EMU student John A. Tyson said he “had thought about it for some time and felt that the time and place were right.”
And so, early on Easter Sunday, 2008, the EMU junior biblical studies and philosophy major from Lansdale, Pa., was baptized in the Jordan River into the community of faith.
EMU student John Tyson during his baptism in the Jordan River on Easter Sunday.
What made the experience even more special: Tyson was baptized by Linford L. Stutzman, associate professor of culture and mission at EMU and witnessed by 29 fellow students in his Middle East study group. Dr. Stutzman and his wife, Janet M. Stutzman, are leading the cross-cultural seminar during the university’s second (spring) semester.
‘Sharing Something Special’
“The community I’ve experienced in this cross-cultural group and the journey we are sharing is something special,” Tyson said afterwards. “I’ve been active in the Mennonite church for several years, but traveling with this group has been the place where I’ve been most at home with God and the world.
“John had asked about the possibility of being baptized several weeks before Easter, when our group was still in Jerusalem,” said Stutzman. “I mentioned that the Jordan River runs through the back of Kibbutz Afikim, and that we would be there over Easter. Perhaps that would be a good opportunity.”
The EMU group arrived at Kibbutz Afikim on Mar. 17 for two weeks of work, study and field trips. Kibbutz Afikim is a secular Jewish agricultural commune established around 1925. In the fields behind the kibbutz is their graveyard on a bluff overlooking the Jordan River.
Easter Sunday morning the entire group, got up early and assembled at 5:30 for the 20-minute hike to the graveyard. They walked through the kibbutz quietly to keep the dogs from barking, toward the Jordan. In the graveyard, the students led songs and read scriptures as the sun rose over the Golan Heights. It was a beautiful, peaceful morning.
Then they hiked for about another 10 minutes down toward the Jordan through the fields of freshly-cut barley singing, “As I went down to the river to pray.” Earlier, Stutzman had found an ideal baptismal spot with a break in the reeds that grow along the banks that allowed the group to stand on the bank and see the water flowing.
“I recounted the journey of learning and faith that everyone is traveling on this cross-cultural, paralleling the journeys of faith in Scripture, how wilderness and water are so much a part of it, and how baptism connects to these stories – Moses and the Hebrew children crossing the Red Sea, the Hebrews wandering through the wilderness then crossing the Jordan to the promise, John baptizing in the Jordan, Jesus being baptized in the Jordan. All of these places and events have been part of the group’s travels, and all relate to the meaning of baptism,” Stutzman recalled.
‘God at Work in the World’
Tyson and EMU Professor Linford Stutzman, leader of the Middle East crosscultural, embrace after Tyson’s baptism.
Tyson then recounted his own journey of faith and why he chose to be baptized at this point in his life.
“I decided that taking this step [to be baptized] was appropriate and the time and place and people only confirmed that,” he said. “For me, water baptism symbolized the life of God at work in the world through things we often take for granted but that create new life.”
The men waded into the middle of the Jordan, and Stutzman poured water over head. (The Jordan is fairly shallow, so immersion wasn’t a good option). Then they waded back to shore, and the students gave their encouragement and blessing, sang several songs and hiked back to the kibbutz in time for breakfast.
Tyson has been attending Souderton (PA) Mennonite Church since age 17. More recently, he’s attended Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg.
It is the fifth time for Linford and wife Janet, a former director of alumni/parent relations at EMU, to lead a cross-cultural program in the Middle East. The group is scheduled to return to campus Apr. 22.