Nearly 45,000 baptisms highlight historic event in Inter-America
History was made in the Inter-American Division (IAD) on March 24, as 44,775 people were baptized into the Adventist faith on one day. It is the largest number of baptisms in a single day in the IAD since the division was established in 1921.
HISTORIC MILESTONE: From thousands of members baptized at dozens of sites, Clarissa Pozo de los Santos (top) was chosen to represent the three-millionth member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America. Israel Leito, president of the Inter-American Division, baptized her.
Inspired by the biblical Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the territory-wide event, called Pentecost and More, featured satellite feeds from all 15 union conferences, which were broadcast throughout the world and the IAD, including the hub of the program in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
The program began with a demonstration of the remarkable human diversity of the Inter-American Division: More than 100 people, dressed in the unique costumes of the areas they represented, strode across the stage to the applause of their fellow believers.
“This is an extraordinary day,” said Jan Paulsen, president of the Adventist world church, addressing thousands of church members as he spoke from el Palacio de los Deportes in Santo Domingo. “I have never done anything like this. I’ve preached most Sabbaths and traveled all around the world, but I have never done anything like this.”
More than 10,000 people crowded the stadium to witness the event, which was the culmination of months of evangelistic campaigns in the IAD and took the coordinated efforts of hundreds of pastors, church staff, and lay members throughout the 15 main regions of the division.
Outside the stadium, a crowd of 5,000 watched as waves of baptismal candidates, dressed in blue robes, stepped forward. Some baptisms were conducted inside the stadium, but most were performed outside by 60 pastors in an Olympic-size swimming pool.
A Cast of Thousands
Spearheaded by IAD’s Ministerial Association, the evangelistic initiative sought to involve pastors and church members in every local church in the territory to share the gospel with nonbelievers. Reaching the 3-million-member mark anytime soon seemed a daunting challenge: Just two years ago, the milestone was not expected until 2010.
ON RECORD: Thousands of new believers indicate their commitment to Christ by raising their hands, just prior to being baptized.
The climax of the amazing day was the baptism of Clarissa Pozo de los Santos, a young woman chosen to represent the three-millionth member in Inter-America. Clarissa spoke movingly of how Jesus transformed her life.
“I was walking in the world and I saw how there is so much evil, pain, and sadness, and God has something else for me,” she said. “It’s like I have a new life now; I know I will be different with God’s help.”
As Clarissa was lowered into the baptismal pool by IAD president Israel Leito, crowds of people gathered around to witness the significant moment.
But Clarissa was just one of thousands who came to seal their decision for Christ that day, each with their own unique story. Francois de la Ville discovered the peace and hope found in Jesus when he was handed a gospel tract from someone named Jean Paul in the streets of Martinique. Peter Baldwin heard the message of salvation while he was in the jungles of Jamaica, listening to broadcasts from Adventist World Radio.
Challenge From the World President
As the baptismal service began, Pastor Paulsen, who also preached the central message of the Sabbath worship service, spoke to the 1,400 baptismal candidates seated on the ground floor of the stadium. Paulsen’s image and words were carried via satellite to tens of thousands more candidates who had been prepared for baptism and had gathered across the IAD in local churches and convention centers.
ANOTHER PENTECOST: Jan Paulsen, world church president (right), addresses the morning worshippers with the help of translator Jaime Castrejon.“Jesus Christ is the only way,” Paulsen reminded those about to be baptized. “He is the only door into God’s future.” The world church president emphasized what he called the four pillars of the gospel that each candidate should embrace as they make a public commitment to follow Jesus through baptism: first, sharing the certainty that Jesus Christ is the Savior of humankind; second, the conviction Jesus did not stay in the grave; third, the assurance that Jesus is alive, ascended to heaven, and ministering for everyone; and finally, the knowledge that He will come again.
Each of Inter-America’s 15 major church regions was featured in succession via live satellite transmission at specific time intervals throughout the baptismal program. The start of each region’s presentation in the program was heralded with a musical video highlight and a special baptismal prayer.
When the baptismal formula (“I now baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”) was heard in English, believers were baptized in English-speaking countries, including such places as Jamaica, West Indies, and Belize. When the announcement was made in French, believers in Haiti and the French Antilles were baptized. And when it was repeated in Spanish, believers in more than 10 Spanish-speaking countries demonstrated their faith in Christ by being baptized.
Paulsen challenged the entire gathering to recommit their lives to Christ and tell others the good news of the gospel.
The Impact of an Amazing DayShortly after the event, church leaders and organizers marveled at the impact that rippled across the territory in the wake of this historic occasion. “It [the program] has brought the churches together,” said Pastor Balvin Braham, who organized Pentecost and More. “A sense of spiritual revival has taken place, not just an event. It has mobilized individuals to continue evangelizing.”
“In our case it is not an issue of numbers,” Leito said. “We are happy that we have symbolically reached our three-millionth member, but we will be far more happy when, with all the saints of the Lord, we can meet at the feet of Jesus. This will be our greatest joy.”
REPEAT PERFORMANCE: Baptisms such as this took places imultaneously at dozens of sites throughout Inter-America.
“This is part of history, a good history,” said Leon Wellington, vice president and communication director for the church in Inter-America. “We are happy to be part of this program using the technology available today to contribute in fulfilling the mission of the church.” According to Wellington, the program was instrumental in helping to launch the Adventist Church’s Spanish television channel, Esperanza TV.
Although there were some technical difficulties at the start of the broadcast, the event achieved a major objective by uniting evangelism efforts in sharing the gospel with nonbelievers.
Kandus Thorp, representing the world church’s Hope Channel, shared with the audience that Esperanza TV is the official television voice of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for the Spanish-speaking world. “It is to be a window for the world to view the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Esperanza TV is to show the rest of the world the life of the church here in Inter-America,” she said. The celebration was also carried live through Adventist Television networks, Hope Channel, 3ABN, Nuevo Tiempo, and Red ADVENIR.
Church leaders in the IAD view Pentecost and More as only a glimpse into a bright future for the division. “Pentecost and More has been the awakening of a new direction for the church in Inter-America,” said Leito, noting that he is interested in broadening the program and making it an annual event.
“It really speaks to what can happen when we get our membership to work,” said Braham. “If we can get all our members . . . actively involved in evangelism, there is no telling the significant impact we can have.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America covers Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and the northern tip of South America, and has some 3 million members worshipping in three main languages in 9,218 churches. Despite its diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and languages, focus on mission and God’s love unite His family in Inter-America.
Libna E. Stevens is news coordinator for the Inter-America Division. Williams Costa, Jr., news director for the General Conference Office of Communications, also contributed to this story.