When looking for informal input from others, we “ask around.” What would you think if, at your baptismal service, your pastor “asked around” regarding whether your life had changed? That is just what happened recently in Mali.
I was making a regular missionary visit to Pastor Debora, our national leader in Bamako, and the Free Methodist church there. Debora had a few people prepared for baptism, so we organized a baptism service. Even though Mali is almost exclusively a Muslim country, we planned the baptisms for a public area in the Niger River. As Debora and I, the church members, and the baptismal candidates made our way to the riverbanks, people asked what we were doing. We responded, “We are going to baptize these people.”
Since this sounded interesting, a small crowd of people assembled to watch. I lifted my voice as I read the questions about life and faith. One of the candidates was an older man with a reputation in the community. His life had truly been a life that ordinary people would say was a “bad” one. So, I asked people, “What do you say about this guy’s life? Has it changed?” People responded by saying his life truly had changed. I explained to them how this man had received Adam Isa (the local reference to Prophet Jesus), and through Adam Isa, this man found forgiveness of sins and the help to live a new life.
People knew this man as Abdulai. But after believing in Christ and beginning to read the Bible, he learned about Philip, the evangelist, and adopted Philip as a name for himself. The name fits because Abdulai, now Philip, is a ready witness for Christ. He was completely in favor of my “asking around” about his life. Moreover, he was glad for the invitation to the crowd, “God loves you and is willing to change your life, too! Come if you are ready.” The invitation was a long shot; it would be exceedingly difficult for a person to openly respond in this setting. So, the crowd was also told, “If you would like to know more, you find Philip, and he will lead you to our fellowship.” A baptism event in this context takes courage, particularly one with this sort of crowd dialogue. Praise God for the grace to be openly known as followers of the Lord!