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‘Everyone Can’: Small N.D. church baptizes 16 in 1 day

HAZEN, N.D. (BP)–The challenge to witness to, win and baptize 1 million people in the Southern Baptist Convention this year has reached even to rural North Dakota, where residents’ Catholic and Lutheran backgrounds present an additional challenge to communicating the importance of believer’s baptism.

Bob Pittman, pastor of Hazen Christian Fellowship in Hazen, N.D., said his congregation wanted to do their part when SBC President Bobby Welch launched the “‘Everyone Can!’ Kingdom Challenge” for evangelism last June. Never mind their size, and never mind their location.

“We wanted to do what we could,” Pittman told Baptist Press. “We’re just a small church in the convention, but every church counts, I think. As each one of us, small or large, is willing to do our part, then we can do what he has asked us to do. I think it’s a real challenge, and we’re trying to step up to the plate.”

Sixteen people were baptized at Hazen Fellowship during one service April 23, the result of God working in lives through the study of His Word and the persistence of His people.

The Southern Baptist congregation was planted in 1999 and just this year moved into a worship center of their own. Attendance hovered around 20 for the first several years, but during the past year, “things have really turned around,” and the church has more than 60 members, the pastor said.

Pittman led Hazen Fellowship in the “Experiencing God” and “The Purpose-Driven Life” studies, but one key to winning 16 people to Christ was starting a class aimed at teaching the basics of the faith — including baptism.

“Some months ago I decided we had several people who were just visiting, attending pretty regularly but not really members,” Pittman said. “I thought it was time to start a members class, and at the end of the class, everyone in there came forward to join the church, most of them by baptism.”

One of the families has several foster children, and in that family the parents and five children were baptized.

“They moved here from California, and they’re in their mid-30s,” the pastor said. “The thing that really struck me is the wife came in the other day bragging to my wife, ‘We’re going to get new tattoos!’ Well, we’re not too excited about tattoos, but for them it was something special because it was a tattoo of a cross, and on the cross was the date of their baptism. They were saying by that, ‘We are serious. We have made a commitment.’”

When the church building was constructed, the congregation lacked the room and the funds for a baptistery, so for the special occasion they purchased a water trough typically used for livestock. They set it up inside the church and baptized new believers one by one.

In addition to the seven members of one family, another family of four and a woman in her 70s were baptized, Pittman said.

“Six of them were adults, a couple of them were teenagers and the rest were children,” he said.

The church reached out to the family of seven by leading the children in Vacation Bible School last year. Two of the children accepted Christ, and the family visited sporadically until six months ago when church members got them to attend regularly. When the members class started, they wanted to take part.

Pittman conveyed his belief that baptism is the second step in the Christian life.

“First we trust Jesus, and then the first step in obedience is being baptized,” he said. “I really believe that if a person is not willing to be baptized, they are not going to go far as a Christian. They’ve said to Jesus, ‘I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to do anything for You.’ They’ve limited themselves right off the bat. I think baptism is a very special part in the life of a Christian.”

In North Dakota, Pittman said, people tend not to realize the significance of believer’s baptism because many of them were baptized as infants in Catholic or Lutheran churches.

“In fact, for some of those that we baptized, it was a big step because they were coming out of the Lutheran background and they were baptized as babies,” Pittman said. “One of them, their parents said, ‘Wasn’t our baptism good enough for you?’ They don’t understand the significance of what baptism is — it isn’t something that somebody does for someone else. It’s the decision that the individual makes, and it’s a sign of his personal commitment.”

Hazen Fellowship averaged eight or nine baptisms per year in the early years, Pittman said, but the year before last they only baptized three and last year none. That has changed.

“God has just opened the doors, and people have been coming,” he said. “I have a radio program, and I’m getting ready to go on TV because when people can see that and can realize we’re not snake handlers, we’re a real church with a desire to honor God, they’re going to want to come.

“A lot of them have been turned off by the old traditional-type church,” Pittman added. “They’re frustrated with that and bored with it, and we’re trying to present something that’s alive and exciting — not in the jumping over the pews kind of way but very down to earth and at the same time something with some energy and excitement to it.”

As they look to the future, Hazen Fellowship has hopes of building a multipurpose facility in order to expand their ministry to the community.

“We’re in a town where there are several churches but none of them are really evangelical and none of them have a means of reaching out to people in a personal, family-type way,” he said. “We’d like to be able to build a multipurpose building with a gym and classrooms off of that so we could do volleyball, basketball — that kind of thing. But then as well, during the week we’d have kind of a day program with teaching basic mechanics, basic woodworking — just general courses that people would like to know that would also help to reach them and get them involved in church.”

Pittman and his wife, Becky, can testify to the importance of perseverance in a place like North Dakota, where the winters can be long and cold and the population scarce. They left Houston a decade ago to move to Hazen and spread the Gospel.

“For eight of those 10 years, if somebody had said, ‘Come back south to our church,’ we would have gone in a heartbeat,” he said. “But because we have been faithful, because we have stayed at it and not jumped and run back south because of the cold weather, but we’ve been here and the people have seen that we’re not going back home, that we’re here to stay, that means a whole lot to these kind of people.

“The perseverance makes a great deal of difference.”

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  • Erin Roach