CLAD IN ILL-FITTING SWIM TRUNKS and a faded T-shirt, Bruce Wilkinson stepped gingerly into a small swimming pool late one May night in Namibia. "Oh, that's cold," Wilkinson said as he began an impromptu baptismal service for two white Namibians under an inky African sky. The two women had been baptized as infants into the Dutch Reformed church, a small Calvinist denomination in Namibia. But they had decided to be baptized again as adults by immersion, following in the footsteps of their husbands, both of whom are evangelical lay leaders. Such rebaptisms for bona fide church members are all but forbidden among most Protestant groups, including the Dutch Reformed.
"I know you believe God loves you," Wilkinson said to one of the women before baptizing her. "But do you believe God likes you?" A long pause ensued. The woman then broke into tears and nodded her head. Wilkinson baptized her as her family and friends applauded. He had helped yet another believer make a breakthrough.
The spiritual breakthrough has become the signature feature of Wilkinson's burgeoning global ministry. The news media have put the spotlight on his fabulously successful books, his new partnership with World Vision in the HIV/AIDS battle, and his stunning and unexpected relocation to Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002.
Such coverage looks at Wilkinson's achievements in isolation. Earlier this year, Wilkinson invited Christianity Today to travel with him, and I spent several days in May getting a more integrated picture of his ministry. I also interviewed Wilkinson outside Johannesburg, where he now lives with his wife, Darlene Marie, and their teenage daughter. Wilkinson's son, David, relocated to Johannesburg with his wife and two children in ...