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When I set about preparing an edition on baptism, I was worried there wouldn’t be enough ‘new’ to say about this simple yet mysterious and most blessing-laden sacrament.

Well, perhaps what we can share about baptism is nothing ‘new’, but it sure is worth reminding ourselves of the gifts we have received through the combination of earthly water and the heavenly power of God’s word.

What I actually found as I spoke to different people were more wonderful, moving and inspiring stories from our Lutheran family than I could squeeze into these pages. And that’s just the ones I heard about over the past couple of months! Whether local or globally based, these stories of lives and relationships transformed are bright and brilliant signposts to God’s grace and promises, and his redemptive work through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the unfailing prompting and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Of the many promises and blessings of baptism, a few are mentioned again and again by people sharing their stories – becoming a child of God no matter what the age at which we are baptised, the forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ Jesus. But wait, there’s more! This may risk a reference to the ubiquitous steak knives in many a telemarketer’s toolkit, but it’s true. The gift of the Holy Spirit, deliverance from death and the devil, eternal salvation … they all come to us in baptism.

Many of us don’t remember our baptism day if we were brought before God as infants. But the power and privilege of baptism are the same whether we were baptised after three weeks or 83 years. The New Testament is full of verses highlighting miracles worked by God in baptism. One of my favourite texts, along with any reference to being made a member of God’s family, is from 1 Corinthians 6:11, ‘You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God’.

I pray that you’ll be excited by the stories we are so blessed to share in the following pages and that you’ll be encouraged to praise God for the fact you have been made his precious child and ‘marked as his own’ (Ephesians 1:13).

Also, this month, along with highlighted resources, we introduce you to the new leader of Australian Lutheran World Service, and feature reports from education and mission leaders’ gatherings. And, for our print subscribers, you’ll find a bonus copy of Border Crossings from LCA International Mission inside (digital subscribers can head to https://lcamission.org.au and find a digital copy under the Resources tab).

–Lisa

PS – Thank you, too, to subscribers who have been affected by delayed invoicing for your patience while we complete the changeover to a new database system.

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Bishop Paul’s letter

Rev Paul Smith
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand

At a General Convention of Synod at Luther College in Melbourne, I found myself sitting beside Adrienne Jericho. Not only was Adrienne serving as our church’s Executive Director of Lutheran Education Australia at the time, but in 1978 he had also been my Scripture teacher when I was a Year 11 student at St Peters Lutheran College at Indooroopilly in Queensland. So, I felt quite honoured to be sitting with him.

During a regular break in proceedings, Adrienne and I were talking about the impact of Lutheran schooling and how it had been forming our Lutheran Church, both here in Australia and in New Zealand. We wondered how many ‘green cards’ would be held up if Adrienne asked delegates to hold up their Synod voting card if they had themselves attended a Lutheran school?

In the next session of convention, Adrienne did exactly that. At the microphone for his presentation, he asked delegates, ‘Please hold up your green card if you attended a Lutheran school’. Green cards were held up everywhere across the assembly. But then Adrienne went further. He said, ‘Keep those cards up. Now, please hold up your green card if your children or grandchildren are attending or have attended a Lutheran school’. A whole host of additional voting cards were held up. Finally, he asked, ‘Would you hold up your card if you are a delegate representing a community that includes a Lutheran school?’ Even more cards went up until there was a virtual sea of green across the convention. This wonderful moment at that Synod reveals the profound presence of Lutheran schooling in forming the life of our Lutheran Church.

As a church, we establish schools and early childhood services to educate young people in the name of the Lord, bearing witness to the students, parents, teachers and friends of our schools, as we provide quality teaching and learning. While we have been forming young people through Lutheran schooling, Lutheran schooling has been forming us as a church.

As I write these words for you, Lutheran educators and the people of our Lutheran schools and early learning communities are getting ready for ‘ACLE’ in Melbourne. This is our church’s Australian Conference on Lutheran Education begun in 1999, gathering women and men in educational ministries from all parts of the Lutheran Church and from around the world. Participants at ACLE enter into robust, purposeful and creative professional development together to improve the learning experience of the young people and families involved in our school and early learning communities.

During these past years of the pandemic, we have seen extraordinary growth in our Lutheran schools. Across the church, school enrolment numbers have broadly increased despite the great difficulties of lockdown and illness. This is certainly the result of diligent planning and management by our school councils, our staff and our school communities. But we must pause and give thanks especially for the faithful witness and service of the women and men who are our Lutheran school principals.

Let us pray for God’s blessing on the ongoing work of our Lutheran schools as our gracious God continues to form young people through our schools and early learning communities, and as our gracious God continues to form our Lutheran Church through our Lutheran schools.

Personally, I thank God that I have been formed by so many of our Lutheran school communities. God gathered me into our church through the witness of a Lutheran school community; I have served as school pastor in four Lutheran schools, in three of those as the full-time college pastor; my three children attended Lutheran schools to grade 12; and my wife Heidi also attended Lutheran schools to grade 12 and is a trained Lutheran secondary school teacher.

I thank God for the blessing that is Lutheran schooling and Lutheran early childhood services.

In Christ,
Paul

Lord Jesus, we belong to you,
you live in us, we live in you;
we live and work for you –
because we bear your name.

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by Dan Mueller

A few weeks ago, I welcomed 60 inquisitive Year 6 students to our worship centre as part of their Christian Studies class. Immanuel Lutheran College, a Prep to Year 12 school, is co-located with Immanuel Lutheran Church in Buderim, on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, where I currently serve as the congregational pastor. These 60 students were visiting to learn about the sacraments, including baptism.

The first question I asked them was, ‘What does the word “sacrament” mean?’ After a few good guesses, we learnt together that ‘sacrament’ is a Latin word meaning ‘sacred oath’. God makes promises and attaches his oath to physical elements, such as the water in baptism or bread and wine in holy communion. Interestingly, before this Latin word, a Greek word was used instead: ‘mysterion’, from which we get our English word ‘mystery’. As a sacrament, baptism is a ‘mysterion’ – a mystery. No matter how hard we might try to explain what baptism is – for example, using Luther’s Catechism – it always remains a mystery! Baptism is God’s promise, spoken by his word, that he attaches to water. What a mystery!

How does one explain this mystery to 60 Year 6 students!? That was my challenge for the afternoon.

One of my go-to books for teaching about baptism is Daniel Erlander’s Let the Children Come, which is handily available from Australian Christian Resources.

I like this book because it has pictures! I’m not joking. It literally has pictures – each page is wonderfully illustrated with interesting and funny characters by the author.

But the book also has metaphorical pictures – it draws heavily upon biblical word pictures used to describe the mystery of faith. Metaphors and word pictures are, in my humble opinion, better than so-called ‘literal’ renderings, because they unleash the power to redescribe reality, to paraphrase the famous philosopher, Paul Ricoeur. Word pictures have the power to describe the divine mystery of baptism, so that even – and especially – children can understand. In a metaphor, the abundance of divine truth is poured into shallow human words.

Here are a few biblical metaphors to help us make sense of the mystery of baptism. Baptism is …

  • Dying and rising with Christ to a new life (Romans 6; Colossians 2:12,13).
  • A new birth, a change so complete that it’s like being born anew, born from above (John 3).
  • A cleansing bath that washes away the stain and dirt of sin (1 Peter 3:21,22; Titus 3:4–8).
  • Being clothed in a white robe – the robe is Jesus Christ himself – being covered by his forgiveness and right-ness (Galatians 3:27,28; Colossians 3:9,10; Revelation 7:9).
  • Being adopted into a new family, becoming a daughter or son of royalty, a child of God (Ephesians 1:3–5; John 1:12,13; Galatians 3:25–29; Romans 8:14–17).

Each metaphor is a thread that is woven together to form a beautiful tapestry. Putting all the metaphors together helps us to make some sense of the mystery of baptism. It is dying with Christ in the tomb and walking free with him; it is being born again; it is sin being washed away; it is being clothed with the right-ness of Christ; it is being adopted into God’s family, and so on. The power of God’s word added to plain water makes all of this happen in baptism. Wow! What a mysterious mystery!

I’d love to tell you that all the Year 6 students were blown away and asked to be baptised immediately on the spot! But it was 2.30pm at the end of a long school day. So, I pray seeds were planted that may someday bear fruit (another metaphor!).

May you make sense of your baptism each day. May you know that through your baptism you have been made a child of God, washed clean, clothed in a white robe, and have died and risen again with Christ. May you live each day wet.

Rev Dr Dan Mueller is pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church Buderim on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

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by Lisa McIntosh

When Barbara Metzger welcomed new client Helen to her Adelaide Hills bed and breakfast 15 years ago, little did she know the meeting would lead to an enduring friendship and a life-changing spiritual journey for the two women. Australian-born Helen, who lived in Germany for approximately 40 years, stayed at Barbara’s holiday accommodation most years since that first visit for at least four to six weeks.

A member of Grace Lutheran congregation in Bridgewater, Barbara would speak to her friend about her love of going to church, something that wasn’t part of Helen’s own life experience.

When Helen was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer while at home in Germany, she said she wanted to come back and die in Australia and she would like her funeral to be at Grace, Barbara explains. ‘Her family are not churchgoers and she said she would like it if our pastor could do her service’, Barbara says.

Helen returned to Australia in March, living with her sister. Barbara asked whether Helen minded if the Grace congregation prayed for her. Helen agreed and expressed a desire to attend a service but was too weak, so the pair watched worship together on Zoom. Pastor Michael Dutschke, who serves at Grace, also visited Helen. When Helen’s health declined further and she went into hospice care, Barbara visited often and, having discovered that her friend wasn’t baptised, asked whether she would like to be. Some days later, Helen asked to be baptised.

‘I thought this was a wonderful chance, we didn’t know how long she had left, but I didn’t know whether I could organise this’, Barbara says. Unable to contact Pastor Michael, who was interstate, or local retired pastor Alex Stevenson, Barbara asked Alex’s wife Gill to help her through an emergency baptism. Barbara prepared water, while Gill, over speakerphone, took Helen through an affirmation of her faith, read the Bible, and prayed, guiding Barbara through the baptismal rite. Gill says she ‘felt led by God’ through the situation.

‘Helen was really happy about it’, Barbara says of the baptism. ‘I believe that she is now Jesus’ child. She was very comfortable knowing that there is life after this life.’

Pastor Michael says when he phoned Barbara back, she told him ‘the great news’ about Helen’s baptism. ‘I was excited that Helen had received Jesus as her Lord and Saviour, and also excited that the “body of Christ” had done its work without me!’

Although she misses Helen, whose funeral was held at Grace last month, Barbara says she is ‘elated’ that her friend is saved, by having come to faith. ‘If we are called to do something, the power of God will take us through it. Helen was supposed to be saved’, she says.

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Baptism is one of the most important events in our life of faith and God’s way of welcoming people into his family. It is a sacrament of grace connecting people to salvation won for them through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Baptism cleanses us, renews us and gives us the Holy Spirit. To follow are some questions and answers addressing what Lutherans believe about this life-giving gift of God.

What does the word ‘baptise’ mean?

The word ‘baptise’ is used in connection with the application of water. To ‘baptise’ means to apply water by immersing, pouring, dipping, washing etc.

Who should be baptised?

Jesus said that ‘all nations’ should be baptised and taught to keep his commands (Matthew 28:19). God’s salvation plan was for all the people of the earth, so baptism is also meant to be for all the people of the earth.

Who can baptise people?

Normally the called pastor/priest/leader of a congregation officiates at a baptism. This is because baptism joins a person to the body of Christ. However, when no pastor/priest/leader is available, any Christian can perform a baptism.

What do you receive in baptism?

The forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), deliverance from death and the devil (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 1:13,14), eternal salvation and life with God (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21) and the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5).

What is the proper way to baptise?

The method of baptism is not prescribed in Scripture, except that the use of water and the name of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is required (Matthew 28:19). The traditional method among Lutherans is to apply water three times to the head of the candidate, making the sign of the cross each time. If practical, full immersion remains an option and that can also be done three times as the Trinitarian names are pronounced.

What is the difference between an adult baptism and an infant baptism?

Essentially nothing. Baptism is a sacrament of grace that is offered to infants and adults alike. Adults can consciously engage in the responses in the rite of baptism, renouncing the devil and declaring allegiance to the Triune God. However, the baptism and gifts received through it come about solely through the actions of God.

What is the link between baptism and eternal salvation?

The Bible links the two directly: ‘Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved’ (Mark 16:16); ‘this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 3:21); and ‘he saved us … because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 3:5).

Is salvation possible without baptism?

Yes. It is only unbelief that condemns (see Mark 16:16). Those who believe the gospel and call on the name of the Lord, even if they aren’t baptised, will be saved (Romans 10:9-13). The thief on the cross received the assurance of salvation without baptism (Luke 23:39–43).

If I already believe in Jesus, why do I need to be baptised?

Even though salvation is possible apart from baptism, the assurance of salvation is connected to baptism. Jesus himself commanded it as the means to ‘making disciples of all nations’.

Why do we baptise infants?

The command of Jesus was to baptise all nations. Jesus accepted and blessed children too young to respond (Mark 10:13-16). Baptism is an act of God’s grace and marks entry into his family. Sin exists from birth (Psalm 51:5) and God’s solution is also provided from birth. We are saved through the gracious actions of God. Every time we baptise a baby, we proclaim to all the world that God’s grace is sufficient for everyone.

How is a Lutheran baptism different from other churches?

You can get baptised in a Lutheran church, but you are not baptised ‘Lutheran’. A person is not baptised into a denomination but into the family of God. Different denominations might have different rites of baptism and acts of symbolism, but all baptisms join a person to the body of Christ. The Lutheran church teaches that baptism is valid if water and the triune name of God are used, regardless of whether the person is an infant or an adult or is baptised by sprinkling or full immersion.

What if a child dies before they are baptised?

God does not require baptism to save. We can reassure parents who had been intending to bring their child to the waters of baptism that his grace extends beyond this rite.

Why does the church encourage there to be godparents/sponsors?

In the case of infants, godparents have the role of supporting the parents in their responsibilities of teaching the faith to their child. This responsibility is upon the whole church generally and upon parents and godparents specifically. For an adult, the sponsors are likewise there to support and mentor them in their faith journey.

What does it mean to be born again?

Jesus used this term to describe the mystery which occurs when someone enters the kingdom of God (John 3:1-8). It affirms that this act of regeneration (through baptism) depends on God’s work. Jesus says that unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, they cannot enter God’s kingdom. God brings about this new ‘birth’ through the waters of baptism, regardless of the age of the person being baptised.

Can I get baptised again?

You can – but you shouldn’t. God’s word teaches that there is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:4–6). His promises are attached to baptism and effective in baptism. Rather than get baptised again it is far more helpful to remember that you are a baptised child of God every day.

What if I am not sure whether I have already been baptised?

If no record nor witnesses can be found of your baptism, then you can request to be baptised in good conscience. Even if you were indeed baptised, this second baptism will not discount the first.

This Q&A is an excerpt from Trail Marker One on baptism from the Faith Trail Ministry resource by the LCANZ’s Grow Ministries.

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God can use any means, people, or situation to invite others into his family. A chat between a footballer and a netballer at a country pub. A blossoming romance. A footy-umpiring pastor. A family connection. Marriage preparation sessions. An adult baptism. A friendship born out of it all. And, of course, joy on earth and in heaven when the invitation is accepted. 

by Lisa McIntosh

Being baptised as a baby has been traditional for most Lutherans in Australia and New Zealand. But for Luke Horner, along with many others, the journey to joining God’s family has been different.

Now husband to Amy and a father of two young children, Luke went to church occasionally as a child with his mum and attended a Lutheran primary school. But he’d never been baptised.

‘I knew I wasn’t baptised in primary school, especially being a Christian-based school and learning about God’, Luke, from South Australia’s Riverland, says. ‘For my parents, baptism wasn’t something that they thought was essential for me.

‘I knew there was a God but, during my teenage years, I thought God was not as important as my other priorities at the time.’

In 2006, Luke got to know Amy as both were playing sport – football and netball – in Waikerie. They got chatting in the pub one evening after home-ground matches. When they started going out, Amy says, ‘we had no idea that we both held a connection to a belief in God’.

Amy had been baptised as a child, attended church and Sunday school and grew up with a strong Christian influence from her parents. ‘However, during my teenage and early adulthood years, I didn’t go to church as much’, she says. ‘However, I still held my Christian faith and always believed in God.’

When the couple became engaged, they decided on a church wedding. They knew Pastor Richard Fox, who was serving the Waikerie Lutheran parish and umpiring local Aussie Rules football, both through Amy’s parents being active church members and Luke’s sport. They asked Pastor Richard whether he would conduct their 2010 wedding and he offered some pre-marriage preparation sessions.

‘Luke was the vice-captain of the Waikerie Football Club at the time’, Pastor Richard explains. ‘Luke and I didn’t talk about Christianity while at footy, though a few of his teammates suggested I might be better in the pulpit rather than umpiring! I invited them to come and compare! But Luke and I acknowledged each other and said “hi”, which was a big thing between a footy player and an umpire.’

During Luke and Amy’s pre-marriage sessions, Pastor Richard chatted with Luke and the topic of baptism came up.

‘Luke wasn’t baptised but wondered what it was, and I shared about what happens. He seemed surprised about its simplicity but also the great gifts it gives.’

After completing the preparation, the couple was married. But while he remembers the wedding as a wonderful celebration, it was what happened the morning after that also stands out in Pastor Richard’s memory. ‘I think Luke and Amy were the first people at church’, he says. ‘I asked them why they were there, and they explained that they wanted to worship before going on their honeymoon.’

After their wedding, the Horners attended church regularly and Pastor Richard says occasionally he would ask how they were going, and if they had any questions about worship, God and baptism.

‘Some months later after church one Sunday, Luke and Amy waited around to talk with me’, Pastor Richard says. ‘They wanted to know more about baptism and what the options were for Luke. I went through the baptism rite with them and discussed any questions they had.’

Luke was baptised in 2011 in a private service with Pastor Richard and close family.

‘I wanted the baptism to be more intimate and, being a shy sort of guy, didn’t want to do it amongst a crowd of people’, Luke says.

Pastor Richard describes the occasion as ‘wonderful and intimate’. ‘The resulting joy on both of their faces was heart-warming and infectious’, he says.

Luke was happy to be baptised into God’s family. ‘Being baptised for me means that I know God is always there for me and always will be, no matter what happens’, he says. ‘Once baptised it was also a good feeling to know that I could join in holy communion.

‘If you are thinking about getting baptised as an adult or about going to church, look into it, as it’s never too late.’

Amy and Luke say that for them there are many blessings of baptism: ‘God’s love and belonging to his family indefinitely; knowing that God will forgive us for all our sins; knowing that he is always there watching over us and keeping us safe, no matter what life events we are enduring.’

After several years of trying to start a family before Isaac was born, followed by Evie, the Horners say it was ‘extremely important’ to them that their children be baptised. Pastor Lee Kroehn baptised Isaac. When Evie was born, Waikerie was in a pastoral vacancy, so the Horners invited Pastor Richard, who by then was serving as director of Lutheran Media, to baptise her.

‘Pastor Fox has been an inspiration and a great influence on our lives, and we will forever be grateful for this’, Amy says. ‘He continues to be a strong part of our life and now our children’s journey.’

Pastor Richard says, ‘God works in ways beyond our understanding and through people we may not expect. God was already working on Luke and Amy before I arrived, and he used me in a small part on their journey and relationship with Jesus Christ.’

And what do Amy and Luke, who are now members at St Pauls at nearby Ramco, believe are the most important things to remember from their faith journeys so far? ‘That God loves you and he wants you to be a part of his family.’

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by Naoki Sugioka

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘baptism’? There are hundreds of answers. Everyone has different images of what baptism means.

In Japan, many people believe baptism is a ceremony you must go through to be a church member. Well, I don’t deny baptism has that kind of aspect. But this tendency to misunderstand baptism has resulted in unbelievers hesitating to be baptised even though they have attended Sunday service for many years. Some say, ‘The teaching of the Bible has much meaning to my life, and I am very much impressed by the life of Christ, but I am not confident to be responsible enough’. Responsible for what? They mean responsible for sharing the burden of the church.

Once they become a church member, they are expected to give their church more offerings and share more time for church activities. Everything seems to be an obligation. I understand that many churches in Japan have many expectations of newly baptised people since each congregation is small and the average age of members is high.

But our celebration of baptism is not based on increasing the number of church members. The day of baptism is the day of repentance. The day a sinner returns to their Father.

Jesus says, ‘Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance’ (Luke 15:7). Our joy is directly connected to this heavenly joy.

When I meditate on the word ‘baptism’, I am reminded of one historical event. Hans Paludan Smith Schreuder was sent to the Kingdom of Zulu in South Africa from Norway in 1844. He was the first missionary the Norwegian Mission Society sent overseas. After he arrived, he started learning the Zulu language and tried to make a peaceful relationship with them. But reaping the first harvest took many years. The first baptism in Zulu took place in 1858 – 14 years to win one soul for Christ after Schreuder started planting seeds of the gospel. I can imagine how Christians in Norway rejoiced at the news of the first baptism from the Zulu tribe. But if they had given up on their mission work halfway through because they didn’t see any results, they might not have experienced this heavenly joy of the return of one sinner.

Our society is greatly influenced by commercialism, so the church also can face the temptation of counting baptism as its own achievement and a newly baptised person as its benefit and resource. But God is seeking a lost one to take home no matter how long it takes, how much it costs, and how far they have gone.

And most importantly I must remember that I was the lost one my Father found and brought home, and his joy is still sustained!

Rev Naoki Sugioka is from LCANZ’s overseas partner Kinki Evangelical Lutheran Church (KELC) in Japan. Read more wonderful stories from our overseas partner churches in Border Crossings, included with this edition.

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by Matt Anker

In a village where more than 95 per cent of people are baptised and actively involved in the life of the church, it would be easy for the local congregation to lose a sense of urgency about mission.

But not so for the Lua people of Banden in Thailand’s Nan province. Knowing what it’s like to live without the hope of the gospel, our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran congregation there remain passionate about local mission even though only a handful among them don’t yet believe.

In May I had the joy of seeing the fruits of this tireless commitment while visiting with some recent converts. Tont and his wife Mi were baptised just a few months ago as God answered years of prayers from their daughter Wat and evangelist Pim who is supported by the LCANZ.

Tont was a spirit doctor and with Mi lived under the tyranny of spirits who demanded their total allegiance. The spirits demanded all they had – each moment of their days and every possession. Home life was confined to a darkened room where they lived in fear of upsetting the spirits, and despairing of the life their children would inherit when they could no longer appease the spirits through daily obligations.

The spirits had forbidden Tont to allow Jesus’ name to be spoken in their home and so the opportunity for nearby Christians to share their hope in Jesus was limited. However, as the couple’s health failed, they finally asked for the church’s prayers and were open to the gospel. The Holy Spirit provided physical and spiritual healing as they came to believe that the story of Jesus included them!

Mi shared that, as they were preparing for baptism, the efforts of the spirits to drive them away from Christ intensified. Plagued with illness and overcome with the spirits’ threatening voices, Tont and Mi were unable to sleep for days and described how a dark shadow enveloped their lives. Convinced they would not survive until the Sunday service, they called on the pastor to baptise them immediately. On their humble, rickety porch, this ageing couple received new birth by water and the Spirit and became our brother and sister in Christ.

Mi explained that after their baptism the shadow lifted, the spirits were silenced, and she was at peace for the first time. After a lifetime as strangers in their village, they formed friendships and were finally free. Mi’s greatest longing each day now is to sit in church and listen to the word of God that has changed her life. No longer living in the shadow of demanding spirits, they now live in the light of Christ’s love and face the future with the certain hope of eternity in that same glorious light.

Pastor Matt Anker is LCANZ Assistant to the Bishop – International Mission.

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