The Feast is Ready to Begin (Creative Access country)
by Dorli Gschwandtner
“Let us pray that the Devil will not attack our people tonight! Let us pray that they will remain firm, that they will be victorious!” The young man turned to me. “You see, often our people are afraid. They suffer threats and discrimination. Many will simply not show up tomorrow.”
“How many do you expect?” I inquired somewhat timidly.
“Two hundred. Two hundred made the decision to be baptized and declare publicly that they belong to Christ. But how many will come? We don't know. Maybe 50. Maybe 100. Maybe all 200! Only God knows. Let us pray, so he may strengthen our people's hearts!”
The next day dawned bright and full of hope. We made our way to the church: the sun smiling on the white-washed building with its bright-red crosses painted on the doors, cooks busily stirring in pots balanced over fiery ditches, helpers raising up a tent for the celebration, half-clad children curiously examining the bustle. A song ran through my mind as I watched the preparations for this grand occasion: “The trumpets sound, the angels sing, the feast is ready to begin
”. How many would join the feast? How many had lost their courage during the long dark hours of the night?
The sun rose in the sky as people started arriving and piled into the church until the sanctuary was full and overflowing. After a brief but vibrant prayer, we formed queues outside and began marching—a long procession of women and children in dazzling colours and men in more solemn whites and greys
a triumphant parade, like the Israelites marching to conquer Jericho.
Soon we arrived at our destination: a thin, muddy river snaking its way through the fields. We spread along the bank, while four pastors waded into the stream and the new believers queued up at the riverside to have their names recorded. Then alone, in pairs, or in family groups, they stepped into the water: young and old, male and female, sick and healthy, confident and afraid. For many it was the first full-body immersion of their lives: truly the sensation of being reborn.
The faces of a few newly-baptized boys that ran by me gleamed with a triumphant radiance; others strode up the riverbank with deep contentment spreading across their features. Just behind us, a Hindu burial place crouched in the shadows of the trees: the dead are burned there, after a life lived without hope, looking anxiously toward an uncertain future. In the river, our people were baptized in the bright light of the noon-day sun: they experienced new birth to receive eternal life.
The sun had travelled high in the sky and begun its downward journey, when the pastors finally joined hands and waded back to the riverbank. I stood with them by the water as we raised our arms and fell into joyful prayer, while the whole assembly joined in. I prayed especially for those young Christians, as I expected, that had been overcome by social pressure and stayed away.
The prayer ended and we climbed up the bank to return to the church. But one question caused us to linger, and expectantly we turned towards the pastor who held a list with the names of the baptized. How many? After a brief moment of silence the pastor glanced up and his face shone in triumph as he proclaimed: Two hundred and fifty-four!
And we had been worrying about two hundred. The trumpets sound, the angels sing!
The feast is indeed ready to begin.
This baptism took place in a creative-access country where Dorli Gschwandtner served as NIVS in 2002–2003.