By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff
RUSTON – On a recent Sunday afternoon, around 200 members of First Baptist Church in Ruston hurried to the lake after its morning worship service, but not for just grilling some burgers or having a good time on the water.
They were there to witness a decades-old tradition of the church – baptism for 10 of their fellow church members in a lake on the grounds of Lincoln Parish Park.
Some were as young as nine, and others as old as 55. The candidates were as equally diverse in ethnicity, from Anglo to African-American to Chinese.
But, they were all there for one reason – to declare publicly before their church family, other friends and even passers-by of their decision to follow Christ.
“We talk to folks about salvation and publicly professing their faith at our church but to see people boldly proclaim that in this way is always encouraging,” said Clayton Owen, minister of education at First Baptist Ruston. “If you’re willing to wade out in the lake and have others there to see you do that is a bold witness.”
Despite temperatures flirting with the 100 degree mark and the water a bit murky, the setting was perfect for Candia Tims.
“To be able to experience nature with God has always been a great spiritual connection I have had. So to be there in the water and the sun beaming on me was a wonderful experience,” Tims said. “For me, my life had been up to that point about acceptance from others. At that moment, God was telling me that it was just Him and me and that He accepts me for who I am.”
Casey Madden spent many years as a young boy playing in the lake but never dreamed one day he would get baptized there. He relished the opportunity and hopes one day to be present to see his own kids baptized, whether it be inside a church or at the same lake.
“Having my kids there to see me baptized let them see I am the spiritual leader of the household and made me feel real good that I am fulfilling my role,” Madden said. “I’m looking forward to the day that they are baptized and am able to give them a big hug when they come up.”
The church emphasizes baptism is not the final step in a new believer’s Christian walk.
After baptism, each person participates in a four-week new members’ class.
These new believers then have the opportunity to attend one of the church’s small groups for an extended but undetermined amount of time that focuses on growth in one’s spiritual journey.
“We want them to understand salvation is the most important thing but that is the beginning of a life long journey,” Owen said. “And we want to show them what that life long journey is like. If you aren’t living it out, you are missing it.”
The baptisms are a result of the evangelistic mindset of First Baptist Ruston.
Every year, its members participate in Touch Ruston. Through this effort, they partner with schools to pray for them, encourage teachers and prayer walk the campuses. They also deliver meals to needy individuals during Thanksgiving and collect food to distribute during certain times of the year.
The church also hosts speakers such as former Major League Baseball All-Star Darryl Strawberry, puts on revivals and takes its youth and college students on missions trips locally and nationwide.
Owen said the staff believes an Acts 1:8 mindset is vital for a healthy church.
“We are carrying out the Great commission, here and there,” Owen said. “Sometimes going to other places is the best way to see. It hopefully motivates mission giving and sometimes they are moved to enter the mission field. If you are not sharing the gospel with those in the backyard, you are missing the big picture.”