Baptism at Rio Lindo Adventist Academy
By Bruce Yingling
Evoking Biblical scenes from the Jordan River, the water in the Russian River was muddy from late spring rains, but spirits were high as 29 Rio Lindo Adventist Academy students publically committed themselves to Christ through baptism Sabbath afternoon of graduation weekend. Two pastors, Krystalynn Martin, Rio pastor, and Jonathan Henderson, pastor of the Grand Avenue SDA church in Oakland; and two ordained Rio elders, Steve Martin and Jason Foster, led out in the baptisms.
Melana Llopes, Rio Senior, was baptized later the same afternoon during the Tribute to Parents program; and the previous Wednesday evening four other students who could not stay for graduation were baptized in the church. Sarah Shields, senior, had a moonlight baptism at the river on her birthday shortly after spring week of prayer, making the total number of student baptisms this year 35. Of these, 20 were first-time commitments, including five international students, and 15 were re-baptisms. In addition, ten other students have expressed an interest in baptism to Pastor Martin and plan to get baptized next year, including several seniors who want to be baptized on graduation weekend 2011.
Even though a large number were being baptized on a very busy day, the baptisms were not rushed. Each student had the chance to give a personal testimony, or to have one read. Justin Dew, Rio senior, expressed the purpose of Christian education and the joy of a new life in Christ in his testimony. When he arrived at Rio his junior year, he had been involved with a bad group of friends in Sacramento and was involved in a lot of activities he is not proud of. He first apologized to his parents for the hurt he had caused them, and then he told about a conversation he had with Jason Foster, Rio dean, when he first arrived. “Dean called me aside and asked me who I was, not who I had been in the past, but who Justin was right now. At the time, I couldn’t answer him. But now I know the answer. I am a man of God.”
Mauricio Urrutia, also a senior, shared that he was tired of trusting in his own understanding, and he wanted to let God lead in all areas, especially as he leaves Rio. He said, "I don't want to start the future without God in it. So God, take me and use me. And I want to promise one thing: I choose not to lean on my own understanding, but to trust in You!"
Karence White-Belton had always wanted to be baptized her senior year, but in the rush of activities and end of the year projects and tests, she did not take the time to make plans for baptism. According to Pastor Martin, “She came and asked me after the Baccalaureate service if it was too late, and I said ‘no!’ She had never been baptized, so we talked a bit and got everything squared away! She was baptized later that afternoon with her classmates, the tears rolling down her cheeks and the biggest sense of peace written on her face. It was beautiful!”
In her testimony, Kerence said, "I have decided to be baptized as a symbol of my love and devotion for God. My heart's desire is to do His will with my entire being. By being baptized today I am declaring to God that I will let Him lead me where He wants me to go. I will trust Him completely with my life and be available at any time and at all costs to fulfill His plans for my life."
Most of the students baptized were following through on a commitment they made at the conclusion of the spring week of prayer when Pastor Henderson, speaker, gave an alter call. Interestingly, his sermon topic was how Naaman was washed clean by the muddy waters of the Jordan River. However, as Pastor Martin pointed out, the decisions for baptism were not just positive responses to a powerful week of prayer sermon. “We had been working with most of these students before week of prayer through dorm Bible study groups, personal Bible studies, and throughout our many outreach activities, including the Thailand mission trip. The spring week of prayer when Pastor Henderson invited the students to commit to Christ was just the right time for most of these students to respond. The seeds had been planted and were ready for harvest.” She went on to explain that for today’s teenagers to be attracted to religion, it must be real and that the positive spiritual tone on campus this past school year has only been achieved by balancing on-campus spiritual programming with an active outreach ministry. At Rio, she said, “We've seen that meaningful outreach programs, especially the Open Table ministry to the homeless and Mission Trips, have really changed the students and made them want to be followers of Christ!”
She then added, “We have seen the impact of outreach in a big way with the international students. Brian Seo, Reese Park, Judy Yeh, Yu Tan, and Kenand Fenelus all made their decisions to follow Christ based on Christianity’s emphasis on personal outreach. They saw unselfish love was what Jesus is all about, and they wanted to be a part of Him.” Reese Park, sophomore from Korea, chose to be baptized because he “wants God to give him the strength to help others and to take his fear away when it comes to talking to others about God and helping them.” Judy Yeh, sophomore from Taiwan, shared that she made the decision to be baptized to show others that she wanted to give her life to Jesus. She said, "God is like a Father to me. He takes care of me, and I've also found Him to be a Friend I can talk to."
Other students, such as Edward Stockton and David Rivas, junior, found a personal connection with God on the mission trip to Thailand. According to Pastor Martin, “They had known the facts about God, but these facts didn't click until we were living out what it meant to be a follower of Christ on the Mission Trip. They really wanted to continue what God had started in them as they came back to the States and to the Rio campus. They didn't want mission trip to be the two weeks with God; they wanted every moment of life to be a mission adventure with God from here on out! Baptism was a part of that decision. Mission Trips and Outreach activities are huge evangelism tools that change students’ lives, not just here but for eternity!”
Pastor Henderson declared to the participants and audience that “baptism is not a graduation, but rather an enrollment,” and, accordingly, Pastor Martin has plans to support the students in their new walk with Christ. For all the students, she plans to write encouraging notes throughout the summer. For returning students, she also plans to involve them next school year in spiritual leadership to keep them growing spiritually. For seniors, she hopes to find out where those who were baptized are going to college, so she can try to get them plugged into a group or ministry at their next school.
The biggest help Pastor Martin asks for her continued youth ministry at Rio is prayer, for as she explained, “Apart from God's Spirit, anything we do at Rio is just another program.”