The week before taking that communion I went to Camp Peach Valley between Shiner and Gonzalez, Texas. It was a camp that refused to take money from the government so that they wouldn't be told how to manage their camp, so as not to risk being told what they could or could not say about Jesus. The camp was supported by different churches in Texas. The camp was built by my relatives (Mercer and Ezell). I never met my paternal grandfather, he died in 1972 before I was born from a heart attack. However, when my dad and uncle were kids they along with my grandfather helped build a swimming pool for the camp. Nothing fancy, just a sloped hole paved with concrete and plaster so kids could have some place to swim. It was the most rustic camp I ever attended and over the past 28 years it hasn't changed that much.
Going to camp following my 3rd grade year was quite the experience. My older brother who, because he was a diabetic and had attended many of those camps, knew the ropes of a camp and I was comforted by his presence. Wyatt had been baptized a year or two before that week of camp. I still remember his baptism. We had been at camp since Sunday and now it was Wednesday. I had the best counselor, Jim. He was a youth minister from a different church and the son-in-law of one of our elders. I don't remember him being crazy and fun, but I remember him being genuine and interested in his whole group. On Wednesday of that week we had seen a baptism already and the preacher from my church got up and really laid out the word of God. He was passionate and it all made logical sense to me. I wanted to live for Jesus. I didn't exactly know what all of that meant, but my heart was there and I was tired of allowing my head to get in the way. So when they gave the great invitation and altar call it didn't take long for me leave my seat under the open pavilion. I walked to the front and adult men were there to shake our hands, hug us, and ask us why we cam "forward." Wyatt came forward that evening too. He wanted to be a better Christian and was rededicating his life to God. They asked me and I was kinda shy about it and finally got the words out, (remember I got my head out of the way) and tears told my conviction more than my words. I wanted to be baptized and become a Christian. I didn't want hell to be an option for me and I had seen in my brother what God had done for him in his life and I had seen how Satan can pull someone away from God. I would take my risk with God. I've never looked back!
I have never done things because others do them. In fact, I am more prone to not do things, because others do them. It is a flaw in my character I guess. But it just so happens that, that evening 17 others at camp wanted to be baptized that night. The camp wasn't huge, maybe 100-125 campers. This was an impressive number and I would learn following that week, an abnormal response. When the singing was over and everyone had written down on a card why they came "forward", there were over 25 campers who responded to the message that evening. The entire camp left the pavilion and headed to the pool (a good 300 yards from the pavilion). I don't remember what we talked about on the way down to the pool or if I said anything at all.
However, I won't ever be able to forget the next moments. As i went through the hurricane fence gate to get into the pool a bee stung me right on my thigh. It hurt and even a week later you could still see the small hole where it pierced my thigh. My thigh was stinging, but I somehow was able to let that slide. We stood in a line around the pool as we watched each baptism take place. There were two men in the pool each baptizing to make things go somewhat faster. Jim was one of those baptizing. I really wanted Jim to baptize me since I had made a good connection with him and trusted him.
As I watched the baptisms take place in front of me I became nervous and scared. I have a phobia of having water over my head. I almost drowned several times before this event and a few times since. I still to this day struggle with this fear. I guess when I said that I wanted to be baptized I had forgotten that your head had to go under water to be immersed. As I stood there at the side of the pool I watched and every person who went down into the water, came up out of the water. But if there was a 1% chance of a baptism ending in drowning, it would be me. I stood there frozen and number 17 was baptized. They called out to see if that was everyone and if they had missed anyone. I stood silent not moving, not talking. Wyatt looked at me, still dry, and shouted to the leaders. Michael hasn't been baptized yet. He wanted to be baptized. Wyatt then proceeded to push me out in front where everyone could see me. The man in the pool motioned for me to come and Jim began to get out of the pool. In a quiet and nervous voice as I entered the water I told the man in the pool that I really wanted Jim to baptize me. Jim obliged and asked me if I believed that Jesus was the son of God and that He died for my sins. I said yes and said it loudly. it was the liveliest I had been all evening.
Jim asked me to cover my nose and hold my breath. As he plunged me down into the water I kept my eyes open just to make sure I was coming back up. In that moment all I could see was incredible light. Water filled my nostrils (I really stink at the underwater thing) and felt like a joyous calm had fallen into me. It was an incredible moment, that could only be rightfully told by the smile upon my face as I came up out of the water, washed clean, spirit-filled, and a new outlook on life. There are three moments in my life that rank as all-time highs for me: The day I said, "I do!", the birth of my children, and the day I was baptized.
28 years ago I didn't know everything there is to know about God, Jesus, Spirit, church, or theology. I still don't. All I knew is that the path I wanted to travel was the one with Jesus. I chose that path and have never given up on the journey. I have had my doubts. I have my times in life when I gave more to the world than to Christ. I have had seasons of going through the motions. I have dreamed of what it might look like to walk away from it all and give myself to the world. But I close my eyes and am taken back to a pitch-black night, with a stinging thigh, full of fear and angst as I stood in water, and see nothing but light and feel that joyous calm fall into me again. With God, I am home! With Christ I am alive! The Spirit lives in me!
Baptism doesn't save us. Jesus saves us! But my baptism, like all others' baptisms, is my response, my proclamation of trust, a sincere moment of devotion, act of commitment, and a spiritual marker along my journey. It is part of the salvation process that cannot be separated from confession and calling for God to save us. God does something in the water that only God can do. 28 years later what God did in that water is still stirring within me and constantly drawing me to the grace and salvation He offers.
What is your baptismal story?