“Are they ready?” a pastor asked me quietly. I nodded emphatically although I knew I was far from the best judge in such matters. And yet, I had heard their story. Week after week, we sat around their kitchen table where they urged food and drink upon us while we discussed a passage of Scripture. I believed that their simple faith in Jesus was ready for public proclamation.
The day S. and I. were to be baptized dawned warm and spring-like—weather that aptly reflected my excitement to watch the next part of their story (see above links to read it). What would their experience be? How would they feel, not only being in a church service for the first time, but one filled with Croatians and not Roma? How would they make sense and interpret the new rituals and language to which they would be exposed?
The other Roma couple who was supposed to have been baptized had just dropped out. The wife had miscarried her baby three days before and was filled with angry grief toward everyone—including God.
“Perhaps we should make sure we are telling them that following Jesus does not guarantee an easy life,” another pastor commented when he heard this.
But the Roma have never had an easy life, so perhaps this is a moot point. I know the Christians who are faithfully going into the villages each week are not peddling some magic potion gospel. This woman certainly knows of S.’s miraculous healing—perhaps she agonizingly wonders why God would allow the death of her child. Such questions of God’s relationship to human suffering and loss plague everyone at certain points in life.
When I arrived at the service, I was elated to see a handful of other Roma friends from the village who had come to witness the baptism. I could see S. and I. sitting in the front pew, the last in a row of white-garbed expectants. I greeted S. and I. warmly and squeezed myself into the last space next to them. Our relationship is constrained by communication limitations, but this couple is special to me. The weekly time around their table, encouraging and being encouraged by their young faith is an intimate affair, so somehow I wanted to be close enough to share in this experience with them.
As each person took his or her turn to walk up on the stage and into the baptismal, S. and I. would look at me and smile widely, nodding their heads. I wasn’t sure what they were thinking, so I just grinned back. As I watched S. slowly hobble up the stairs to the baptismal, I thought about her life a year ago—chained to her bed by a fear and sickness that did not allow her to leave the house. And now she was being submerged in water and lifted out—the sign of new life and rebirth.
After the baptisms, the pastor blessed the first communion of which the newly baptized would partake. It quickly dawned on me the Lord’s Supper had never been explained to them. I can not even imagine S. and I.’s thoughts as they took the thimble of wine and crumb of bread. If individuals don’t know about the Lord’s Supper, are they really ready to be baptized?
But I think of S.’s love for this Jesus who healed her and set her free from the fear that gripped her for four years. “You have brought me the good news about Jesus…,” she said. The same words are found in Acts 8:33, when Philip shared the good news with the Ethiopian eunuch. “Look here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” he asked of Philip. Indeed, when one hears and responds so immediately to the good news, what is to prevent baptism?
I am not confident that my friends understood everything happening in last night’s service, or that they felt comfortable or greatly inspired, but I am confident that their ongoing conversion is not our work anyway—but is being enacted and directed by the Spirit. “Jesus Christ healed me and I didn’t want to offend him,” S. said to me once as a reason for a change she made in her life. Does not such simple faith and obedience depict what it means to be a disciple of Jesus?