A Golden Day
Five years had passed since the Gogodala had seen a baptism. The remoteness of our project makes travel here difficult and expensive for pastors. However, this year, AFM’s international field director, Marc Coleman, came to our project when our field directors, Arnold and Diane Hooker, made their annual visit. Marc is an ordained pastor and a seasoned world traveler, but this was his first trip to Papua New Guinea. As soon as we heard that he was coming and was willing to conduct a baptism, we started planning a camp meeting. We informed our four churches and two Bible workers so they could prepare their candidates for the baptism.
This year, the river flooded to its highest level in six years. Most people dread floods, but not the Gogodala. They thrive in high water. Plentiful shortcuts through flooded lagoons make travel by dugout canoe easier. Also, the big rains keep the water tanks filled so the people have plenty of clean water to drink. This year’s flood inundated the flat area of our property near the river. “That’s where we will have the baptism!” our church elder exclaimed, pointing to the grass-edged waist-deep water. It was an ideal venue.
There was much to be done to prepare for the weekend. Some of the boys built a temporary extension to the church using a large tarp stretched over a bamboo frame. A man and his sons built a traditional cook house with a thatched roof and black palm siding so we would have another place for people to sleep. Others constructed a beautiful floating frame of flowers on bamboo to mark the site for the baptism.
Canoes loaded with people began arriving on Thursday for the big weekend, the same day our field directors arrived. People camped out on our training center grounds under tarps, in tents, in our newly-built cook house, in the church and even in our timber shed. By Friday afternoon our grounds were filled with men, women and children. Despite their jetlag, Marc, Arnold and Diane were out mingling with the campers and passing out goodies to the children and their parents.
A group of about twenty people arrived from Sasarema, the nearest logging camp. This was the first time we had seen a group from there. They had come to observe our baptism. They had only one baptized Seventh-day Adventist in their group, but they had been meeting together on Sabbaths to study the Bible. Their leaders asked me, “When will the next baptism be? We want to be a part of that one.”
The meetings began with Friday-night fellowship. People were still arriving on Sabbath morning. Sabbath was a packed day with Sabbath School first thing in the morning followed by the divine service and then the baptism. We had originally estimated that about 20 people would be baptized that day, but our hearts overflowed with joy at the sight of 46 white-robed baptismal candidates in two rows stretching up the hillside. Two by two, deacons and deaconesses led them out into the water. “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” As Pastor Coleman spoke the words and lowered each person into the water, peace and joy seemed to radiate from heaven like the beams of sunlight that filtered through the bamboo foliage overhead. Several hundred people stood or sat on the grassy hillside overlooking the river to witness the 46 men and women demonstrate their love and commitment to Christ. I stood in the water and assisted Pastor Coleman.
Behind us on the other side of a bamboo patch were a couple of large canoes filled with men who had accompanied a prominent politician from Balimo who had come to be baptized. At one point during the baptism, a commotion erupted from the canoes, momentarily drawing the attention of the crowd on the bank. Marc leaned over to me and said, “Steve, those guys are killing a snake in the water!” I thought of the deadly Papuan Black snake I had seen some weeks ago crossing the river to our side. Could it be that Satan was using a snake to interfere with this sacred occasion and plant fear in the hearts of the baptismal candidates? However, the snake was quickly dispatched, and the baptism continued in joy and peace.
Among the baptized were three young men who had worked for me. What a joy it was for me to see Abilo, Umina and Badiwi unite with Christ and become official members of our church! We believe that others will soon be joining us as well. Our small Kewa congregation tripled in size that day, not to mention the growth of our churches at Balimo, Kotale and Awaba! Even a family from a village where there was no Seventh-day Adventist presence attended the event. They now plan to start a church in their village. A teacher from the Awaba high school was baptized along with his wife and several of his students.
The camp meeting weekend and baptism provided a much-needed morale booster for the churches. Last year was a trying time for all of us. Death took a number of our church members from us. But, as the old hymn says, with the baptisms came “the gleams of the golden morning piercing through the night of gloom.” The apostle Paul wrote, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). That golden Sabbath I believe we had a foretaste of the glory that will be ours at Jesus’ second coming.
What about you? Do you have the peace and joy that comes from knowing Jesus? No matter how dark your world may be, remember that the light of His love can pierce any night of gloom. Be like the 46 Gogodala and commit your life to Christ today.