Shall We Gather at the River?
I grew up in a small church. A church filled with hill people transplanted to the northern cities in Ohio. You can take the people out of the hills but you really can’t take the hills out of the people. They were earthy people that had a natural bent to be just who they were.
There the type of people who would know what a poultice was, how to make one, and when one should be used. They thrived on home remedies, superstitions, and a way of life that was just more laid back than what I see today. That last remark is not say that they were lazy because that was not the case, at least, not any more than any other segment of society that I could point out.
Last evening I was reminded of those hill people from my youth not by a person but by an activity. Its an amazing story so I hope you will take a moment and read this.
Her real name is not Anna but that is what her friends call her. She’s a petite young lady with long dark hair that brings out the color of her light brown eyes. Anna’s heritage is also marked by her latte-colored skin. All of those characteristics are markings of the physical heritage that her parents passed on to her. There is one other thing that Anna’s parents wish to pass on as part of their heritage.
Anna’s parents are Muslim.
But, Anna became a Christian.
Her joy in knowing Christ is contagious. Her facebook page screams her passion and her greatest joy is one that she can’t even mention to her parents. She posts her secrets on facebook under a name that allows her freedom to do so. Last week, she posted a status about wanting to have a bible. I was ready to send her one but she explained that it would be difficult for her to have one. She accesses the bible electronically but she really would like to have one to hold in her hands.
There are a lot of us ‘free’ Christians that could learn from that desire.
I was invited to Anna’s baptism last evening and was honored to be part of that beautiful sacrament that Christ commanded that we follow. Her baptism wasn’t going to take place in a nice, indoor baptismal or in a chlorinated swimming pool. We all gathered at the river to watch Anna commit publicly to the new life she had in Jesus.
About 2 dozen of her friends made the walk down the muddy path to the chilly waters that flowed just below the dam. Besides me and Kenny, the group that gathered were mostly older teens and young twenty-somethings. They were also a rainbow of ethnic backgrounds. On one hand I was so encouraged to see these young people making Christ central to their lives and on the other hand I was blown away by this simple thought.
I stood on a continent that was ‘the remotest parts of the earth’ that Christ mentioned in Acts 1:8 surrounded by representative heritages from the major continents around the world. I was a spectator to the fruition of that command given some 2000 years ago on a distant continent.
Simply put, I was amazed. So I just took it all in… the joy of the prayers that were said over Anna, the blue sky, the breeze that shook the trees, Kenny’s son, Miles, who enjoyed going barefoot in the mud and who stood by his side at one point and looked up at his father as he prayed. In that moment, I tried to flash forward to when Miles would be a young man and wondered if he would reflect on the day that all these people gathered together in a river to pray and dunk a young lady in the water. Would he remember how poignant of a moment he had witnessed?
I purposely took no pictures in which Anna could be seen. She is in the midst of this group of young people preparing to be baptized. What a wonderful moment to be a witness.
It helped me to flashback to my childhood when those hill people had gathered beside the rivers to be baptized. There is a joy remembered in those flashbacks. Laughter. Tales about breaking ice in order to get people into the water. People singing. My father in the water carefully, and sometimes not so carefully, placing someone under water and then raising them back up.
Those are warm memories.
Congratulations, Anna, may you always see Christ as you did on the day you first trusted Him.