“So after hearing this, what do you want to do?” was the question I asked Yao, his wife, and his sister, who had just finished listening to the last of 20 selected Bible passages that we call the “Discovering God” series. Just a few days prior they had studied John 3 (conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus), and now they were looking at Acts 2 and 3. The lesson ended with the crowd in chapter two being “cut to the heart” by the gospel story and asking in response, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter declares, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
And what was the response from Yao and his family to my question? “We want to leave our old life and our old path behind to follow the path of Jesus and receive a new life from him. We want to believe on him and be baptized.”
It has been so evident since the beginning of our studies with this family that they were being prepared by the Holy Spirit for this moment, so it really was not a surprise to us that they responded this way, but it was incredibly moving nonetheless.
Where’s the Water?
The next obvious question was, “So where’s the water?” That wasn’t as easy of a question to answer. Even though the rainy season had begun, Yao’s village had not received much rain up to that point, so most of the smaller creeks were still quite low or completely dry. Yao knew of a larger stream a couple miles away, but that presented a problem: Yao can’t walk. We eventually found a creek with enough water in it a little over one mile from his house, but that still meant carrying him on a homemade stretcher for quite a distance. The date was set for June 29, so in the mean time Yao and his family invited everyone they could to come witness their identification with Christ in baptism.
We had “scheduled” (this word doesn’t exist in Africa) for everyone to show up at Yao’s house at 10 o’clock in the morning because we figured it would take up to a full hour for everyone to show up so we could be at the water by around noon. Boy, were we wrong! It had rained the night before, so everybody went out early to work their fields before coming to Yao’s house. By noon people were just starting to show up. By one o’clock everyone was there and we started off down the gravel road to the creek. Andrew and I carried Yao for a while, then handed him off to some other guys who continued to take turns carrying him two by two.
A Declaration of Allegiance
When we arrived at the creek, we all sat down and Tchéou introduced himself, Andrew, and me for those who didn’t already know us. We then explained breifly what baptism meant, that it is a visible identification with Jesus, meaning that Yao and his family now belong to Jesus. We followed this by playing the last Discovering God lesson for everyone to hear an example of people responding to the gospel, believing, and being baptized.
After the lesson, Yao and the two ladies each told everyone about what their lives were like prior to knowing Jesus, how they have since changed, and why they want to be baptized. Each one of them mentioned in their own way how they grew up doing fetishes and didn’t know anything different, but can see now how that path led them to nothing but problems and pain. They declared that they have chosen to follow Jesus now, which has brought them a peace that they never knew before.
Only in Africa
Once they had finished talking, we all walked down to the water and started by clumsily getting Yao from his stretcher into the water. We all nearly toppled over because our feet got stuck in the steep slope of mud near the bank! But we managed to stay on our feet and not drown our first baptizee, which was a very good thing.
If that wasn’t humorous enough, what happened next certainly was. In one of those “this is Africa” moments, both ladies began to take their shirts off before getting into the water! Tchéou and Yao quickly told them to stop, which they did, thankfully. We came very close to having topless baptisms!
On the walk back to Yao’s house, spirits were high and Yao had everybody laughing histerically as he shouted from his royal stretcher while being escorted by his peasant servants, “I’m the king of Défalé! (the largest nearby city), I’m the president of Togo!” People were laughing so hard it’s surprising they didn’t drop him!
In Togo, it’s impossible to do any sort of ceremony (regardless of how unceremonious you make it) without a celebration afterwards, and “celebration” is a always synonymous with “food and drink.” Since Yao and his family have absolutely nothing, they did the bare minimum, which is to provide “tchouk.” It’s a homemade, slightly fermented beer made from sorghum (similar to what we put in bird feeders!) that tastes like…well, like nothing you’ve ever tasted before.
In the weeks since their baptism, we have continued meeting with the family to encourage them and help them begin studying God’s Word on their own using a radio containing the audio of the New Testament. We have also given them the Discovering God series so they can begin doing these studies with other families in the area who have been asking them about it.
We were curious to know what people were saying about this completely new thing to take place in their village, so we asked Yao what people’s reactions have been. He said that it has been overwhelmingly positive, and that people have now realized that all those times they saw us passing by on our motorcycles, we weren’t just there to “play around.” They have seen the serious impact that God’s Word has had in Yao’s family, and they are very curious.
Please pray for Yao, his wife, and his sister, that in spite of their physical limitations (his sister has a leg that’s been infected nearly to the bone for six years), God will continue revealing himself to them and giving them opportunities and boldness to share this peace-giving message of Jesus.