STAUNTON, Ill. (BP) – Volunteers carried a livestock feeding trough April 8 into the high school gymnasium where NET Community Church meets each Sunday.
The trough had a lofty purpose as 11 people were baptized during morning worship, each wearing T-shirts with the words "going public."
"Their life stories were all very different, but their life conversion was the same," said Derrick Taylor, pastor of NET Community. "It was so exciting to witness each one 'going public' with their new lives in Christ, thus declaring 'I'm not ashamed of the Lord Jesus Christ!'"
Across Illinois, more than 350 people were baptized in 125-plus churches on "One GRAND Sunday" -- sparked by Pat Pajak of the Illinois Baptist State Association envisioning a goal last fall of 1,000 baptisms in one day.
Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism, said baptism reports are still coming in, celebrating a renewed excitement about evangelism that seemed to characterize the day.
"The real purpose of One GRAND Sunday was to remind churches that our responsibility and privilege is to have Gospel conversations outside the walls of the church," Pajak said. The day "was a reason to reignite our passion for the Great Commission and rejoice in both salvations and baptisms, which some of our churches had not seen for many years."
Among One GRAND Sunday reports from across the state:
'I'm serious about this'
Brittany Miller grew up going to church, but when she went away to college, she said it never became a priority. Over the past year, she felt a pull to return to church. When a coworker told her about his new church, NET Community in Staunton, Brittany decided to check it out.
"The pastors were so, so dedicated and just really believed in what they were preaching," she said. "And I liked how it was just taken right from the Bible."
There was a disconnect, though. Everyone kept talking about salvation, a concept unfamiliar to Brittany.
"I kind of just kept it all to myself," she said. "I didn't want to ask too many questions because I didn't want anybody to think I was a non-believer, because I believed." But a personal relationship with God was something she didn't have -- yet.
At a small group Bible study, Brittany got up the courage to ask her questions one evening. The group's leader, Nancy Taylor, pulled in associate pastor David Baker and they walked Brittany through what it means to have a saving faith in Christ.
"After hearing what salvation was, I knew that was what I wanted," Brittany said. "I wanted that relationship with God; I wanted to deepen my knowledge of Him. I wanted Him to live through me."
There was one hang-up, however. "I was so worried that I couldn't [turn to Christ] because I was going to let God down. And I didn't want to do that," she said. "It took a while for the pastor to assure me that is not how this works."
After two hours of talking, she prayed to receive Christ. "It all makes sense now," she said. "It was God pulling me, little by little, to that moment."
Over the next days and weeks, Brittany started telling family and friends what had happened to her. They were supportive in some cases but, in other cases, the news didn't go over as well as she had hoped. Brittany said she's leaning on her church family to deal with the relational difficulty. She also downloaded a Bible app on her phone, so encouragement is always nearby.
Her baptism April 8 was a way to publicly give God the glory for her faith, she said, and a testimony to the people in her life.
"I need to do this so these people know I'm serious about this."
All in the family
Willow Krumbwiede decided to be baptized so she could share her decision to follow Christ with her church family, among others. Her public profession of faith April 8 had a profound impact on her dad.
Willow's father, Tim, came to Grace Fellowship Church in Amboy on that Sunday morning to support his daughter. The church planned baptisms for the end of their first worship service, so Tim sat through the entire service that day. Unbeknownst to him, Willow, her fiancé Andrew, and their pastor, Brian McWethy, were actively praying for his salvation.
Throughout the sermon on biblical baptism in which McWethy explained why each person must choose to be baptized for themselves, Willow's father faced his own life decisions. McWethy said he could see the Holy Spirit was at work in Tim's life during the sermon.
As the band played an invitation of "O Come to the Altar," Willow's father stood up, stepped forward and grabbed McWethy by the arms, saying, "I just surrendered my life to Jesus Christ." McWethy was thrilled at the news. Before he could say much, Tim also said that he was ready to be baptized. Today.
So, a few minutes later, Tim followed his daughter into the baptismal trough. After everyone celebrated with them, McWethy asked Willow, "Did you have any idea this would happen?" Incredulous, she smiled and replied, "No."
McWethy gives all glory to God. "There is power in His Word. There is power in the Gospel." One GRAND Sunday's emphasis on baptism, he said, helped him and the church focus not only on baptizing, but also evangelism.
"If I'm gonna baptize somebody, they've got to get saved," McWethy said, noting he has found a renewed focus in sharing Christ daily through a renewed commitment to baptizing believers. "If it did nothing else, it got our minds thinking about the lost," the pastor said.
'One happy Grandma'
For 15-year-old cousins McKenzie Boston and Kaitlyn Warren, their "carefree" lifestyle completely changed when McKenzie's mother suddenly passed away Feb. 8.
McKenzie and Kaitlyn attended church regularly during visits with their grandparents, Carol and John Warren. "I had a burden for all my children and grandchildren," Carol said. "But I had especially been praying for my daughters and granddaughters."
Carol wasn't satisfied with just praying, however, and put her prayer into action, wanting her children and grandchildren to know where her faith stood. In taking McKenzie and Kaitlyn to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville, Carol's influence paid off.
With the death of McKenzie's mom as a shock to the family, the young cousins started thinking more seriously about their own faith and what happens after life on earth. Kaitlyn's mom, Cheryl, started to talk to both girls about Jesus and the salvation He offered from ultimate death.
"The girls were ready by this time to have a relationship with Christ," Carol said. "But they wanted to wait for their grandmother to talk to them," she said with a smile.
On Friday, April 6, Carol talked through the Romans Road with her granddaughters and prayed with them as they received Christ. "It was such an answer to prayer!" she said. "And such a relief for me to know the hope of their salvation." After talking to their pastor, Cliff Woodman, they prepared to publicly proclaim their salvation to the church on April 8 -- One GRAND Sunday.
"It was a very emotional time for us all," Carol said. "But perhaps most especially for me." Carol had led her own daughters to the Lord years earlier and had seen the two of them get baptized. Now, she was watching her own granddaughters, whom she had also led to Christ, get baptized in the same church.
"It was very special for me," Carol said. "I'm just one happy grandma!"