They gathered at the river—a portable plastic river sitting in the corner of the former warehouse where New Life Baptist Church meets every Sunday. The five baptismal candidates walked behind a room divider and then took turns stepping into the portable tank.
Noah Dziwlik went first. He received Christ on Mother’s Day, when his father led him to the Lord while they sat at the table after Sunday dinner. Next came Sarah Swan, who was led to the Lord by her mother, Shari, a nurse who works with special-needs children.
Chuck Martin was baptized next. A single dad who is raising a daughter with developmental disabilities, he began attending New Life after Shari Swan began giving care to his daughter. This also gave Chuck an interesting link to Mark Wood, pastor of New Life church. “Our children go to the same school in Woodstock—I had a connection with Chuck because we both have special-needs children,” says Pastor Wood.
Mark and Judy Wood have plenty of church-planting experience, having served with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism for eighteen years. They had previously planted another church in the Chicago area and had served as missionaries in Hong Kong.
“The Lord directed us back home by giving us a son with special needs,” says Mark, who explained that after Jason was born in Hong Kong and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the family moved back to the U.S. and continued to work as church planters.
Ten years ago, a group of interested people in the northwest Chicago suburbs met at Mark and Judy’s home for a Bible study. The church celebrated their Graduation Sunday on March 30, 2008, marking the transition from missionary status to self-support. Mark resigned from his missionary role with ABWE, the church called him as their first pastor, and they began paying his salary with their weekly offerings.
The young church has benefited from the help of many partners: a church-planting missionary from ABWE, budget support from several churches in fellowship with the GARBC, volunteer groups who traveled to the church on missions trips, and funds from the Baptist Builders Club (which recently provided the church with a $15,000 grant).
It seems faintly amusing that a church located in a town called Lake in the Hills had no place, until now, to baptize their believers. After renting for several years, the church purchased the 8,600-square-foot commercial property from its landlord, but continued to borrow other church buildings when they needed to hold a baptismal service.
“Baptist Builders Club has been a tremendous blessing to our church family,” says Mark. “With the grant money we were able to purchase chairs for our auditorium, upgrade our sound system, and even buy this portable baptistry. For the first time in our ten-year history, we held a baptismal service right here in our own church facilities.”
Pastor Wood hopes that the church’s missions roots will flourish—while they would eventually like to purchase more land and build larger facilities, this is not their first priority.
“I would love to see us continue to be a missions minded church,” says Pastor Mark Wood. “This year we added money to our budget to support a new missionary.”
The service at New Life Baptist Church concluded as Alyssa Sterwerf was baptized, followed by her mother, Kim Branson, who started attending New Life when she found the church website. Kim was a believer, but had never studied the Bible earnestly. After several months of discipleship with Mark and Judy, Kim became convicted that she needed to be baptized again—by immersion—though she had been previously baptized as an infant.
And when the service was over, volunteers hooked up a garden hose, drained the baptistry, and carried it up to the church storage room. But it won’t stay there for long—Mark has already seen how baptism serves as a powerful testimony. “We have four or five who want to get baptized in the next month, now that they have seen this service,” he says.