By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
Randy Pool, coordinator of Mississippi River Ministry for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, was recently involved in a memorable event — one that likely would not have unfolded in the same manner under “normal circumstances.”
Pool refers to it as a “social media baptism.”
On the morning of March 24, Pool’s daughter asked him to ride with her on a trip to First Baptist Church, Trenton. Pool’s daughter was providing a ride to the church for Charles Ross, who had recently received Christ and wanted to talk to FBC pastor Jason Bowen about his decision.
Pool told his daughter that he’d be happy to come along. He had several things to do that day, including “attending” an online meeting, and he was able to find an empty room at the church where he could work on his laptop while Ross and Bowen were talking.
Subsequently, the normal celebration that accompanies a baptism (including rejoicing among the congregation, and perhaps even applause and “Amens”) was absent.
But only for a little while.
During the course of the next several hours, Ross’ baptism was celebrated by hundreds of people, both near and far, thanks to social media.
“My daughter videoed the baptism and she uploaded it to the church’s Facebook page,” said Pool. “By the time I watched the video (later that day), it already had 45 views. Today, it has almost 600 views.”
“That is the power of social media baptisms,” Pool said.
Ross’ baptism was the start of a “trend” in Trenton. In recent days, there have been additional baptisms at FBC, including a mother and daughter, that have been videoed and shared on social media.
“It is very exciting to see lives changed for the glory of God,” said Bowen. “Through social media, we are still able to celebrate together and offer encouragement and support to these new believers. To be able to see and celebrate new life through salvation and baptism is always amazing but during difficult times of uncertainty it is particularly encouraging to see that we can remain certain that our Lord Jesus Christ is still working.”
Immediately after Ross’ baptism, he entered the room where Pool was working on his laptop. Pool took the opportunity to introduce Ross to the other men who were on the video conference call.
“I had the privilege of presenting him to my Harvest Field Team, and we immediately prayed for him,” said Pool, who noted that Ross was brimming with pride about his profession of faith.
Stories such as this are popping up, again and again, during the pandemic, Bowen noted.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great deal of pain for our world but we still have so much to praise God and thank Him for,” he said. “Many times the struggles we face are used to refine our faith and help us become more like Jesus. In the midst of this pandemic many are open to hearing the gospel and the power of prayer in a way they were not before.”
Bowen said the pandemic has challenged him and his staff to come up with new means for sharing the gospel to a spiritually lost world.
“Our church’s vision is ‘Connecting All People In Christ’ and lately we have had to try to be more creative in how we safely connect,” Bowen said. “In one week, we saw three who trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and were baptized. Charles Ross, Jean Booz and Joanna Carter will be eternally secure in Christ no matter what virus, struggles or hardships they face today — and that is worthy of praise!”
Pool agreed, and said he is encouraged by the outpouring of support he has seen surrounding the baptisms, even if the support has come at a safe distance.
“We may not be able to gather, but that doesn’t mean we can’t see others won to Christ and set on the road to discipleship,” said Pool. “And it also doesn’t mean that the church cannot share in the experience.”
Although Bowen recognizes that the pandemic is creating hardships and grief for many, he said God is truly at work, and is using this time to reshape the perspective of many believers.
“There have been so many I have talked to recently who have told me how they used to take being able to come to church for granted — and they are committed not to do that again,” he said.
“Now, they want to gather and are reminded of all the times they made an excuse not to come to church,” Bowen said. “I am hopeful that we will not take for granted the blessing of a handshake and the power of a face-to-face conversation again. I believe God is also using this time to draw us closer together and closer to Him.
“I am praying that connection remains long after the virus subsides,” Bowen said.