In a word picture calling to mind the serenity of an Oriental painting, Erwin Wiens describes a baptism of the Jesus Village Church, an Anabaptist congregation located near the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.
The mountain stream cascades through the valley into a quiet pool. On a rock ledge overlooking the pool, 60 members of Jesus Village Church sit in the shade of overhanging trees, gathered for worship. On a sand bank across the stream, two tents wait.
Our worship leader, Cha Sung-do, stands on a protruding rock in the stream. He asks us to become quiet and listen. We hear birds calling. We hear the stream gurgling its way down the mountainside. We see trees, varied and green, stretch up to the distant mountaintop. In the clear pool below us, minnows dart through the sparkling water. A leaf floats slowly by.
Our worship moves through silence to prayer, songs of praise, testimony and preaching.
Cha recalls how the first Anabaptists took the risk of publicly declaring their commitment to Jesus Christ through the act of baptism. He calls today’s candidates, along with four members of the leadership team, to cross the stream on the stepping-stones.
I eagerly enter the clear pool, followed by Yoon-Shik Lee, Brother Nahm and Daniel Ahn.
Sixteen-year-old Yo-han Chung is the first to follow us into the water. In his rapid fire Korean, Daniel calls out, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord of your life?”
Yo-han’s voice booms out, echoing through the mountainside, “Yes, I do!” So we immerse him into the stream. As he surfaces, loud shouts of “Hallelujah!” and cheers and clapping burst from the congregation seated on the rock.
The fourth candidate is Christina Ahn. She has been my student for the past 10 months and I have come to appreciate her quiet, solid faith. I reach out to help her into the water.
Now I call out the question in English and Christina answers, “I do.” We gently immerse her, and again hallelujahs and applause ring out.
The eighth and final candidate is 48-year-old Eun-soo Pak. Her powerful testimony of coming to faith out of a shamanist history moves us all to tears. As she enters the baptismal water, her face radiates peace and joy.
It’s Yoon-Shik’s turn to ask the question and after her response, Eun-soo calmly yields to the water. In the clear pool, I look at her peaceful, submerged face. She knows the meaning of death in a most personal way, having lost an only son to a tragic traffic accident. But that loss ultimately brought her to faith in Jesus. As we lift her from the water, she symbolizes the resurrection she so eagerly anticipates.
The candidates re-cross the stream to join the eager congregation. They are met with garlands of wild flowers picked by children before the service, a bouquet of roses, a gift-wrapped Bible and their baptism certificate.
After endless picture taking, we eat a lunch of beenin-bop – a rice and vegetable dish – watermelon and two huge birthday cakes. After all, this is a birthday of sorts for the candidates. And for Jesus Village Church, it also marks a birthday as these eight people are the first baptisms in a church that identifies itself as an Anabaptist community in Korea’s jungle of Confucian, Buddhist, shamanist and Christian communities.
| © 2008 Mennonite Brethren Herald
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