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Summer 2022
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‘Here is Water’

stories of Faith, Grit and Joy

A professor and three students chose to answer God’s call, turning an engineering class into an impromptu baptism By Kimberly Felton

Mathematics professor Pete Rusaw remembers frost on the windows that August morning. The water would be chilly, and he didn’t know if anyone would accept his invitation to step, fully clothed, into a metal trough to be baptized.

The students in his engineering statistics class did not expect this invitation from their professor. Instead, they were prepared to sail their newly designed concrete canoes in the trough as part of a class project.

Rusaw didn’t know what would happen, but he knew he had to be faithful. He grabbed one towel from the linen closet on his way out the door, thinking it may be one too many.

So when, three hours later, a clear, confident voice responded to his invitation with, “I want to,” Rusaw, somewhat startled, searched to identify the source.

An Unlikely Volunteer

The response was immediate. Usually reserved and quiet in class, the voice belonged to Emma.

“She stepped forward and I was like, ‘Whoa, OK,’” Rusaw recalls. “I said, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ And she said, ‘My life’s been hard and it’s time.’”

That’s all it took to make Rusaw’s faithfulness worth it – though he would say faithfulness does not require results.

The former pastor and current professor had not planned baptisms into his class schedule that morning. Looking back, he shrugs and says maybe the idea of turning an engineering canoe competition into a baptism service stirred the night before, during the three hours it took to fill the 150-gallon trough with two hoses connected to faucets inside the university’s Engineering Maker Hub.

Rusaw had borrowed the six-foot-long metal tank from a local church that uses it as its baptismal. When he asked to borrow it for the canoe project, the pastor offered the heating element as well. Rusaw turned him down. After all, canoes don’t need warm water.

But then something happened the morning of the competition. Rusaw was up early, as usual, listening to the coffee drip and inhaling the aroma, taking time to be with God with no agenda. That’s when Acts 8 came to mind, where Philip shows up just as an Ethiopian in a chariot wondered what the Scriptures about Christ meant. As Philip showed from Scripture that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Ethiopian looked up, saw water, and said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” (Acts 8:36).

Rusaw drank his coffee and pondered, “Here is water – what can stand in the way?” He wasn’t sure anyone would do it, but the idea of baptisms pressed on his heart and mind, and he was sure he needed to offer the opportunity.

“Look, here is water.
What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” – Acts 8:36

Faithfulness Matters

At 8 a.m. Rusaw welcomed his first class gathered outside the Maker Hub, wearing jackets and sweatshirts to stay warm. Each team brought a foot-long canoe constructed primarily of concrete. They waited to see which of their designs, propelled by a powerful fan at the end of the trough, would float and carry a load and which ones would simply crumble and sink.

Rusaw opened his Bible to Acts 8 and read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. He told the class that after the competition they would have the option to be baptized. Then the competition began, with cheers and groans, success and defeat.

At the conclusion of the class, Rusaw said again, “Here is water. Does anyone want to be baptized?”

No one accepted.

“And it was like, ‘Hey, it’s OK; nothing wrong with that,’” he says. “It may have been a link in someone’s faith chain in the first class, but they weren’t ready. It reminded me that faithfulness to the Spirit’s voice cannot put conditions on God’s answer.”

The lack of response in the first class was a neutral outcome, Rusaw says, neither good nor bad. “But even if it turns out badly, it doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t act in obedience and faith.”

Still, he considered skipping the baptism invitation at the next class. “There was a slight temptation to say, ‘No one will respond anyway. You’re running a little late and you don’t really need to do this,’” he says.

But faithfulness matters.

Opening the next statistics class, Rusaw again read Acts 8, telling his class that they, like the Ethiopian, had the opportunity to use this water. Again they held the competition, and again Rusaw gave his invitation.

Zack, another student in class that morning, was debating his own response when Emma accepted the invitation. “She generally is a quiet and reserved person, so the fact that she was the first one to volunteer was a little bit of a surprise to me,” he says. “It was also a little bit motivating. She kind of helped tip me over, like ‘Yep, I’m definitely going to do this.’”

As Emma handed off her jacket, phone and shoes to a classmate, Rusaw remembered the crumbled concrete canoes scattered at the bottom of the trough. It would hurt to step on that in the midst of a baptism.

Zack and others helped pull out the canoe remains. He distinctly remembers getting his sleeve wet, but before long the wet sleeve wouldn’t matter.

Emma emerges from the tub smiling after baptism

With Emma ready to be baptized, Rusaw asked her, “How do you think this might give you a place to stand that’s new?”

“For myself,” she said, “I think it’s more that I’m not putting it off any longer.”

The dunk in the chilly water was quick, and she came out grinning.

Rusaw handed Emma his one towel, looked out at the class, and said, “Here is water. Would anyone else like to be baptized?”

“I would,” Zack said.

“As soon as he mentioned baptism, I felt like God put it on my heart that I should do this,” Zack recalls. “It had been in the back of my mind. I knew it was something I wanted to do. At some point I was going to. But the moment had never just shown up and presented itself until that time.”

Zack was in his dress clothes, ready for work later that day. “My initial thought was, ‘This sounds like a bad idea logistically,’” he says. “But that voice did not win out. I’m glad it didn’t, because it was a very good experience. I’m very glad I did it.”

Zack laughs when he hears he could have stepped into heated water that morning. “The water was pretty chilly, but I didn’t notice it much,” he says. “I had a little bit of adrenaline going.”

As Zack swiped at his wet skin with the damp towel Emma handed him, yet another student, Patrick, separated from the crowd and walked forward. “I was baptized as an infant, and I really was just waiting for the right time,” he told Rusaw. One more set of soaking wet clothes. One more grin emerging from the water.

Not even a corner of the towel was dry.

1 of 4 photos of Patrick being baptized in the tub

The Courage to be First

Rusaw grinned, seeing puddles form under the dripping students. “This is kind of where you live, right?” he asked the class, motioning to the Maker Hub behind him, where engineering students spend hours working on projects and interacting with classmates. “So this is kind of your home? And this is kind of your family, right? I think that in this world, there are all these opportunities – but because it’s tough to have courage, sometimes somebody wants to do whatever it is that God wants them to do, but they need somebody else to step first.”

For Zack, the baptism signaled the beginning of God leading him into greater courage.

“I’d come to the realization that, in certain areas of my life, I’d been letting fear drive me instead of letting God guide me,” he says. “I hadn’t seen that for what it was until last semester. I realized that is not how I want to live, nor is it healthy.

“Before the semester started, I had been praying, ‘God, if there’s anything, any development I need to have in my life, if you could have that happen sooner than later, that would be great.’ The baptism was part of that, that I didn’t foresee at all, but it definitely was part of it.”

Seeming to forget the courage he himself chose to exercise, Rusaw, months later, still expresses wonder that in a class full of confident, vocal undergrads, it was the quiet one who stepped forward first. The lion, he says, who looks like a lamb.

“She’s the kind of person who is in engineering because she has resolve. It took more courage to do what she did than even what the other two people did. She’s just one of those students who’s like, ‘I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.’”

Courage breeds courage, Rusaw says. “Some people are given a measure of faith to go first, and that encourages others who may have wanted to obey but not had quite enough courage to step forward. Few are willing to step up first, but many want to and are waiting for the lions to exercise their gift.”

Rusaw holds with some reverence the trust the students put in him, allowing him to dunk them in the tank that morning, to be a significant part of their faith story.

“That means that ‘being known’ is starting to happen – it has to be,” he says. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t put forth that kind of trust. More important, they’re saying, ‘Jesus is worth trusting. I need to follow him into what he’s calling me.’”

Much like Rusaw did that chilly August morning.

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