Home > Commentary > Shall We Gather at the River?

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.

  1. June 30, 2009 at 2:05 am

    Read this earlier and I’ve been thinking about it all night. What an amazing story. Simply amazing.

    • June 30, 2009 at 2:26 pm

      I agree.. it was a great story to be part of… if just in a small way.

  2. June 30, 2009 at 2:39 am

    Fear is a terrible emotion. Some fears have a purpose – it is good to be afraid of a hungry Tiger in the jungle, falling off a crumbling high cliff edge or handling a poisonous snake for example. But many of our fears are irrational or have an extremely ‘weak’ and inaccurate basis. (Can often be based in lies).

    I know of another young lady who’s circumstances are identical to Anna’s – or rather were. She was terrified of revealing her true identity on her blog as she was now a baptised Christian and married to a non-muslim man without her parent’s permission and her parents and family were devout muslims in Pakistan.

    Her story of finding and coming to Christ in the midst of fear of what might happen to her should her family find out is one of the most incredible stories you could ever hear.

    You might want to share her story with Anna – there might be lessons for her there – particularly concerning Trust in God and Truth.

    Sometimes the outcomes may not be what we were expecting but His Will for us is always revealed. we are but to listen truly.

    Her blog can be found at gychyales.wordpress.com


    • June 30, 2009 at 2:29 pm


      I agree with you and I believe that one day, Anna will speak to her parents about her new life in Christ.

      By they way.. the link that you provided doesn't work.. that would be a really cool blog to point Anna to..

  3. June 30, 2009 at 7:43 am

    Thanks for sharing this story Tony. So much taken for granted when one has always had “it.” Your story reminded me of an incident that took place just over a month ago for me. A young man in the church asked me to baptize him but to do it in the river where he and younger friends did a lot of things he is not proud of now. He wanted to make it a holy place for him now. Just me and him and God. It was beautiful. I pray Anna never loses the joy of Jesus and will be able to come to grips some day with her faith and family.

    • June 30, 2009 at 2:31 pm

      Bill, that is a great story about the young man wanting to ‘redeem’ his past in such a way.

      I also appreciate your prayers for Anna… and I am sure that she will appreciate them as well.

  4. June 30, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    as i went down in the river to pray, studyin’ about that good ol’ way…

    (sorry, couldn’t resist).

    what a beautiful story. and what a precious, brave soul anna is.

    • June 30, 2009 at 2:47 pm

      One of my favorite movies is “Oh, Brother, Where art thou?” .. they sing that song during the baptism scene. That whole movie cracks me up and draws me into thoughts about my family’s southern heritage.

      • June 30, 2009 at 5:15 pm

        definitely one of my favorite movies ever!!!

      • July 1, 2009 at 9:44 am

        i was going to mention that!

        definitely a ***** movie for me 🙂

        George Clooney – ALL that and he’s single too?? Heck, i’m almost tempted to marry him meself ! 😉


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