So, I’d been thinking about baptism, and getting dunked completely like Jesus did. The symbolism and significance are that the person you were goes down into the water and dies, and when you come up, you are a new person, having symbolically died with Christ and been risen in resurrection as He rose. Your sin is washed away. God forgives all, and you begin life anew. That thought was very appealing to me. Those who knew me before will say that my conversion was nearly of Saul to Paul proportions. I never saw it as QUITE that epic, but I will admit that it was pretty drastic.
The decision to do a full dunk was made, but then came the “problem” of logistics. Where, when, how and by whom? The church I attended at the time didn’t have a full dunk baptismal, and while there was (and still is) a nearby river, it’s not the cleanest. A local, or someone’s private pool just didn’t seem right. And then the answer came. The opportunity came to make the same mission trip to Tanzania as the friend who started this whole journey for me in the first place. I thought, “How cool would it be to get baptized in Lake Tanganyika? In Africa, man!” (Sorry, “I’m in Africa, man,” is a semi-private joke. Maybe someday that story will get told here.)
During the planning sessions for the trip to Tanzania, I voiced my wish to get baptized there and bring my whole “coming to Christ” journey full circle. My thought was that Lowell, the guy who heads up the ministry we were working with, would baptize me in Lake Tanganyika and it would be like all those really cool baptism scenes you see in the movies. — It didn’t turn out that way.
The way it ended up looking, visually, wasn’t really much to speak of, at least not compared to the idea I had in my head. But the way it was SPIRITUALLY, now that’s a whole different thing! As I said in Part 1, that little church in Kigoma, Tanzania was the only United Methodist church in Tanzania with a full dunk baptismal, but it wasn’t getting used. I don’t know if the people didn’t really understand baptism, or if they were just afraid of being first, or if it was making a public display, or what, but they weren’t getting baptized. So Lowell asked me if I would do it in the church during a regular Sunday service so that they could see what it was really like. As cool as the lake would have been, this was cooler, to be able to lead by example!
But then I realized, as cool as that was, the group of people watching would be a whole lot different, and a WHOLE LOT larger than I had planned. And now I was being an example and not just having an intimate little gathering of mission team buddies and God. There would be a couple hundred “Intimate” strangers there too. And I had to publicly declare why I was doing this – to people who don’t speak English! I prayed on it and I prayed on it, and it finally came to me, Psalm 116. It was me.
And so one that day, with Lowell and the leader of our mission team down with a SEVERE case of food poisoning and unable to attend, I stood before the congregation of Gungu United Methodist Church and made my Public Declaration that I am a follower of Jesus Christ by reading Psalm 116 – in Swahili!!!