Waiting out in the lake for the first baptismal candidate.

For the first time since I have been coming to Uganda, I was invited to baptize new believers while on Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria. The pastor who invited me was the same one who loaned us the replacement generator for the entire week, so I could hardly refuse, though I wouldn’t have anyway. Baptism is difficult generally in Uganda because of the lack of large enough bodies of water, making it necessary but expensive to transport their church members to places where they can baptize. They baptize in the biblical manner, by immersion, and frequently I find groups of ten or more awaiting baptism in the mainland churches. However, there on the island, it is no problem, for the mighty Lake Victoria surrounds them on all sides.

Preparing them with the pastor translating.

We actually walked the short distance down to the lake from the church site, winding our way along a narrow trail through the forest at the edge of the village and then along the waterline. As we arrived, the lake spread out before us, the mainland visible in the distance. It was a calm day, so the vista was beautiful – a perfect day to baptize – though toward the end, the daily rainy-season thunder began to roll and boom to the south of us.

There were ten candidates there waiting to be baptized. The overseer, a man called Apostle Jessy, has planted five churches since sitting in our church-planting class almost three years ago. This makes him a true apostle according biblical usage, one who is sent out on mission, the primary mission being church-planting.

Wet but happy!

As we sat by the edge of the water, I briefly explained the meaning of baptism to the group of about thirty from the church who had gathered to witness and celebrate, answered any questions from the ten candidates, then headed out into  the lake. I had to wade out quite far to get deep enough to baptize, and even at 50 yards the water was still only just above my knees, but that is where I made my stand. One by one the candidates waded out to me, and the pastor assisted me in translating and lowering and lifting them into and out of the water. “Have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” I would ask, followed by his translation.  Each candidate would answer, “Yes,” in Lusoga, meaning that sometime recently they had become a follower of the Nazarene.

And down he goes…”buried with Him by baptism into death and rising to walk in the newness of life.”

Many Ugandans fear the water because the art of swimming is rare there for some reason even among the Lake dwellers. I could feel the tension in many of them as I helped them to cover their noses. Then holding tightly to their arms crossed on their chests, I lowered them down with a splash, and pulled them back up to sounds of celebration for each one back on the shore.

I believe that when a person comes to know Jesus personally, they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit of God dwells in them and covers them inwardly and outwardly (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19-20). Because water is used as a picture of the life of God, baptism is the perfect way to demonstrate the Christian life because it pictures this process of covering. Once they are completely covered by water head to toe, nothing physical can touch them without coming away wet from that touch. And so it is with the follower – nothing from this world, even if its intent is evil, can touch their life without its purpose being changed by the Presence of God (coming away wet, so to speak).

Returning to shore to celebrate…

I don’t wish to sound smug on this idea. Tragedy is tragedy and leaves its mark on us, and I do not speak lightly of such pain. Faith is about following even in the presence of tragedy, not falling to the temptation to bitterness and blame, but trusting, instead, even in sorrow and loss when we can’t see any light at all. In following Him, we give over even our sorrows to Him, the one Who promises that He will give us rest if we cast our burdens on Him (Matthew 11:28). I don’t believe, though many may disagree with me on this, that God causes us to suffer, but it is the world in which we live that hurts us. Rather, He knows this world that has turned away and walks with us even through the darkness.

I always encourage those who are baptized to continue to walk in the manner in which they have been baptized – wet with the Spirit of God, for it is impossible not to be touched both by the good and the bad of this world.

NOTE:

We are progressing to a new area today, moving from the Jinja area to Tororo in the east of Uganda, about 100 km. We will pass through the baboon forest where there are always many baboons and their families out begging for food along the road. While in Tororo I will teach the second Bible Institute of this trip on Church History, Medieval to Modern. This class has been wildly popular because the people and leaders here have no connections to the past history of the Church, what their heritage is, and where their own churches come from. And I enjoy the subject as well.

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