Our first month in Juba we found ourselves with the amazing privilege of attending and being a part of a river baptism. This particular day was the final celebration, and declaration of faith for a group of 70 men & women who had given their lives to following Jesus Christ. Wow, what a day! You could feel the energy in the air; the kind of energy that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up! As we hiked our way to the river we saw a sea of beautiful dark faces and bright colored clothing. Everyone was so excited and people began to crowd in on a shallow area of the river. We gathered in with them in awe of the beauty of this moment. Then we saw another crowd gathering just a bit up the way. Those who gathered there began to drum, dance & sing in celebration of the event… it was breathtaking! I just knew in my heart that this was a very special and significant day… although we know all baptism is significant, this one seemed to be much more than “normal”.
We were invited by our partner church to share in the experience and to be a part of it. These men & women had not only come to faith, but had also been discipled in what it means to follow Jesus and go on to become “fisher’s of men”. It was indeed a hot day; almost 100 degrees and the baptism site was in full sun. We brought water, and wore sunscreen, but 1/2 way through the ceremony all three of the girls began to feel sick. We found them a spot in the shade and our South Sudanese brothers & sisters saw that they got water and even something to fan themselves with. Jason and I began to feel the pressure of the heat ourselves, but being in awe of it all helped us forget. We watched as each man or women entered the water, confessed their faith and allegiance to Jesus Christ. And then, we watched as they were submerged in the river… so many of them arose with shouts of joy, dancing and some came out of the water with shaking & fainting. Those baptizing them made sure that they made it safely back to the shore & that they were each prayed for afterward. I still can’t get over the energy in the air. It was interesting to note afterward, that while all this was happening there was a large group of rowdy motorcyclists camped out at the front of the road smoking, fighting and causing trouble. And, that some of those who were drawn in from the road to see the baptism stood stone faced, glaring at what was happening. You could feel such a tension all around the event, but we were not really sure of why. This crowd of about 150 people finally gathered in close together to give praise to God, and to dedicate each of the lives who were baptized to His care. Jason was asked to give the final prayer and we all gave glory to God through song. Ah, such a beautiful day!
We all felt very worn out from the sun and heat… or so we thought. We had driven to the baptism in our little motorized rickshaw and needed to help drop our friends off along the way. It was a long day! When we finally arrived back home we could do nothing but try to rest and cool off from the intense heat of the day. (The only way to get cool was a shower– ah the relief!)
It was such an amazing time… and we marveled at what God had blessed us to be a part of! We didn’t realize until later the spiritual warfare involved in events like this one. We came to find out that the outreach and discipleship that brought these new believers to the decision of being baptized was in a community that previously had no active witness for Christ. Also, some of the family members who attended the baptism were not believers, but rather came as skeptics to look over the event… this was the reason for the tension we were feeling.
That same night Jason came down with Malaria, and wow was it bad! In less than 24 hours he was so ill we thought he was literally going to die! He actually had such a high fever that he was shaking uncontrollably, not thinking clearly, and not sleeping at all. There wasn’t any place to take him so late at night, and we were not even sure of where we could go for help in the morning. All I knew to do was pray, and to ask our brothers & sisters to pray. Since we had no vehicle I could drive him with, the next morning I helped him to get dressed and he wandered down the alley way looking for a motorcyclist to take him to a clinic. He was so weak, and sick… still shaking, but more in his right mind than the night before. (Thank God for our support team who prayed for him that night) As he left the gate I prayed that God would protect him and keep him safe from those who would try to harm him. He was able to receive treatment at a nearby clinic and returned home safely, went to bed and recovered in a week or so. At the time we thought it was mere coincidence. We even thought maybe the heat was what kicked his Malaria over the top… That is until it happened again after another significant spiritual breakthrough in our community. This next time it happened to me…. ((I will tell that story another time))