Unterwegs, the CMF campus ministry in Tübingen, Germany, baptized its first student on September 20. Here’s a first-person account of that amazing evening from Tyler Crawford, a member of the Unterwegs team:
When Carol first came to Unterwegs two years ago she was not a fan of Christians. Not only that, but she was vocal in her disdain for a people that she considered to be judgmental, unthinking, and legalistic, and she shared her disdain with everyone she came into contact with.
After hearing her complaints, her English tutor from the university recommended that Carol come to a Cafe English at Unterwegs to practice her English, but also to meet some Christians who might not fit the stereotypes she held. She came, and not only were her prejudices broken, but she also found a community that cared for her unconditionally, so she became a regular at the ministry.
With her attitude towards Christians softened, Carol left for a semester abroad. In a moment straight from the story of the Prodigal Son, Carol reached a low point while she was abroad and wanted to come back to the community that loved and supported her. When she returned, we were taken aback at the changes that had taken place in her. It was like talking to a new person. She wanted to read the Bible. She came to church with us. She wanted to be involved. She wanted to share her story. She wanted to share Unterwegs with others.
Then on September 20, Carol’s joy, which had been building ever since her return, spilled over after a group meeting. It was close to midnight and the evening was winding down — or so we thought. The band was playing old songs upstairs, students were making plans with each other for the weekend, and staff members were packing up after a long day of prep and talking to students, with the exception of my wife Shalynn, who was downstairs talking with Carol.
“I want to get baptized tonight,” Carol told Shalynn.
“Okay, go talk to Tyler upstairs,” Shalynn replied.
Carol headed right upstairs and went straight to the microphone in front of the room and announced to the room: “Announcement! Announcement! I’m getting baptized in the river tonight, and I want all of you to be there!”
For a moment, the room is silent. This is the first time this has happened at Unterwegs, and the first adult baptism most of our students have ever heard of or will ever see. I said, ‘‘Okay, let’s get ready,” and everyone gets everything they’ll need: a Bible, jackets (it’s in the 40s outside), and lanterns (we don’t have flashlights).
The group walked down to the river behind the Unterwegs house. It’s dark, but the lanterns light the water and the faces of all our staff and the students who make up the core of Unterwegs. Pam (Heald, a team member) reads Psalm 121 aloud. I say a few words: “It’s great we’re all here. Two years ago Carol came for the first time to Unterwegs, and she’s been with us since, but she’s not the same person she was then. We’ve seen Carol transformed by love. Baptism is a symbol of her transformation. She leaves behind a life with sin and starts a new life of love in community together with God and in community together with us.” Nathan (Heald, a team member) reads Romans 6. Austin prays for Carol, and Carol asks to pray, too. Then Carol and I get in the water, and after a confession of faith repeated in short breaths, I dunk her into the water, and the group erupts into applause.
And that is where we are as a ministry. Sometimes it feels like we’re not in control. We do our best to be patient, and what we often get is a lot of heartache and frustration, punctuated once in a while by incredible high notes. We are an eclectic group, to be sure. Looking at the shore from the river, there were the candlelit faces of Philipp, Franz and Diana, our young Christians who discovered that community is a living expression of their faith; Alex and Baschdi, the introvert and the extrovert, the doubter and the seeker, unlikely friends to the end; Jana and Stella, the skeptics who watch with a sense of wonder at the miracle happening in front of them; and the staff, three team members and three interns, those of us pouring out their lives to make miracles like this possible.