Back in May, Kathryn Heslop, then Executive Assistant to our Baptist National Leader, talked with Erik Schilperoort, Care Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church (Tauranga), about the regular baptisms happening there.

Kathryn: Erik, we love hearing from you about the regular Baptisms at Bethlehem Baptist. This is so encouraging, and it has us wondering how many people have Bethlehem Baptist Church seen baptised in the last 12 months?

Erik: Well, in Sunday morning services, 30, and off-site, probably like another five. So, I’d say safely somewhere between 30 and 35, which we’re very grateful for.

Kathryn: That is remarkable. So, what’s going on? Why are people putting their hands up to be baptised?

Erik: God’s been at work here in a number of different ways. We also have people that are moving to Tauranga from other cities or other countries, and some of them are from places like South Africa, where they might have been christened as a baby. Now they’re an adult, and they’re in a Baptist setting, and it makes them think about adult baptism. So, a number of them are getting baptised. In our church, I have a ‘focus on baptism’ so I can track with people who are expressing interest in it, and we have systems in place to follow up with people.

We see a number of younger people that are coming to faith through our youth ministry and through Easter Camp and other ways, so they’re willing to get baptised. I think also it’s just we have a significant prayer base of people praying and interceding, asking God to stir up within people. We’re seeing a lot of growth and good things happening and people coming to faith, so that’s a big part of it.

And then recently, Craig Vernall did a preaching series on the book of Romans, and right after Easter, he did Romans six. Of course, the first ten verses are all about baptism. As part of that, he brought a big strong call to the congregation to respond if, for some reason, you haven’t been baptised yet or you need to get baptised. And so, we ran a course right after that and then baptised 18 people in response to that call. As a result of all that, we’ve had about another dozen people expressing interest, so God’s at work right!? Gods at work.

Kathryn: Awesome. So, tell us quickly, why is baptism important to you?

Erik: Well, it’s an important part of following Jesus, isn’t it. He told us to follow him. We’re followers of Jesus, and he himself was baptised, so really, it’s just a step of obedience. And I find for people that come to faith; always the Holy Spirit seems to be telling them, you need to get baptised, you need to get baptised. So it’s part of just helping people in their faith journey.

It’s such an important step of identifying with him, his death and his resurrection. But also, it’s a way to publicly declare faith in Jesus. It’s great for a person to be doing that, but also, they invite their friends and family members. So, nearly always, we have non-Christian people present, and I love that side of it when those people get impacted by baptisms. I love it here because we celebrate it. We try and make it very special for people to tell their testimony. 

Kathryn: How do you make it special? If you’ve got 30 people putting their hands up, it’s got to be a special thing, right?

Erik: We try and do a pretty good process with people beforehand. I run a baptism course and try to get as personal as possible—both one-on-one and in a small group setting. We create a printed certificate. We have some men in our church who are wood carvers, and we supply them with recycled totara timber, and they carve koru. It’s a koru taonga that is stained and laser inscribed with their name and the date they got baptised, and then we put a bible verse on there. It helps them remember the day that they committed their life to Jesus. We love doing baptisms!

Kathryn: Amazing, that’s awesome. And I think because you make it so special and you pave the way for them. Because they all tell their testimony, and you make it a real event, it just gains momentum, aye?

Erik: The night we baptised 18 people, they shared their testimony, and honestly, it was one of the most amazing meetings of my entire time here at Bethlehem Baptist. There was not a dry eye in the whole place, and some of the stories were just incredible!—Of God at work in people’s lives. It was an electric atmosphere kind of evening that started with some praise and worship, and it was just like a little taste of heaven, really – it was so special. 

Honestly, when you work as a pastor, what happened that Sunday was like summiting Everest. You wished everybody could be there. It’s one of those moments.

Photo: From Erik Schilperoort, by Charl Louw, of Antony Lee’s baptism, May 2023.

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