By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
DEVILLE – Six young children from Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville made a declaration that was simple, yet life-changing, after an Awana meeting on a Wednesday evening in March.
The fifth and sixth graders approached Children’s Ministry Director Tracy Orr and called out in unison, “We want to get saved.”
“All of you?” Orr responded, who was overjoyed by furiously yes-nodding heads and lots of excited laughter.
Each of them prayed to ask for forgiveness of their sins and to commit their lives to Jesus within a week, and they were baptized.
Orr saw them smiling with excitement prior to their baptisms and was reminded of the miracle of salvation.
“Watching them, all in their white robes, they almost seemed to sparkle and shine with the new life that bubbled up inside them and spilled out,” she said. “They weren’t afraid. They were in love with Jesus, the only one who can do such miracles.”
The six children are among 19, of all ages, who have been baptized at Philadelphia Baptist Church this year. Pastor Philip Robertson is hopeful the congregation will equal or surpass last year’s 70 baptisms.
He said that baptizing is part of the Great Commission given to the church in Matthew 28:18-20.
It is a natural result from sharing the Gospel, he said, adding that his congregation works hard to grow believers through individual discipleship training with another believer, or with others in small group Bible study.
“When they accept Christ, their first step of obedience is to follow Him in baptism,” Robertson said. “Baptism is the best barometer we have of those who have accepted Christ and aren’t ashamed of Him, but take that step of obedience.
“We want to facilitate them in their walk with Christ and see their relationship with Christ grow,” he continued. “As newborn baby Christians, they are dependent on someone else to nurture them and help provide them with protection and care. As they grow, they become more and more self-sufficient.”
Cynthia Woodruff felt that once she was baptized April 17, God lifted a weight off her shoulders.
“I felt completely wrapped up in His love,” she said. “For the longest time, I felt unworthy to receive His love. But at that moment of baptism, I felt truly worthy.”
The baptisms are an example of yet another spiritually-rich year for Philadelphia Baptist Church, which now is seeing its reach expand geographically.
Around 100 members of the Deville congregation have committed to serve for at least one year at a satellite campus in Alexandria. The team and other church members are renovating facilities at Horseshoe Drive Baptist Church in preparation for the first service Sept. 18 as a merged congregation.
Horseshoe Drive leaders approached Robertson about a merger a little more than a year ago, and since then the relationship has moved forward with unity between the two congregations. Now, the sanctuary, fellowship hall and preschool department at the Alexandria campus are being re-done, and a campus pastor has been named.
Robertson said his church discussed in 2006 possible locations for a multi-site congregation, but nothing materialized until now, and he is convinced God was waiting until the time was right.
“The relationship between our congregation and their congregation has been amazing,” Robertson said. “From the beginning, you couldn’t ask for a better match. Just the excitement of knowing we are coming has really been a big boost for them,” he said, noting an almost doubling in worship attendance at Horseshoe Drive “without any of our people there.”
Robertson said the excitement on the part of the transition team has exceeded anything he or other church leaders imagined, with so many signing up for the revitalization effort and evangelistic emphasis at the Horseshoe Drive campus.
“These 100 people sense a calling, something they view as called by God to do,” he said. “Our biggest struggle with them is holding back the reigns. They are chomping at the bits and are so excited. They feel called by God to reach unchurched people in Alexandria.”