I was Only Nine Years Old When I Made the Decision to be Baptised

I still remember very clearly what prompted me to be baptised. I was attending a baptism service for the church that my mother attended. It was less than a year after the raid on the farm we were living on.

The Baptism service was being held in the open air on the bank of the river that runs through the farm and several people were getting baptised. I was standing next to my mother, enjoying the spectacle and the songs. The sound of Zambian voices singing songs of worship unaccompanied is quite something. It was a very spiritual moment.

Overcome by what I was witnessing and experiencing, I turned to my mother and said that I’d like to be baptised. She practically burst into tears of joy there and then. After a brief discussion with a few other adults, I was given the option of joining those being baptised there and then. My nerves got the better of me and I turned that down.

So arrangements were made, and some time later I was baptised, in the same river, in a more private service, where close family friends were invited. I can’t remember exactly how long later it was, whether it was weeks, or a whole school term. I am sure it felt longer that it really was. My mother gave me a copy of Pilgrims Progress, which she had written inside a small note of encouragement, and I still have as a one of my childhood treasures, it reminds me of times more happy.

Of course my father was there with his new woman and since he had travelled some distance to be there, he wanted some time with me. That’s the earliest memory I have of there being a battle for my attention. It made me feel horrid, being with my father would often do this. That’s why I always much preferred being with mum, her attention was always out of love and devotion for her offspring while dad’s seemed like it was to score points over mum. I hated that, hated it with a passion, and it would eventually become a hate towards dad and that woman.

Those First Weeks and Months after Baptism.

My first week back at boarding school I was given a small piece of paper by the headmaster with some key bible verses on it. This I placed in my first bible, an RSV. Its a bible I had owned for some time. I can’t remember exactly when I was given it, but I had already marked several verses on it by that time. I’ve owned several bibles since, but this bible is by far the most battered and scribbled in, and that small piece of paper with the key verses on is still there in the front cover.

I read the verses on that piece of paper many times in the following year. I knew my time at this school in Zambia was coming to an end. I knew my parents marriage was also going to end, I struggled massively with the denial of it. Even now the memories of that torment bring me to tears. I could not understand how or why my once wonderful childhood could be crumbling like this. Life used to be so wonderful and carefree. Since dad had introduced this new woman it had all gone to pot. That’s how I continued to see it anyway. It would be several years before I’d learn more of the truth, but until then all I had was what I saw and what I saw caused me immense upset on a regular basis. Being away at boarding school, with my little piece of paper tucked inside my bible, was my refuge from the turmoil, the hurt and the broken heart.

So I was sustained by the bible and I put a lot of effort into studying it. It was my distraction because talking about my family was, and still is at times, too painful. As my respect and admiration for my father diminished, so my devotion to a heavenly God increased.

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Parental Marriage Breakdown

After the horrible events of my mothers kidnapping. The next time I saw my parents was the next school holiday, which just happened to be the Christmas holiday. They were separated and my father introduced me to the woman who would later become my step-mother. It was a lot to take in for a 9 year old.

To my young mind, a near disaster like that should mean a family looks after each other. Yet here what I saw was the apparent abandonment by my father. The truth was much more complicated than that, but my young mind could not comprehend why my parents were separating, why there was a new woman being forced into the situation and how this related to the kidnapping of my mother. It would change forever how I related to my parents, my mother became someone even more special to me and my father lost much of the respect I had for him, from that point on our relationship would be difficult and strained. In my mind he was the villain.

The truth is, neither of my parents were perfect and both had their roles to play in the breakup. It was how they acted post breakup that influenced how I viewed them. My mother would never tolerate me saying anything derogatory about my father, no matter how true. She always behaved with dignity and I never felt unloved by her. The opposite is true of my father, I had to endure much spite against my mother and often felt that I came second place to the siblings of the new woman in his life.

How did this shape my Christianity?

Given that I had no reason to question the validity of the Christian God or the truth of Christianity, it didn’t directly shape it. I never consciously thought that the separation of my parents or the events that led up to it could in any way challenge the existence of God. After all, it is humans that mess up, not God.

My father and his new woman would also continue to go to church, long before they eventually married, even before my parents divorce came through. I couldn’t understand why I had to endure this pain of my parents separation, but it certainly wasn’t God’s fault.

Boarding school would be a regular refuge from this pain and the care provided to me by my teachers would be a constant source of encouragement and strength. At least with them I knew there was a consistency of love and presence. This was very important to me and it was this that continued to nourish my growing Christian devotion.