlying churches – and in this case, there were 12 of them. Each church congregation which came had an assigned place to stay. They came with flour and other food staples; meat was provided by general church funds. They slept and did all their cooking there at their assigned place.
Then, secondly, the Easter service was the time of the annual district Baptism event. Believers had spent at least 3 months in catechism classes, had passed a “Bible knowledge” and life exam and had been approved as a candidate for baptism. The timing of the event was purposeful – it linked and reinforced the symbolism of the believer’s baptism with the resurrection of our Lord.
I had gone to the main church on Friday morning. An evangelist, who had gone with me, and I were lodged in the church pastor’s office. Meals were in the ill pastor’s home, provided by the ladies of the church. Never ate so good! “Bugali” (stiff corn-meal mush), “ngoko” (chicken), “mboligo” (type of African greens), good sweet “chai” (tea)!
Services were well attended. The church was crowded and many were outside clustered around the windows so they could see and hear. The thrust of my messages were on the new life we have in Christ because of His resurrection.
Sunday morning service began early – about 9 a.m. – because the baptisms were to be held right following. The church “bell” (an old truck wheel rim, struck with an iron rod) sounded and folks streamed in.
Following the service, the entire church congregation streamed down to the closest suitable pond (the rains had come and tapered off) where the baptisms were to be held. It was just under a mile away and took time to get there. I, as interim district pastor, was to perform the baptisms and I waded into the water. Water lilies, etc. were pushed out of the way.
The congregation gathered on the bank started to sing. Other folks from surrounding villages joined them to see what was going on. Church evangelists and elders lined up the candidates and they began to file into the water. As each candidate came up to me, they gave a short testimony and I asked, “What name do you wish to take?” (it was the custom to take a Bible name when baptized). An elder on the pond bank recorded that new name in a record book.
That day I stood in the water baptizing 136 candidates! Tiring and hot, yes, BUT a real time of rejoicing and thanks to our Lord. Many of the candidates were young people, students in the church’s primary and secondary schools. All were part of the life of those little out-churches (bush churches) and discipled by that church’s evangelist and elders. Praise God for the fruit produced by the teaching of His Word – and the ministry of His Spirit – – and the faithfulness of God’s servants.
After the baptism service, we all filed back to the church to hold a Communion Service. The first for these newly baptized but one a special significance to all. Joy in service; Joy in souls. Joy in God’s faithfulness. And a real picture of our Lord’s death and resurrection. PRAISE HIM!