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About Baptism and Abundant Life

About Baptism and Abundant Life


published on Apr 25, 2023

Middle East Ecumenical Delegation Day 5, April 23, 2023
Written by Rev. Dr. Japhet Ndhlovu, Executive Minister, Church in Mission Unit

I was so privileged to join a solidarity leadership pilgrimage to the Middle East. The trip covered Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. I was unable to join my colleagues in Palestine and Israel due to visa issues. My passport, which had only two blank pages remaining, apparently did not have enough pages to allow the extra visa to be added there. No big deal. I am sure next time, I will have plenty of passport pages to get that visa so that I can go and experience the context in which our partners are seeking a just peace in that part of the world.  

Meanwhile, I learned so much from our visits to Lebanon and Jordan. It was my first time to visit the region. I am sure you can imagine that all my senses, taste buds, and learning antennas were high. Let me narrow my sharing of this blog to my experience at the Baptismal site at the river Jordan, to which I was looking forward. It is situated on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, a few kilometers north of the Dead Sea. It is believed that on this site John the Baptist conducted baptisms of repentance and that one day his cousin Jesus came also seeking to be baptized.

I was actually somewhat disappointed to find only a little pond of water as the possible site where Jesus was baptized. I had expected an exotic river like the River Zambezi from my motherland Zambia. Apart from my disappointment, I had a spiritually wonderful time reflecting on Baptism.  

I remembered my own baptism. I was baptized as a teenager way back in 1980. I remember that water on my body. I am reminded that as a baptized person I belong to a large community of people who were also baptized in the name of Triune God. As baptized people, we desire transformation and new life. We desire a community where all of us are welcome regardless of our skin color or origins. As a welcoming community of people of faith, we work to break down all barriers of systemic injustice so that all people might experience abundant life.

Not so far away from the Baptismal site, we were also introduced to another site where the prophet Elijah might have ascended into heaven. Elijah was an Old Testament prophet, and all prophets called for the reign of God and for justice to reign like a river.  

The challenge of experiencing abundant life is becoming elusive for many people. While in Lebanon, we visited a refugee camp hosting Palestinian people who have been away from their homeland for 75 years. Some were born in those camps, and they cannot be given citizenship. They are always treated as foreigners who will one day go back to their homes. The land where they have built houses is not theirs. It belongs to other interestingly baptized people who belong to a certain Christian tradition. Unfortunately, these fellow baptized people do not allow them to do any major repairs to their house so it remains as a constant reminder that this is not their home.  

The challenges for seeking justice and working for a transformed society is a very huge task that cannot be accomplished by one individual or one group of baptized people. We are therefore called as Baptized people to work ecumenically.

Baptized people should together work for social justice to transform society and break down systemic injustices. Baptized people and other people of goodwill should join hands with the Middle East Council of Churches to work towards a vision of a pluralist Palestinian society that guarantees equal opportunities for all its members, based on the ideals of justice, equality of rights, opportunities, and freedoms.

This is one of the pieces of ecumenical work that my denomination, the United Church of Canada is working together with our siblings whom I was glad to join on this trip from the United Church of Christ in the USA and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the USA and Canada.

As we were reminded by one of our guides, ‘Baptism was connected to becoming part of a community. Time is slow because God is slow for a pilgrimage of justice.

We all got a chance to renew our Baptisms.

In the picture is the author of this blog the Rev. Dr. Japhet Ndhlovu, Executive Minister for the Church in Mission Unit, affirming his baptism as the Rev. Teresa Hord Owens marks him with a sign of the cross and reminds him that he was baptized in the name of the Triune God. Rev. Terri is General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.

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