After the Water
Stories of Believers Who Really Connected With Jesus After Baptism
By Wilona Karimabadi
The journey from unbeliever to believer does not always end at the baptismal tank. We may think the greatest goal is met when people publicly signify that they have been born anew. But that birth is truly just a beginning. And as we all know, once a decision is made to follow Christ, the path that lies ahead is not always easy.
Ellen White wrote: “Let no one suppose that conversion is the beginning and end of the Christian life. There is a science of Christianity that must be mastered. There is to be growth in grace that is constant progress and improvement. The mind is to be disciplined, trained, educated; for the child of God is to do service for God in ways that are not natural, or in harmony with inborn inclination. Those who become the followers of Christ find that new motives of action are supplied, new thoughts arise, and new actions must result.” *
These are the stories of individuals whose journeys to Jesus evolved in greater detail after they emerged from the waters of baptism. Their stories are in many ways probably more similar to ours than we think—even for those who have been born and raised as Seventh-day Adventists. But one thread remains: The Lord never lets go of those who choose Him.
*Ellen G. White, Christian Education (Battle Creek, Mich.: International Tract Society, 1893), p. 122.
Wilona Karimabadi is the KidsView managing editor and a valued member of the Adventist World editorial team.
Veronica (Ronni) Montez was going through a tough time in her life when God came to her. She was sick—in a deep depression—and couldn’t get out. Though from a Catholic background, she didn’t know the Bible or God very well. One day, while home alone, she cried out to God for help. Picking up a study Bible, she turned to a passage and read about Jesus’ journey from Jerusalem to Calvary, and the word “Sabbath” stuck out. What is this word? Ronni remembers thinking. “It kept coming up, and I didn’t understand what it was.” Her heart was spurred to search, and she couldn’t stop.
Ronni drove around town looking for a church that worshipped on Sabbath and couldn’t find one. Then one day in a physical therapy session she overheard one of the therapists talking about going to church on Saturday. “I was so nervous about it, but when the therapist came back to check on me, I asked about going to church on Sabbath and if I could go with her.” Ronni and her physical therapist became fast friends and earnestly studied the Bible together. But now, with a Seventh-day Adventist church to attend, she had a place to take her many questions. Her husband and children joined her and came into the church through baptism and profession of faith in 1995.
Soon after that, trouble arrived. Both Ronni and her husband lost their jobs, the money ran out, and eviction notices were served. And her mother and sisters distanced themselves from her because of her new life. If this is what being a Christian is about, I don’t know if I can do this, she remembers thinking. But they turned to their new faith and fasted and prayed. Soon things began to turn around. “Little by little, the Lord delivered us,” says Ronni. They found new jobs, got cars, and could stay in their home. But Ronni’s depression hadn’t left. “I wanted to die because I was so depressed and discouraged,” Ronni recalls. But God prevailed. “I said, ‘Fine, Lord, fine. You don’t want me to die. I give it all to You.’ And when I surrendered, everything got better. One day at a time, things began to get better.”
Today Ronni runs a day-care center out of her home, and incorporates a Christian lifestyle into the daily routine. The Montez couple has active roles in their local church and continues to study and search the Word of God. While the daughter that was initially baptized with Ronni no longer attends church, her mother looks back at the Lord’s leading and knows that He will also answer her prayers regarding this child. “My daughter knows and loves the Lord but just doesn’t want anything to do with Him right now. But I will pray. It is all in God’s timing. God will do it. He will do it.”
Matthew Gamble was born and raised Catholic in the United States, though his family rarely attended church and never read the Bible or prayed together. By the age of 16 he was smoking a lot of marijuana and delving into Rastafarianism.
Three years later Matthew went to Jamaica. On his return trip, he boarded a Miami-bound plane with two pounds of marijuana in his bag and managed to emerge on American soil without getting caught. Ironically, it was this strange turn of events that got him to thinking about spiritual things. He then embarked on a self-guided search of world religions to find the truth. “I would pray to Jesus, Haile Selassie, Buddha, Confucius, Abraham, and Muhammad, beginning: whoever you are, wherever you are, please reveal yourself to me.”
Time passed, and Matthew served as best man at a wedding in a Seventh-day Adventist church. Determined to find answers, he approached the minister, who gave him a Bible and prayed with him. “The following day I picked up a telephone and called the local Seventh-day Adventist church in St. Augustine, Florida (U.S.A.), and the following Sabbath I was there,” he says.
At his 1996 baptism in the Atlantic Ocean, “I asked the pastor if I could stay alone for a few moments. I turned toward the horizon, where I couldn’t see anything man-made. I told my heavenly Father that He promised to take my sins and cast them to the depths of the sea and that I was now a new creature.” After baptism Matthew studied theology at Andrews University.
But how did his new faith affect his family? “My family has been incredibly supportive—primarily because they’ve seen the transformation that Jesus has made in my life,” says Matthew. “As a result, my parents have renewed faith and are regularly attending church, are involved in service projects, and attend Bible studies. It is exciting to know that Jesus is the central part of our lives now.”
Today Matthew serves full-time with Vagabondservant International, a nonprofit ministry that has taken him all over the world speaking about the life and teachings of Jesus. He is also a senior consultant with both the Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies out of the Adventist Mission office of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, as well as the Center for Creative Ministry, and serves as an advisor to the North American Division young adult advisory as well as the Adventist Christian Fellowship board, a ministry for Seventh-day Adventist students who attend secular colleges and universities.
Matthew says there is one singular element that fuels his daily walk as a Christian: ministry. “God calls every single one of us to be of service in His name. Early on in my journey with Jesus I heard someone say that ministry is their salvation. Initially I didn’t understand that comment, but I do now. Ministry—representing Jesus to other people—has kept me connected with Him, recognizing that it is all about Him and has nothing to do with me.”
When Alex Barrientos was baptized, he had no idea why.
When he was just 10 years old, his mother accepted the Seventh-day Adventist message and was baptized, and Alex wanted to as well. But no one had ever explained anything to him. The child didn’t even have a Bible. Alex and his mom began attending church, and he enjoyed Sabbath school. “I kept going to Sabbath school, and we had great relationships at church. On the day of my baptism, the hour came and I got this high fever. It almost seemed like it wasn’t supposed to be. But the pastor at that time said, ‘Just throw him in the pool. He’ll cool down!’ And that’s what happened. I came up from the pool, and sure enough, the fever was gone. But then that’s all it was,” Alex says.
For Alex, baptism truly was just the beginning. When it came time for middle school, Alex sensed that he shouldn’t attend the local public school, and enrolled in an Adventist school instead. He continued on to Takoma Academy in Maryland, United States. “Going to Takoma Academy was the best choice I’ve ever made in my life. That’s where I met Jesus.”
Ironically, it was through detention that Alex came to know Christ. “I remember being there, and our assignment was to do nothing but read the Bible. I read Matthew 10, and went to my teacher and asked, ‘What does this mean?’ ”
“He just smiled and said, ‘One day you’ll know.’ I went back to the desk, and he’s like ‘I’m not going to give it to you. You’ll have to think about it.’ And that’s what led me to consider all the verses that had been shared with me since seventh or eighth grade.” Alex was then invited to be a part of the school’s preaching team. Alex did this throughout his entire high school career. “In the midst of those three years of preaching team, there was this searching note. ‘What is the Bible, still? I’m only preaching about The Desire of Ages, but why am I preaching about The Desire of Ages? What does Ellen White mean to me?’”
Alex had also developed a special talent for making appeals that really seemed to touch the hearts of anyone who would listen. “ ‘Alex, your appeals are amazing,’ my teacher would say. ‘And I’d say to him, ‘Ahhh, I just do what you tell me.’ ”
The final push to commit to Jesus came at a Week of Prayer during his senior year. After doing something he regretted, Alex went to the evening meeting, where the preacher made an appeal for the kids to consider the ministry—something this particular speaker wasn’t known to do. “I went up there and cried, confessing in front of everybody what I’d done. I totally said to God, ‘This is what You’ve been calling me to do this whole time.’ And that was significant, because I had plans to study pre-medicine.”
After attending local universities, Alex accepted a friend’s call to study theology in Argentina at River Plate Adventist University. On returning to the United States, Alex attended Southern Adventist University and then Washington Adventist University, where he will graduate at the end of this month.
“I think that until you struggle with God, you aren’t wounded,” says Alex. “That means struggle. I’m glad that I struggled with God and still continue to do so, but in a good, positive way. It’s a learning experience that we can never do anything to unlearn. So I’m happy about that. Definitely.”
Kaveh Khansari Nejad
Kaveh was raised Muslim in Iran, emigrating to the United States several years after the Islamic revolution. He was introduced to Adventism through his wife, Heather. “I had met Heather,” he says. “We were seeing each other, and our relationship was getting more and more serious. Heather said to me, ‘If you’re going to be serious, and we’re going to continue and see where this relationship is going to take us, I can’t really continue that with someone who doesn’t believe the same way I do.’ ”
Kaveh became intrigued with the Bible and the correlations between Daniel and Revelation. As he studied further, he discovered Ellen White’s writings and further delved into prophecy. “It was mostly the prophecy aspect and how precise it was that led me to believe that ‘Adventism must have the right message.’ ”
Kaveh’s acceptance of the Adventist message sparked profound changes in his life and relationships. “Early on in my Christian walk one of the things my parents would often say is ‘Although we believe you’ve done this for Heather, we’re still appreciative of the fact that you’ve done something that makes you not smoke or drink. You live a healthier lifestyle, and you don’t seem as stressed anymore.’ ” Later on, his parents actually said, “The changes we see in him today we probably would have never seen had it not been for your influence, and what he has learned since he’s been with you, and through his lifestyle as a Seventh-day Adventist.”
Kaveh was baptized in October 2002. And as he stood in the baptismal tank he remembers: “When I stood in that baptismal tank, I had tears coming down my eyes, and I couldn’t stop them. I just felt that a huge burden had been lifted off my back. I was going to be a different person; it was almost like lifting all my troubles away.”
Eventually, as the result of Kaveh’s new faith and keeping the Sabbath, he lost his job. How did he, as a babe in the faith, see a clear way through these hardships? “Just like the Bible verse says: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good,’ ” says Kaveh. “I have seen God’s miracles in my own life.” Specifically, he recalls a time, after losing work, that his wife asked what he thought would happen next. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “But I can tell you I have this feeling that God is going to bless us and take care of us. It’s going to be all right.”
“We didn’t say anything to anybody. A week later friends of ours show up at our house and tell us: ‘Well, we’ve been doing some praying, and God has impressed us to do something for you. We’ve heard that you lost your job. We wanted to help you out a little bit, and felt impressed to do this for you.” Kaveh and his wife received a check for $5,000.
“Now I know that I do need to trust and obey, because when I do, God does provide. When He says, ‘I take care of the lilies of the field; would I not take care of you?’ He does take care of me. He has taken care of my family. I’ve seen the footprints in the sand, because there were many times when I didn’t know what to do trying to stay ahead of the game, and God has brought me through.”
Currently Kaveh is in nursing school as a full-time student. He and Heather live in Maine, U.S.A., with their three children.