For my readers that know me, you may or may not yet be aware that I was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean last Saturday at sunset. Maybe you also know that I’ve been very interested in religion for quite a while. I started going to church on and off in college, and chose religious studies as my specialization even though it was a bit of a stretch for my major. I also went to several mosques and Muslim gatherings with a friend to get some idea of Islam, which led me to study in Morocco for six months last year. While I was in the town of Ifrane in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, I became very involved in the Christian community located there; I went to every service and bible study, I joined the choir, and I was the communications manager of the Interfaith Alliance. Before joining that community, I had always been an outsider in any religious community, but in Ifrane I benefited from the fact that no one knew me when I arrived – or knew that I wasn’t really Christian!
The pastor in Ifrane ended up having a huge influence on my life. The way she approaches Christianity and bible study in the context of a Muslim country is fascinating and extremely diplomatic, and particularly meaningful to me since I had a very close Muslim friend in college. She also does amazing work with refugees and with women’s weaving communities here. She was the one who first got me interested in working with refugees and migrants, which is now my career aspiration. So after leaving Morocco and the Christian community in Ifrane last December, I felt like I was leaving behind something very important to me.
And then I got a job last June that allowed me to come back to Morocco again, and to a Christian workplace at that. However, I felt that I wasn’t completely “walking in the light” (see 1 John!) because I knew that I still wasn’t actually Christian. Thankfully, several factors aligned themselves perfectly into one wonderful weekend, when I was baptized by the pastor of Ifrane in the ocean just south of Rabat, sponsored in my baptism by my wonderful boyfriend, and supported by a community of believers that has taught me so much about Christianity and about life in Morocco, and just life in general, in this past year. So anyway, here is what it means to me to follow Christ!
Community – Being Christian requires being part of a community, which means that there are always people who are there for you. Going to meet with familiar people on a regular basis to sing, talk, and listen to advice is a good reminder of what is really important. Communities can be formed around a lot of different shared experiences, but church communities are something that can be found nearly everywhere in the world.
Guidance – I started taking notes on sermons so that I could better follow French sermons, but I kept doing it for English sermons too because I found that the advice given is often relevant to something in my own life. Each Sunday I feel like I have a new bit of information about life that helps guide me through the challenges of the coming week. You can probably see that from my last few blog entries!
Encouragement – I very easily feel down if I get discouraged about something. Church, the bible, and religious communities are all ways to find encouragement and to find a way to believe in yourself. It’s great to be able to think of life’s challenges as part of God’s plan for you to grow as a person.
Don’t worry, just dance to a contemporary version of the Messiah!
Spirit of Learning – Just as sermons provide guidance, they also provide food for thought about ourselves, our fellow Christians, and about those who are totally different from us. For example, this Sunday’s sermon centered on the story of Ruth, who was given assistance in supporting herself and her mother-in-law despite being a foreigner. This is a reminder to think of those who we might otherwise look down upon or think of as too different from ourselves to understand.
Salvation through Belief, not Ritual – As I was reading this over, I realized that most of these arguments could be make for other religions. But Christianity in particular tells us that we must focus on our belief in Christ as our saviour, as opposed to following rituals or rules. It doesn’t matter if you eat the wrong thing or forget to go to church; the point is that we should try to be the best people we can be, and that Jesus’s life is a guide for how to do so.