March 16 was a much-anticipated Sabbath for members at the Woodland Hills church plant, but it was cloaked in secrecy.

Amanda Neese had arranged to be baptized, but she wanted it to be a surprise for her mother, Kathy Ulrich. Keeping a baptism secret may not sound all that difficult, but it was in Amanda’s case because Kathy not only serves on the church board (which has to vote on new members), but she also works at the Iowa-Missouri Conference office and happens to be the one who provides baptismal certificates for new members.

Earlier that week, Kathy had sent Dick Bascom, head elder and church plant coordinator, a text message asking if she needed to prepare baptismal certificates for Sabbath. She had heard there might be a baptism. I thought, Uh-oh. Does she know? She must. How could she not? Dick was a bit vague in his response, telling Kathy he didn’t need any at that point (knowing he would get it to Amanda later). We hoped that would settle any suspicion Kathy had and decided to proceed with the surprise, as planned.

After Sabbath school that morning, those involved in the worship service, including Amanda, met to go over things so everything would go smoothly. Knowing Kathy might come through the fellowship hall to put her potluck dish in the oven, we decided to huddle on the landing of the back steps where we wouldn’t be seen. Little did we know that Kathy always goes down those back steps to put her food in the oven!

So, there we were—Amanda in her baptismal gown, her son, Colton, beside her, and the rest of us gathered around in a tight circle quietly going over our plans—when Kathy opened the door from the sanctuary and caught us. Her eyes got big, and she froze, too stunned to speak. Her daughter was getting baptized—something she had been praying would happen for years! After a few moments, seeing that she had clearly walked in on something she wasn’t supposed to see, Kathy blurted out “Oops… Gotta go!” before hurriedly turning around and closing the door behind her. We all had a good laugh. By her expression, we had clearly managed to keep it a surprise—just not quite as long as we’d planned!

But that wasn’t the only reason Amanda’s baptism will be particularly memorable. The tank heater had apparently flipped a breaker and quit working at some point, so the water was cold. We got the heater going again, but a tank that size can’t heat up quickly. It was only 47 degrees when the time came! I’ve never seen someone exit the baptismal tank so fast!

Following the baptism, Amanda, Kathy and Colton celebrate, along with other members, with a fellowship meal, balloons and cake. (Photo: Randy Harmdierks)

Amanda is continuing her studies, is learning more about walking with Jesus, and is now going through the Discipleship Handbook with Angie Harmdierks. It has been such a joy to have gotten to know her and study with her these past couple years, and I am so pleased to see her choose to follow Jesus.

Congratulations Amanda!