“Lord, you are the light that broke the darkness
You satisfy my soul when I am heartless
If ever I forget my true identity
Show me who I am and help me to believe”
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Smiling and close to tears, Linda Jackson walked onto the shaded bank and into Holland Creek, safe from the temperamental river behind her, with the guiding hand of a church elder and a rope to keep her balance.
“One or two more steps,” Pastor Jeff Streucker said quietly, his arms open to welcome her into the water. “I am so privileged that you’ve given us the opportunity to do this with you.”
Moments later Jackson spoke an affirmation of her faith, covered her nose, laid back into the cold stream and reemerged to shouts and applause from fellow Calvary Baptist Church parishioners.
“It’s more than I hoped for,” Jackson later said. “I cry like a baby because I’m brand new now, I’m born again. Thank you, Jesus. I’m just so happy.”
The 110-year old church returned to Biblical roots recently for a baptism on the Phenix City banks of the Chattahoochee River. Twenty-two people: men, women, children, black, white Hispanic, a mother and her young son, a mother and her adult son, a married couple with children and a not-yet married couple all took the plunge to publicly profess their devotion to Jesus Christ. One man was baptized by his father.
“John the Baptist baptized people in the river,” said Pastor Jason Rogers. “We wanted to make sure that in the river, we gathered our church family. And as a family, participate and celebrate all of these people that have decided to take the next step in their faith.”
The morning began with song and prayer. Streucker told the Old Testament story of Naaman the Aramean, who commanded the Syrian Army. He was known as a great warrior, guided by God into victory on the battlefield. Namaan was also a leper. After being told by a servant girl that there lived in Israel a prophet who could heal him, he made the journey, bathed seven times in the Jordan River and was healed.
“What you’re going to see,” Streucker told his congregation, “is people go into dirty water, and come out clean.”
Middle-school student O’Darrious Peek was the first to be baptized. Ellie Horton, who is part of the church’s student ministry, decided in the sixth grade that she had “settled” who Jesus was in her life, but had put off baptism until now. Rosa Briones and her son, Andrew Rubin, both had been baptized in another denomination, but have reaffirmed their faith together as Baptists.
“The way I see it, this is a journey,” Briones said. “We’ve been getting stronger in our faith. We’re just trying to walk with Him, and get to know Him, and this is just one of our steps in our journey.”
Before each ritual, the pastor performing the baptism told a brief story about that person’s call to baptism. “Jesus has changed her at the soul level, privately,” Streucker said of Liz Watson, “and now she wants everybody to see publicly what’s happened inside of her.”
Watson waved to the crowd and exclaimed, “Yes, He is!” when asked if she was declaring Jesus as her lord and savior. Like the others, she covered her nose, looked up toward the sky, bowed backwards into the water and was quickly lifted out.
“Baptism is a symbolic representation of our faith,” Rogers said. “We push people under the water, and when they come out of the water, they are a new person, they are resurrected in Jesus Christ.”
In 2 Kings 5, Naaman had the faith to go to the Jordan River, as directed by the prophet.
“This isn’t baptism in the Old Testament,” Streucker continued the story, “but it’s a really close symbol of what we’re going to do today. It’s not how clean or how dirty the water is, it’s what Jesus has already done inside somebody’s soul. He’s cleaned them up and made them pure on the inside.”
“Jesus paid it all/All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain/He washed it white as snow.”