It was an obvious stop on the tour.
We had a group of excited travelers, two Baptist preachers, and the Jordan River making its lazy journey just south of the Sea of Galilee. Of course we were going to celebrate baptism!
Just as our group gathered, another bus of tourists arrived at the baptismal site. They were from Norway and Finland, and one of the pastors on the bus approached me.
“We have a young woman on our bus who wants to be baptized,” he said, smiling, “and I was wondering if you’d be kind enough to baptize her.” The young woman in question was right behind the pastor, and her eyes were already pleading for a chance to get in the river with us.
“Of course,” I said. Perhaps my face asked the question, for in a moment, he explained why he was passing on the privilege.
“I’d like to baptize her,” he said, “but she’s not planning on joining a church in our denomination, so I can’t.”
The sentence landed cold and hard, and seemed horribly out of place. After all, Jesus hadn’t asked us to be baptized as converts to a denomination, but as believers in him. All that is wrong with “religion” seemed to be caught up in that moment. Here was a rule that needed to be broken, a denominational discomfort that needed to be endured.
I never did pronounce her Norwegian name correctly, but when she came out of the water, she was flush with the joy of confessing Christ in her faith’s most famous river. It was a delightful moment, a wonderful surprise at the end of a good day. I felt sorry for the pastor who missed the moment, but glad for the surprise I’d been given.
I was also grateful to be done with all the baptizing. The water of the Jordan is always colder than it looks!
A few minutes after celebrating faith with our Norwegian guest, I was in the dressing room. The robe was off and a warm towel felt good to my face.
“Hey,” came the voice in the doorway. “There’s another lady here who wants to be baptized. She’s in a wheelchair. Can you help?”
Did I mention how cold I was?
On the bench in front of me were some warm, dry clothes, and a wet, cold baptismal robe. To baptize another woman meant I’d have to put the wet robe on again. The thin towel I’d been given was already wet. There were no fresh towels laying around. To baptize another person was to accept some minor discomfort, and as much as I’d like to deny it, I actually thought of saying, “No.”
So glad I didn’t.
She was 75, and she looked 10 years older. She’d come from Pennsylvania, and she had only her family with her. They were looking for a couple of pastors to make her Holy Land dream come true, and I was one of the two. It was late in the day, and there wasn’t much promise of another pastor arriving on the scene.
Her mind was sharp, her spirit was grateful, and her instructions were clear as we carefully walked her down the slippery steps. Her family smiled at her strong-willed demeanor with the two strangers she’d just met, and we were amazed at her determination. She was bent over at the waist, and walking away from the wheelchair was obviously difficult. But her delight in the moment was contagious, and in short order, we were in the cold water.
I asked her if she confessed Jesus as her Savior, and she said, “Oh, yes!” We lowered her in the water, brought her back to the surface, and gingerly began helping her toward her family. They had tears in their eyes.
“You know,” she said, “I just had it in my mind that you were going to take me down seven times.” We all laughed.
“No ma’am,” I said, “that’s for leprosy.”
We all laughed again, and she laughed the loudest. I stored the picture away as one of the most precious memories I’ve ever had in Israel. And maybe I stored away an important lesson, right there, at the same time.
Whether it’s wet clothes or wet rules, sometimes a little discomfort is needed if we’re ever going to discover the wonderful surprises God has planned for us all along the way. If you have to, break the rules. Put on the wet robe.
Just don’t miss the surprises.
Want to go to Israel with us in 2016? We’ve got a “traditional” trip and a “hiking” trip scheduled, and we’re already signing up travelers! Click here for more information.