Nearly 30,000 people have been baptized partway through a Seventh-day Adventist evangelistic series in Rwanda, putting the local church on course to reach 100,000 baptisms by next weekend and encouraging members to replicate the effort next year, church leaders said Sunday.
A total of 29,029 people accepted Jesus through baptism on Sabbath, May 21, the midway point of two weeks of evangelistic meetings at more than 2,200 sites across the African country. Local church leaders set a goal of 30 baptisms, or a total of 60,000, at each site ahead of the meetings, and they are now praying that 100,000 people will be baptized.
Many meeting sites reported that baptismal candidates were asking to be baptized on the last Sabbath of the evangelistic series, raising the possibility that the largest mass baptism in the Adventist Church’s history will take place May 28.
“People want to be baptized next Sabbath. That means we’ll have a big number next Sabbath,” said Sophonie Setako, president of the Adventist Church’s North-West Rwanda Field, where 1,385 people were baptized last Sabbath, including 415 in the picturesque Lake Kivu.
Information from various sites in the North-West Rwanda Field confirmed that much bigger numbers could be expected next Sabbath. For example, 82 people were ready for baptism last Sabbath at the Kanyefurwe Seventh-day Adventist Church in the town of Mahoko, where about 1,000 people are attending nightly meetings. But only 21 were baptized because the rest asked for May 28, local leaders said.
In any case, Rwanda is already close to making Adventist history with last Sabbath’s baptisms. The previously largest baptism occurred in May 2015 when 30,000 people were baptized after a countrywide evangelistic series in Zimbabwe.
On May 13, when the evangelistic meetings began, Rwanda had about 720,000 Adventist members among its largely Christian population of 11.8 million.
Nancy Wilson, who is married to Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson, introducing Martha, an 89-year-old woman who was rebaptized in Rwanda's Lake Kivu on Sabbath, May 21.
Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson, who is preaching at a site in Gisenyi near Lake Kivu, said he was touched to see people gathering on the lakeshore at 9:30 a.m. Sabbath to be baptized by about a dozen pastors.
“It was a precious sight to see all those robed candidates marching into the water,” he said. “God is certainly pouring out His blessing in an incredible way in Total Member Involvement in Rwanda.”
Wilson especially spoke about his joy at seeing an 89-year-old woman named Martha hobble to the water with a walking stick in one hand and the supportive arm of a friend in the other. Martha had attended evangelistic meetings led by Wilson’s wife, Nancy, every night.
Nancy Wilson, who is leading her first series, had tears in her eyes as Martha recommitted herself to Christ.
“Years ago she was baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist, but she wandered away from God and left the church,” said Nancy Wilson, seated beside Martha before the baptism. One arm was wrapped around Martha’s shoulders. “But when she heard about the meetings, she started coming. And she was reconvicted of biblical truth and wanted to be rebaptized today. I am thrilled to see Martha.”
The baptisms are the result of months of efforts dubbed locally as “Total Membership Involvement,” in a nod an Adventist world church initiative that encourages each of the world church’s 19.1 million members to find ways to actively share Jesus in their communities.
The groundwork began with local and world church leaders providing training to church members, and the members then giving Bible studies in their communities to prepare them for the evangelistic meetings.
Rwanda’s experience has been an inspiration to many church members and will be duplicated across the division annually, said Joel Okindoh, director of evangelism for the church’s East-Central Africa Division, which encompasses 11 countries, including Rwanda.
Starting next month, Okindoh said, each church member in the division will be challenged to lead one person to Christ over the next year under the motto: “Total Member Involvement: Win one. Lose none. Make all disciples.”
“This is our application of Total Member Involvement,” Okindoh said.
A similar concept is already in place in southern Africa. Under a program called “One Member, One Soul,” the church’s Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division challenges each member to bring at least one person to Christ every year.
The East-Central Africa Division’s yearlong initiative will culminate in two weeks of evangelistic meetings at the end of June 2017, Okindoh said.
“It’s a first trial that we will have with the experience we have gained here,” he said. “We want to see where the Lord will lead us.”