Happy New Year from everyone in San Pedro! We pray that God will continue to bless His work here and also bless all of you who continually support us.
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
This New Year's we had both water baptism and a kind of baptism with fire. On New Year's Day Stephen baptized his sister-in-law, who has been a Christian for some time but had never been baptized. A small group of us gathered at the baptism tank (outside and unheated! Thankfully the day wasn't too cold...) and we had a short service. Before coming here I had never been to a baptism for only one person, but there have been two such baptisms in the last month. Praise God that His people are willing to obey Him - even in the middle of winter! - and take this step of dedication and surrender.
On New Year's Eve we held our regular Sunday afternoon service and then had a special Thanksgiving service at 11 pm. We had a short time of worship and then gathered around a bonfire, where everyone shared one thing they were grateful for in their lives this year. These things ranged from simple things like another year of life and the blessings of family and friends, to life-changing miracles and works of God. After this, on a small piece of paper we each wrote down the things in our lives that we want to change this year - not as resolutions, but as prayers and needs that we presented to God, asking for His help to change us. We then threw the papers in the fire, symbolizing that we have surrendered these things to God. In the Bible fire is used for several purposes. The Israelites offered burnt sacrifices to atone for sins and also to offer thanks to God. God spoke to His people out of the fire, as when He gave the 10 Commandments, and to show His power, as in the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. It is also used to purify and refine. What we did was a small sacrifice on our part; it didn't really cost us much, but as I looked at the things I wrote, I realized how merciful God is and how loving - despite our shortcomings, despite our sins, He is always faithful and willing to accept us as we are. Even though we tend to want to rescue that paper from the fire and take back control of our lives, He still wants nothing more than to purify us, filll us with His Spirit, and draw us closer to Him. The need for burnt offerings is gone because of Jesus' death and resurrection, but we still need to offer ourselves as sacrifices every day, laying our plans and our desires before Him and asking for His will to be done in us. It may hurt; we may smell smoke and see the ashes of things that we valued lying around us, but what is left in the end will be pure and everlasting.