Baptised at first sight

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“When I was 13 years old,” recalls Robert Ainsworth, “I had my first calling from the Holy Spirit. And that experience was overwhelming. Ever since then I’ve had a very close relationship with the Holy Spirit.” But no-one could have predicted what the Holy Spirit did recently in Robert’s life.

“I became a very busy professional photographer,” continues Robert, “but in 2012 I found out I had kidney cancer. My faith in God was very strong. Due to God’s grace, my left kidney was successfully removed. After that, I moved to Hawke’s Bay (New Zealand) to start a new life, and I was looking to find a new church where they baptised by immersion like Jesus was baptised, as I was only baptised as a baby with the sprinkling of water over my head.

“But I was having no luck finding the church I was looking for. About the same time a new channel called Hope Channel New Zealand started appearing on my TV set. I saw it as I was flipping through the channels and I was intrigued. So I started watching it. And something really strange started happening. Every time I got stuck on a passage or concept in the Bible, within a short time, a speaker on the new channel would answer my question from the Bible. It was uncanny.

“I decided I needed to know more. The channel had teachings from the Seventh-day Adventist Church between other programs. I knew where the Hastings Adventist Church was, so I went down there, and on the sign outside was a phone number. So I gave it a call and Pastor Hugh Heenan answered.”

Pastor Hugh remembers the call.

“I picked up the phone and Robert said, ‘I’ve been watching Hope Channel and love what I’m seeing. I want to come and talk with you.’ It was one of those conversations you always look forward to!”

“I told Pastor Hugh that I was going on a big trip touring the whole of New Zealand, and when I got back, I’d drop by and see him,” continues Robert. “One Sabbath morning I was relaxing in bed after returning from my trip and Pastor Hugh phoned me. He had no way of knowing I was home as I’d only just returned and hadn’t contacted him. He asked me, ‘Would you like to come and see how we do baptisms?’ And I said, ‘yes, that would be great, I’d really love to see that.’”

That phone call almost didn’t happen. “It was a really busy morning,” explains Pastor Hugh. “My thoughts were on everything coming up at church that day, and certainly not on Robert, who I hadn’t even met yet. But the Holy Spirit kept saying to me, ‘Call Robert. You need to call Robert.’ And so I did. But I never expected what happened next!”

Robert remembers his first moments in the church, “I turned up at the Hastings Seventh-day Adventist Church and I was welcomed by the greeters and, just behind them, was a man who smiled and said, ‘Rob, how’s it going—welcome!’ I was surprised. I’d never seen Pastor Hugh but he knew who I was!”

“We had a lot of visitors that day, but as soon as I saw Robert, the Holy Spirit impressed me, ‘that’s Robert’,” Pastor Hugh recalls. “There was something very different about Robert. He’d been watching Hope Channel New Zealand for some time. He knew a lot about biblical truths. And he had a burning desire to be baptised like Jesus. So when he actually witnessed a baptism by immersion, he was ready.”

Pastor Giovanni, who conducted the last of the baptisms planned for that morning, asked if anyone would like to come down and be baptised.

“I had the biggest goosebumps when he asked,” says Robert. “I could not believe my ears. This was my opportunity to be baptised just like Jesus was. So I stood up and said to the whole church, ‘I would love to be baptised.’ My feet didn’t touch the ground until I was in the pool next to Pastor Giovanni, praying to my loving God.”

“We’ve all become accustomed to the fact that someone will come forward after an appeal, they’ll stop, they’ll wait until after the baptism to meet with the pastor and they’ll discuss the next steps,” says Pastor Hugh. “Robert had never been to an Adventist church so he had no idea that was our custom. He walked right up to the front and down into the baptismal font with Pastor Giovanni, clothes and all! And his baptism took place there and then. It was a beautiful baptism.”

“When I got into the baptism pool,” recalls Robert, “all I could do was just look up and pray. I couldn’t believe it. My prayers were answered. My past was gone. I was free. And I was given true life again. I was praying to God for a new life. A new start. A new beginning. And He gave that to me. I got baptised that day. And I’ve never looked back.

“Of course, after the baptism I came up dripping wet and I had nothing to wear,” remembers Robert. “Until I was told Patrick, one of the church attendees who I had never met, had brought a spare set of men’s clothes to church that day. And they were the right size and all. Amazing.”

“Robert knew our doctrines,” states Pastor Hugh. “He already understood biblical prophecy with a level of detail that very few baptismal candidates have. I knew from talking with him that Robert had marched his way through Adventist doctrines, his Bible on one side, Hope Channel on the other. It was remarkable!”

“I’m now a greeter at Hastings Adventist Church, the gardener, photographer, and sometimes I use my photography skills as a cameraman for Hope Channel New Zealand when we make programs down here in Hawke’s Bay,” Robert says with a big smile.

“I’m also an ambassador for Hope Channel in our community. I go door-to-door inviting people to watch the channel, giving them literature and talking with anyone who is willing to listen about what Jesus means to me!”

“Robert inspires everyone he meets with his love for Christ. And Robert isn’t the only one. We’ve had multiple families connect with our church because of what they’ve seen on Hope Channel,” says Pastor Hugh. “And not just Hastings Adventist Church. Now Hope Channel is available on almost every TV set in the country, I’m hearing similar stories from Adventist churches right across New Zealand.” [pullquote]

Dr Brad Kemp, president of the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference, says there are about 8000 people in Adventist churches in New Zealand on an average Sabbath. “But, according to the independent secular ratings agency Nielsen, we’ve got more than 200,000 Kiwis watching Hope Channel,” he states. “That’s about 25 people watching Hope Channel for every person who is in church on an average Sabbath. It proves the words of Jesus right: the fields really are ripe for the harvest!”

“The next big challenge,” says Hope Channel New Zealand manager Neale Schofield, “is to connect more viewers with local Adventist churches. For every Robert, we know there are literally thousands of others. We just need to help them make the connection between the message that they have come to love on Hope Channel and the local church where faith in Christ is expressed in a living community. But how to do that?

“First, we’ve found Kiwis respond best to local content, so we’re developing new Kiwi shows on health, family, finances, ADRA’s amazing stories and, yes, cutting-edge shows about the amazing truths in the Bible,” says Neale. “Second, we’re also in the process of developing better ways to interact with viewers.

“Third, in the next six months we plan to roll out signage that clearly makes the connection between local churches and Hope Channel New Zealand. They’ve done similar signs already in Brazil and it has had an amazing impact—with people walking off the street and into Adventist churches all over the country. The new signs are going to make it a lot easier for the 200,000 Hope Channel viewers to find a local Adventist community where they can become part of the body of Christ. Not because God needs numbers but because our neighbours need God.”

“Hope Channel can help do for others what it has already done for me,” says Robert. “I thank God for it. Because God used Hope Channel to change my life.”

James Standish is former editor of Adventist Record and currently resides in Washington DC. He writes on behalf of Hope Channel New Zealand.

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