Wayland football players show commitment through baptism during recent chapel service

March 5, 2012

PLAINVIEW -- It is one thing to respond to a general altar call in front of and along with others who you know will be supportive of your decision. It is quite another thing, once that decision has been made, to follow it up with an action in front of the your peers that puts you in a position to be held accountable for the rest of your time on campus, and even beyond.

However, that is the decision three Wayland Baptist University students made recently when they agreed to be baptized as a part of the university’s weekly chapel service. The three young men, two of them members of the football team, made decisions as part of the recent campus-wide revival service. Reggie Pierce, a 21-year-old freshman from San Antonio who is a defensive tackle for the Pioneers, and fellow freshman Mathew Russell, a defensive end from New Deal, were baptized in a water tank on the stage of Harral Auditorium in mid-February, one week after the conclusion of the revival. They were joined by Greg George, a freshman from Odessa.

According to Wayland’s Director of Baptist Student Ministries Donnie Brown, a total of six students accepted Christ as a result of the revival, five of them directly and one later.

Recognizing the opportunity he had to help the new converts understand and act upon the ordinance of baptism, he asked each of those five if they would like to be baptized during the upcoming chapel service. While two of them chose to be baptized in their local churches, the three young men chose to observe the ordinance as a testimony in front of their fellow students.

Brown said that he explained to them the scriptural significance of baptism — that while it did not determine one’s salvation it did serve as a public testimony for both believers and non-believers who witnessed it.

 “I asked them if they would like to do that in chapel. I believe that this is the closest to a New Testament baptism you can get. If baptism is a testimony to believers and to non-believers, then that’s what we did,” he said.

In the case of Pierce and Russell, both said they had a good understanding of the significance of what they chose to do and were excited about the opportunity, although both admitted to being a bit nervous to begin with.

“I was kind of afraid people were going to laugh at me,” Pierce said of that initial apprehension.

As it turned out, that was far from the reaction he received.

“After I got baptized, I had over 100 text messages (from people) saying they were proud of me. I was really kind of shocked, I wasn’t expecting that,” he said.

Pierce explained that as a young child he went to church pretty regularly. However, he stopped going about the time he entered the eighth grade, not out of any type of rebellion, he just had other things he liked to do. Once he became an adult, he worked quite a bit as a sergeant with a security company and a Police Explorer with the San Antonio Police Department — he is studying criminal justice and wants to be either a state trooper or work for the FBI.

Pierce, who played high school football for 5A San Antonio Lee High School, said that initially he went to a community college before a friend and teammate from Lee, Jermaine Smith, told him about the new program at Wayland. He checked out the university and immediately liked it.

“I’m not good with big towns and this is a small community. When I came for a visit, everybody welcomed me with open arms,” he said.

Russell — who is studying elementary education — had a similar experience. He explained that while the new football program gave him an opportunity to continue to play the game he loves, there was more to it than that.

“I also came for the school itself. When I stepped through the door, they’ve always helped me,” he said.

Like Pierce, Russell said he initially was nervous about the baptism in chapel. However, he decided he wanted to do it because he wanted to be held accountable by his fellow students and he wanted to encourage them to look at their own lives and see if they needed to make changes.

Russell laughed as he explained that far from catching any flack for being baptized in front of his friends, they actually have begun to change their behavior around him, particularly his teammates on the football team and his housemates.

“Like nobody at my house cusses anymore. They all say, ‘watch your mouth,’ ” he said with a laugh.

Russell said that in general terms the revival has had a positive impact on the Pioneer football team.

“We’re all changing as a group,” he said.

Pierce echoed that sentiment, adding that during practice as the team gathers around coaches or Brown, who may be there to offer support; they often are given a passage of scripture and a brief explanation of what it means. They then are encouraged to use the passage as a tool for team growth.

For head coach Butch Henderson, the spiritual growth of his charges is as important as their physical growth as football players. He spoke of how excited Pierce has been since becoming a Christian and how important the baptism chapel was.

“I think that’s a real good sign when someone accepts Christ, their excited and want everyone to know what they did.

“I think (the baptism is) what makes you feel like it is really real for him. For all of our students, I think that makes chapel real for them,” he said.

Wayland President Dr. Paul Armes also was pleased to see the impact of the school’s revival on the football players and to see their willingness to be held accountable by their fellow students.

“It speaks well of the students’ desire to witness to their newfound faith in front of their peers — the people who know them best,” Armes said.

For Brown, it is an ongoing process as he works with Pierce, Russell and George after their decision.

“I’m discipling all three of those guys and part of that is helping them understand that they need to get involved with a local church,” he said, adding that the students attend local churches but have not joined a specific one at this point.

“They’re looking for a place to get plugged in, where they’re called to serve,” he said. “Through the discipleship process, they will find a place to get involved.”

Dr. Armes also emphasized the importance of the young men getting involved with a local congregation.

“Primarily, baptism has traditionally been and will remain a local church event and experience. Wayland is not and will not ever be a local Baptist congregation. We are partners with those congregations,” he said.

Like others on campus, Brown was proud of the young men for the commitment they were willing to make.

“The thing is, these three guys realized what baptism is, a testimony, and they wanted to make that statement in front of their fellow students.

“What it did is it encouraged the believers on our campus and it encouraged the non-believers to take another look at Jesus. That testimony caused believers and non-believers alike to re-examine their lives. That’s a bold statement. If I’m a believer and I’m sitting in the audience, I’m going, ‘That’s bold. How bold am I?’ ”