By Elizabeth Sunshine
A few weeks ago, for the second time I had the tremendous privilege of introducing a child to my church in Chinese. The Lynn family, who are members of our church, just adopted a daughter from China. Her name is Audrey. Since I studied Chinese in college and used it regularly for three years while working in Taiwan, they asked me to meet with Audrey before her baptism and explain to her what we were going to do.
I met Audrey on a Thursday night about four days after she arrived in the U.S and three days before her baptism. We wanted to recognize her as a member of our church in virtue of being part of a Christian household, just as we do babies born to members of our congregation. But Audrey is 10 years old, old enough to be confused about what was happening. She hadn’t learned anything about Christianity during her time in China. Honestly, I was really nervous about the meeting. Explaining baptism to a child with no background knowledge would be challenging in English, let alone in Chinese. But Pastor Wallace and I agreed that we didn’t need to go into great detail on the theology. Audrey will have plenty of time to learn about God from her family and in Sunday School. Mostly, for now, she needed to know that baptism was the church’s way of recognizing her as part of the Lynns’ family – and ours.
That evening Audrey’s father, brought her and her sister Ava (who was also adopted from China) to the Wallaces’ house. For most of the evening, Ava played with the Wallaces’ two youngest children, and Audrey sat on her father’s lap and watched. It was obvious that a few times she thought about joining them, but she didn’t get up. Pastor Wallace commented, “It’s clear that she’s watching everything and trying to figure out what her place is in all this. And right now, her place is right there, on her dad’s lap.”
Pastor Wallace eventually started talking to Audrey, and I translated. I told her who we were, that she was going to go to church and be baptized on Sunday, and that that was the church’s way of recognizing her adoption. She seemed to be listening, but she didn’t say anything or look directly at me.
Then I said, “The church is another kind of family, and when we baptize you, we’re saying that we want you to be part of our family.”
At that moment, she looked up and gave me one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. She understood. That moment alone would have made all the years I spent learning Chinese worth it.
On Sunday, I stood up front with Audrey as she was baptized to explain what was happening. I didn’t try to translate everything that was said; much of it wouldn’t have made sense to someone who didn’t know the Bible anyway. But when the congregation stood up to receive her I told her, “These people are promising to support you, love you and pray for you.” Then I told her, “Your parents are promising to pray for you and to teach you about God.” Then I said, “The pastor is going to baptize you to make you part of our family.” On Thursday I had told her the pastor was going to put water on her head. In retrospect, I should have mentioned that he was going to do it three times. She was a little shocked, but she came away smiling.
That Thursday night, Pastor Wallace asked Ava whether she remembers her baptism. She broke into a big grin and said, “Yes!” I hope that Audrey will also look back on her baptism as the moment we received her into our family and God’s.
I certainly appreciate the reminder that when I hadn’t done anything to earn it, God accepted me into His family and said to me, “You belong here.”