An invitation to a Baptism Sunday starts a family’s journey to learning about their Savior.
Julie K. Wietzke
“You’re not just saving babies. You have the potential to save an entire family and the next generation and the next generation after that. It’s not just one person.”
Liesl Ross was speaking from firsthand experience when she addressed the congregation at Trinity, Waukesha, Wis., to recruit volunteers to make phone calls for the congregation’s annual Baptism Sunday. In 2004, she and her husband, John, were on the receiving end of one of those phone calls. And although the call didn’t go as expected, it led to a family coming to faith.
A HIGH-RISK PREGNANCY
Liesl could hardly believe it. Was that a line on the pregnancy test? She and John had been trying for years to have a baby with no luck. Now they were going to have the child they were waiting for.
As the months went along, everything was going fine. She and John decided to go to Michigan to see their families over Christmas. But when they returned, there was a message from Liesl’s doctor saying that some of her tests had strange results. After an ultrasound, they discovered the baby was really small, but nothing else was conclusive. Liesl’s doctor asked to see her weekly to monitor the situation.
On Feb. 9, Liesl went in for her weekly check-up. Her blood pressure was high, and her protein levels were through the roof. She was diagnosed with preeclampsia and was immediately admitted to the hospital.
Often women diagnosed with preeclampsia late in pregnancy are induced immediately. Since Liesl was only six months along, her doctors tried to use medication to prolong the pregnancy. But when they took her off the medication a few days later, her blood pressure spiked again. “The doctors said to us, ‘You guys are going to become parents today,’ ” says Liesl.
Within the hour, Liesl gave birth to Samantha. At just 13 ounces, she was the smallest baby ever delivered at Waukesha Memorial Hospital up to that time.
Samantha survived the weekend, but on Monday when the doctors tried putting her on a different respirator, her throat closed. “We lost her that day,” says Liesl. “It was pretty awful.”
AN IMPORTANT PHONE CALL
A few months later, when John answered the phone, he was greeted by a friendly voice congratulating him on the recent birth of his baby. But when Adam Nass, a member at Trinity, Waukesha, asked John if his baby had been baptized, John interrupted him and explained the situation. “What’s the worst-case scenario that you could experience? That’s what Adam had to deal with,” says Liesl.
Nass quickly recovered and asked John if one of Trinity’s pastors could call them. John said yes.
The couple had already been searching for a church home. “We’re very much a ‘why’ couple—why did this happen?” says Liesl. “The doctors couldn’t give us any answers. We were at the point where we were ready to hear the Word.”
Liesl wasn’t a total stranger to religion. Liesl’s grandparents were strict Episcopalians, and her mom dabbled in several different denominations. “I had some exposure, but nothing organized—no clear doctrine all the way through,” she says. John didn’t have a background in religion at all. The couple did get married in a church and even had Samantha baptized by the Catholic priest at the hospital. “I had enough exposure that I knew it was an important step, but I didn’t appreciate it until later,” says Liesl. But up to this time, with their busy work schedules and several cross country moves early in their marriage, John and Liesl hadn’t taken the time to think much about their spiritual lives.
That was changing, however. Now they were looking—and not for empty comfort. “When I called them and made an appointment to meet them, the thing that struck me is how John said he was looking for a church that stands for something,” says Scott Oelhafen, pastor at Trinity. “He actually asked me, ‘Do you guys stand for something?’ ”
The Ross’ soon learned that WELS was centered on the Word of God. They started attending worship at Trinity and began going through the Bible information class. “I believe through the experience of the heartache they had with their daughter Sam the Lord allowed them to see how much they needed him and that Jesus was able to help them,” says Oelhafen.
Having science backgrounds, the Ross’ also appreciated that WELS teachings have a solid base—the Word. “We like the fact that we stand up in church every week and admit that we are flawed creatures and we ask for forgiveness and we get it,” says Liesl. “The pastors constantly go back to the Word.”
In 2005, John was baptized, and they both were confirmed. They now had their church family.
A NEW LOOK ON LIFE
But the Ross’ didn’t feel as if their family was complete. They tried having another baby, but to no avail. An international adoption in China was their next step. They were told that it usually took six months to a year once the paperwork was in. “We waited and waited. Things were stretching out longer and longer,” says Liesl. After a particularly hard discussion with their social worker, Liesl says she began wondering if parenting was in their cards.
John went to see Oelhafen. “Pastor Oelhafen told him, ‘You do realize that the little girl you’re getting from China would probably never be exposed to Christ. You’re saving a soul.’ That made all the difference—we could wait forever,” says Liesl.
The Ross’ didn’t wait forever, but it did take three years before they could bring Kadence Trinity home from China—exactly five years to the day that Samantha died. “God works for the good of those who love him,” says Liesl. “That’s the message I’ve been hanging on to.”
Not that being a Christian makes your lives easy. “Your life is not going to be peaches and cream and sunshine because you’re a person of faith—because you’re a Lutheran,” says Liesl. “But it does make [life] easier to bear.”
The Ross’ learned that firsthand when John was recently unemployed for several months. “Even if we lost all the ‘stuff,’ the three of us were all together and we still had our faith,” says Liesl. “There’s a confidence that comes from having faith and knowing that you can count on that.”
Her faith, she says, now helps her accept when bad things happen in life. “Nothing is random,” she says. “I don’t always understand it all, but faith allows me to accept that there’s a plan and I find great comfort in that.”
Now, years after they received that phone call from Nass, John and Liesl are making the calls to invite new parents to have their babies baptized. The importance of their and their children’s baptisms isn’t lost on them. Their baptism certificates are framed and hanging on their bedroom wall, and “John’s favorite part of every service is when we have a baptism. It brings him to tears,” says Liesl. The saving power of Baptism is a message they want to share. “The reason we are sharing our story is to help people realize how important outreach is,” she says. “There are plenty of souls that still need saving.”
Julie Wietzke is the managing editor of Forward in Christ.
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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 2014
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