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35. The Catholics who wanted to get baptized

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In the village of Pou, there was a Catholic youth leader named Sylvester Timbi. He made a decision that his youth group was going to study the Bible. It may seem natural for a Christian youth group to study the Bible, but as a matter of fact this was a rather unique occurrence. After a year of studies, they came to the conclusion that they were not living a Christian life according to the teachings of the Bible. The whole group felt the need to ask God for forgiveness for their sins. No outsider had been there and testified to them – they had reached this revelation through their Bible studies alone. After this, when they had experienced salvation by praying to God for forgiveness for their sins, they continued their Bible studies. When they studied what the Bible had to say about baptism, they concluded that the Bible only talked about baptism by immersion in water after confession of repentance and faith in God. They then realized that their infant baptism was not a baptism according to the Bible. They went to the Catholic priest and told him that after having studied the Bible, they had come to the conclusion that there was a need for them to repent and be saved. They further told him that they also understood the need to be baptized by immersion as a testimony to having repented from sin, and that they believed in God.

"Will you baptize us?" they asked.

"You are already baptized, so it's not necessary" the priest replied.

"That’s not what we concluded from our Bible studies."

"You are Catholic, and must follow the Catholic tradition" the priest continued.

"No, we must follow the Word of God."

"Go to the Filadelfia Mission then" the priest said.

He never thought that they would actually go through with this – but they did.

Sven speaks: In late 1979, or possibly early 1980, they came to me and told me this. They asked me if we in the Filadelfia Church would to baptize them. I talked to them and realized that they had really understood what baptism meant so I told them that nothing prevented us from baptizing them. There were 31 young people, including Sylvester Timbi, who were baptized at the baptismal service.

They later on went back to their village and built a small grass church. They began to arrange regular worship services instead of going to the Catholic Church. The elders in the village were very angry at these young people since they had betrayed the Catholic Church, but their group grew a lot. There were more and more young people becoming” born again” Christians in Pou.


The current church in Pou (2012)

Then something tragically happened. Sylvester's four-year-old daughter was hit by a car and died. The driver went straight to the police station for his own protection. Now the question was: Would Sylvester act like Kundi or relapse into the tradition of blood revenge? When the police arrived at the scene of the accident, Sylvester held his little daughter in his arms and said, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, glory to the Lord's name. I do not want any compensation and I do not want the driver to be punished. It was an accident. You can release him from his prison cell - nothing will happen to him."

When the driver had been released, Sylvester went to his home and talked to him about Jesus. So instead of going to the driver with an axe to chop his head off, Sylvester had gone to him with a Bible in his hand. The driver was saved, and many of his relatives as well. A few weeks later, Sylvester visited him yet again and arranged a baptismal service and all the new believers were baptized. Thus, a new church was planted in that village.

When Sylvester's father saw how the Pentecostal movement grew and how Sylvester had handled his daughter's death, he became very angry and this made him burn down the grass church that they had built in Pou. But Sylvester and the other church members stood in the ashes and said: "Tomorrow, we are going to build a new church. And if they burn it down, we will build another one again." Nothing could stop them from talking about their faith. Eventually they built a permanent church on the highest spot in the village – a very nice place.

In the beginning it was mostly young people and women who were saved in Pou. There were not many old men who became christians. Since they were the ones making all the decisions in the traditional societies, there was a risk that even the young people and women who had been saved would fall back into the old ways, but something strange happened.

One of the most influential Catholics of Pou was an old man. He had many medals and awards given to him by the Catholic Church. He had a son, I think his name was Gabriel, who worked on a plantation in Kimbe in the West New Britain Province. At one point, the old man flew to Kimbe to visit his son. Once there, he was greeted by the shocking news that his son had become a Pentecostal Christian.

One night, during the time the old man was visiting his son, he dreamed that he was with Zechariah in the temple of Jerusalem. The dream took place at the time when Zechariah 's wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son. Before she became pregnant, she had been considered barren because of her old age (Luke 1:5-8). When he awoke, he told his son about his dream and wondered what this could mean. "Don’t you understand anything?" the son said, and continued: "It simply means that God is telling you that so far he has performed miracles among the young but now he will start performing miracles among the old ones."

A few nights later, the old man had a new dream. He dreamed that he was being lifted up in the air above his home village and saw the village people below him. This time, he asked his son what he thought this dream symbolized. "Do you still not understand anything at all?" the son said. "It means that when God is beginning to perform miracles among the old people, he will start with you." This resulted in the old man getting saved when he was in Kimbe.

I became aware of this incident when people asked me to come to Pou to participate in a special gathering. When I arrived, there were a lot of people, both Catholics and Pentecostals. The old man was there, as well as the Catholic priest and several other Catholic leaders. The old man got up and told them how he had been born again when he visited his son in Kimbe. He then took off all his medals and awards, and gave them to the Catholic priest and said, "These cannot save me – only Jesus can save me." After this, he was baptized. It was a breakthrough for the gospel among the elderly in the village. People began to understand that salvation was not just something for young people and women, but that something big really was happening.


Sven together with Sylvester Timbi's Mother (2012)

Some time went by, and later in 1980, we had a great conference in Pou. There were a couple of thousand participants. In connection with the conference, we baptized 97 people. On Monday morning, the day after the conference, I received a call urging me to immediately get back to Pou. When I got there, they told me that four influential Catholic leaders, three men and a woman, each had dreamed about Jesus coming back to retrieve the saved to heaven. They saw how all the villagers of Pou were lifted up to heaven in their dream, but that they themselves were left behind. They were so shaken by the dream that at six o'clock in the morning, they had gone and knocked on the door of a Pentecostal pastor. They said they wanted to get baptized. We then arranged yet another baptismal service. These four people became real cornerstones of the work of God. One of them, Paulus, was from a neighboring village. He later on built a church in this village.


Marianne and Sven at Sylvester Timbi's grave

Today, in April 2012, there are eight Pentecostal churches in this area as a fruit of Sylvester Timbi and his youth group beginning to study the Bible seriously. The rest of their society was affected as well – a variety of bars had to close and violence and lawlessness were greatly reduced.

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