So without further delay, I congratulate Sarah Wetzel on winning the WOTH Writer's Contest with her entry! Enjoy...
On Their Way Rejoicing
by Sarah Wetzel
by Sarah Wetzel
One of our Ethiopian friends took us to a baptismal service. Eighty Muslim-background believers met to be baptized on the public shore of a nearby lake. They were not just "changing their religion," as the curious tourist had commented when I told her what was going on. “Changing their allegiance,” I wish I had said.
To keep their baptism a secret, the lake was far away from where they lived. No family members were around. They could be persecuted for this public alliance with Jesus Christ and the Church. This was serious and we foreigners were duly reverent and I was quite unprepared for what happened.
The people walked several kilometers to the lake and donned lab coats from a huge bundle the church leaders had dropped on the rocky beach. Then they lined up along the lake shore. A distinguished older pastor was dressed in a canary yellow shift with a scarlet cross on the front; he tried to organize the group.
Yellow-clad Pastor A. and his helper waded twenty feet out in the shallow water, the long line of white-coated people following. The first young man stood between the pastor and his helper. The pastor said three or four words – I assume it was something about “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” – and then PLOP! he quickly pushed him down unto the shallow water. Flailing to get up, the newly-baptized one, and the pastors, laughed out loud. One by one, each new believer walked into the water between the pastors and was pushed under. Each one came up with various gyrations and hilarious facial expressions. I felt badly for them. The lake water was cold, and generally, Ethiopians do not swim. Many believe you will die if you go underwater, so this was a brave thing they were doing by several counts. Perhaps their communal laughter was a response to embarrassment. But I like to think it was a reaction to joy. And it was a contagious joy. Everyone began to smile and chuckle and I had to laugh right along with them. A picture of those shining-wet, happy faces is stuck in the memory of my heart.
From now on, when I watch a baptism, I’ll think about these brave and joyful souls. I’ll smile and take in the spontaneous joy like we all did that day, and in fact, like Philip and the Ethiopian man did years ago. His baptism story is in the Book of Acts, chapter 8. Perhaps Philip pushed his head under the water. Maybe they laughed together before Philip disappeared, who knows? But we do know that the eunuch went “on his way rejoicing,” just like those new Ethiopian believers did.