“Will you lead our retreat?”
The question was asked by a member of our congregation who was working in Shanghai, China. Since I was already going to be in China at the time it was easy to do – sort of. I just needed to fly diagonally across the country, from Kunming to Nanjing – the retreat site. Since I had never been to Nanjing before my answer was quick, “Of course, I’ll come.” What an incredible city! Nanjing has existed along the Yangtze River for over 6,000 years and served as one of China’s ancient capitals for 500 of those years.
The retreat was for their little house church – a mixture of mature believers, new believers, and seekers. It would take place at the Tangshan Hot Spring Resort outside of Nanjing. Tanghsan is the ancient word for hot spring, but it literally means, appropriately, “soup mountain.” The resort advertises that the 122-140 degree water contains calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium and is supposed to heal skin diseases, arthritis, neuralgia and many other ailments. That’s some kind of soup!
Here’s the really cool part: the resort is smack dab in the middle of the Nanjing PRC Army Base – it was full of soldiers on R&R.
I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb – a 6’3”, 240 lb white guy sitting in the hot spring pools with hundreds of others. I tried hard not to draw any attention to myself. That lasted for only a short time until we settled into the “little fish hot spring” pool where thousands of tiny fish swarm you to “remove” the dead skin cells from your feet, legs, arms – and wherever else they can wiggle. I didn’t last 30 seconds and came flying out of the water with a yell, much to the enjoyment of my fellow bathers. For the remainder of the time we were there, I was pointed out to those who had missed my embarrassing moment, often with accompanying laughter, a mimicked yell, and hand motions as soldiers described my rocket-like self-extraction from the little fish hot spring pool. Any thought of blending in while leading a Christian retreat (we did keep our purpose for being there secret) in a hot springs resort, located in the middle of a military base, deep inside China, was gone!
On the last day of the retreat I was blessed to have a significant conversation with one of our retreat participants – a seeker who became a believer as the Spirit created faith in him through the Gospel. As the conversation concluded, he asked to be baptized. Right now. By me. It made me think of Philip and the Ethiopian official in Acts 8:37 when he said to Philip, “See here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”
Well, there was certainly no shortage of water in the hot springs – just privacy.
The solution turned out to be an easy one. The “villa,” in which we were conducting our retreat, had a small high-fenced private backyard with a waste deep, 12’ diameter pool. The big water faucet was turned on, hot spring water poured in, and an hour later we were ready to go.
“What prevents me from being baptized?” “Nothing!”
“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Cheers, hugs, tears, and photos followed (which I can’t show you in this blog). What a joy. In that moment, our Heavenly Father adopted a new brother into the family of God, forgiven, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and the promise of a glorious inheritance.
I’ll always remember my first baptism in China – in a backyard of a private villa, in a hot spring spa, in the middle of a PRC military base, 27 kilometers outside of the 6,000 year old city of Nanjing, and 6,550 miles from home.
Water and the Word are a powerful pair!
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