I will be baptised!

 
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On Friday, March 16, 1956, Edie Hall, age 12, pressed her nose against the window and tried to see whether the storm had stopped. In the background, she heard her mother, Elsie, shuffling through a collection of music albums. Soon Del Delker’s gospel hymns flowed from the battered record player.

Edie took a deep breath, savouring the fragrance of dinner cooking. Briefly, the sweet scent of wood smoke and tomato stew overpowered the anger, hatred and violence that smouldered inside the cluttered and dilapidated farmhouse.

Edie scrambled into her boots and jacket, lit the old kerosene lantern hanging by the door and pushed the front door open for a better look at the snow. A blast of Arctic air sliced through her jacket as she stepped out into a blizzard. All month long it had snowed, covering the village of Lisbon Falls, Maine, with more than a metre of snow. Edie could barely see her father’s truck parked a few metres away. Blown by fierce winds off the North Atlantic, snowdrifts climbed higher and higher.

Inside, she could hear her father, Charley, screaming at her brothers. “I’ll put this stick upside your head!” he roared.

Two contradictory experiences framed Edie’s life. First, there was violence, seizing her like a steel bear trap. Her father was an angry, vicious man. He beat his farm animals with clubs, particularly the horses, until they screamed. Worse, he beat her three older brothers with anything handy—if he could catch them. Half blind and increasingly crippled with arthritis, he was usually easy to dodge.

He didn’t physically abuse Edie’s mother. For her, he reserved venomous words, talking to her as if she were the scrapings from the bottom of his boots. A timid, nervous woman, she rarely smiled. At the age of 40, her shoulders sagged in utter defeat.

Edie shivered again.

This chaos and violence, however, was countered by another experience. This one surrounded her with an embracing warmth: hope rooted in faith. Edie had an unshakeable trust, a conviction that God loved her and cared about her struggles—no matter how things appeared. This trust freed Edie from the violence and despair that dominated her home, filling her with a spirit of hopeful optimism that defied logic.

Tomorrow was supposed to be a milestone. After months of attending baptismal classes and learning Christian doctrines from Pastor Reese Jenkins, he would baptise her, along with others in her class, during worship service at the church.

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She tilted her head up toward the sky. Snowflakes and shadows from the kerosene lantern danced around her face. She knew it would be late the following day before the council snowploughs reached their property. Her mother would never be able to drive her to church. Dear Jesus, she prayed, how can I be baptised tomorrow if it keeps snowing?

Later that evening Edie climbed the steep stairs to her attic bedroom. The only heat radiated from the chimney, which ran from the basement up along one wall of her room. Her bed pressed against the bricks.

Quickly, she climbed into bed with her gooseneck reading lamp and Bible and pulled the covers over her head. Heat from the bulb kept her warm and provided light for her to read. A year earlier she had decided to read through the entire Bible. She loved the stories and doggedly read through the difficult parts that she didn’t understand.

Opening to Romans 5, she started to read. The words jumped off the page: “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (verses 3–5).

Hope never disappoints, she thought. I hope I can be baptised tomorrow, she prayed before falling into a deep, contented sleep.

Edie awakened before dawn, excited that the day of her baptism had finally arrived. She dressed quickly and rushed downstairs, nearly tripping over the cat sleeping at the bottom of the stairs. It was still black as midnight, so she lit the lantern and hurried outside. Her heart sank. Menacing drifts blocked her view of the winding country road 50 metres south of the house. And snow was still falling.

A sullen light pushed through the slate grey sky and crept over the snow-covered landscape. Edie continued getting ready for church, stubbornly refusing to accept the possibility that she might not go. Her older brother Melvin offered to help her shovel a path to the road so they could check on conditions.

After an hour of furious shovelling, they reached the road. Towering drifts blocked any sign of the street. Edie knew the snowplough wouldn’t come for hours. Nothing was moving. Her world was blanketed in total silence.

“I guess that’s it,” Melvin said.

Edie wasn’t listening. She waded through the hard packed snow to the other side of the road.

“Look, Melvin!” she cried. “There’s a little path.”

Melvin climbed over to where she was standing. The wind, blowing from the south overnight, had cleared the snow down to the pavement on the south side of the road. Huge drifts covered 90 per cent of the highway, leaving a narrow footpath on the edge of the road as far as they could see.

Her mother, Elsie, wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Edie walking five kilometres to Lisbon Falls to catch a bus to Lewiston. “What if the streets aren’t cleared in town and the bus isn’t running?” she asked. “You can’t walk 25 k’s to Auburn!”

“The snowplough will clear the road,” Edie insisted.

Finally, Elsie agreed on the condition that Melvin went with her. The two started walking at 7.45am. A ferocious wind kicked up the snow around them, stinging their faces. Occasionally, the path narrowed to a mere strip. Their legs and lungs ached from the exertion, but they kept plodding on.

Just outside town, Edie stopped. “Can you hear it?” she cried. Over the wind, they heard the growl of powerful engines and the sound of a steel plough scraping against the asphalt.

The streets had been cleared of snow as they had walked into town.

The bus was late, but only by 30 minutes, getting them to church with time to spare.

Later, as Edie climbed down into the baptismal tank, she barely noticed the chilly water. She held a handkerchief over her nose, just as Pastor Jenkins had instructed. And then he spoke the words that Edie had been longing to hear: “I now baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

As he dipped her under the water, Edie pushed against his arm to make sure she was plunged deep, totally submerged. I don’t want to be half baptised, she thought.

Later that night, safely back in her attic bedroom, Edie wondered if God had performed a miracle by blowing a path through the snow. What if she hadn’t shovelled a path to the road? The path on the far side would still have been there, but she wouldn’t have known about it—except for her stubborn hope that God would make “something good” happen.

Even at the age of 12, Edie knew she wouldn’t get everything that she specifically hoped for, because everybody faces many disappointments, regardless of their hopes.

So, what did the Bible mean by claiming that “hope does not put us to shame”?

Suddenly, at some deep intuitive level, she captured a fleeting glimpse of what it meant: hope, rooted in faith in a loving God, is a choice and an orientation toward life as it comes, be it ugly or beautiful. She understood that she was free to choose hope and faith—or cynicism and despair. Each choice paid its own reward.

It’s really true, she decided as she drifted off to sleep. No matter what happens, hope never disappoints.

What does the Bible say about baptism?

Earliest mention.The Gospel of Mark tells how a man came out of the desert where he’d been living and eating wild foods. He began preaching a message of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” and baptising people in the Jordan River. See Mark 1:2–6.

Historical/symbolic context. To the Jewish mind, the Jordan River is the beginning of the Promised Land. It is a place of miracles, healing and a fresh start. See Joshua 3, 2 Kings 2:1–18, 2 Kings 5:1–16, 2 Kings 6:1–6.

What Jesus said and did. Jesus was baptised in the Jordan at the beginning of His public ministry. As He travelled around, His disciples baptised those who accepted His message. The resur- rected Jesus gave His disciples the “Great Commission” to continue to baptise and make new disciples. See Matthew 3:13–17; John 4:1,2; Matthew 28:16–20.

The early church. Jesus’ first followers continued to share the message of new life in Jesus and baptise those who accepted it. They were challenged to widen their definition of “God’s chosen people” when He led them to baptise people they’d previously viewed as outsiders. See Acts 2:41; Acts 8:5–13, 36–38; Acts 10:34–48.

Method of baptism. The New Testament describes people being baptised in the water, reflecting the literal meaning of the original Greek baptizo, which is to immerse, submerge, wash or overwhelm. This is different from the sprinkling or pouring rites practised by some churches today. Also, while parents sought for their babies to be consecrated or blessed in biblical times, the mentions of baptism in the Bible are always in the context of adults or, at least, people of an age able to comprehend and accept the gospel message. See Mark 1:5,9,10; Acts 8:38,39; Matthew 19:13,14; Luke 2:21–24; Acts 2:38,41; Acts 8:12.

 

Jeris Bragan lives in Antioch, Tennessee with his wife, Edie, who shared her childhood experience in helping to prepare this article.