Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.
She was one of those people that I would see “around,” but not see. She was one of the haggard-old-before-her-time-women who survived day-to-day on the street. She did not come to the Sunday community meal, but she did start showing up at the Urban Ministries office to get food and help. And then she started showing up to help. In some setting, she had discovered Jesus, and her whole life changed. The day dawned, not just another few hours to survive, but the day dawned to serve others like Jesus.
She was sent to me when she started talking about being baptized. She sat in my office, so small and hesitant at first. Then the story started pouring out, a story so filled with brokenness and pain that it was all I could do to hear it, much less imagine anyone having lived through it. But now things were different. She had found Jesus. She had found a purpose in life trying to help others on the street.
She wanted to be baptized, but wasn’t sure she was “worthy.” I talked to her about baptism being a sign of God’s grace that none of us “deserved,” but rather all of us, everyone of us, received as a gift of love poured out from the heart of God. She exclaimed, “I want that. I need that. I want to be put into the water, all the way. I want to be made clean and have all the dirt washed away. I want a new life, and I want my daughter that I haven’t seen for years to come.”
About fifteen minutes before the scheduled baptism, the pastor of the neighboring church where I had made arrangements for us to use the baptistery called with panic in his voice. When he had gone to check the water temperature in the baptistery, he found that it was empty, having sprung a major leak. There she stood, holding the hand of her daughter, so ready to be made new through the power of water and the Holy Spirit, looking at me with unbelief and disappointment.
“Come, take a walk with me,” I said. I took her out to the church prayer garden. In the middle is a beautiful fountain. I told her that the fountain had been constructed from pieces of the old church building that had survived the crushing wind of a tornado a few years before. “After the storm, all that was left were bits and pieces, but they took those broken pieces and made them into something new and beautiful. That’s what baptism is all about, I told her. Would you like to baptized there? Her eyes lit up with understanding and joy. We both climbed into that fountain, and I know that there was singing in heaven that day! Transformation took place, for both of us!
Loving and gracious God, thank you for the gift of baptism. Thank you for adopting us into your family–all of us. Thank you for making a way for us to have life and to have it in abundance. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Rev. LeNoir Culbertson
Murfreesboro District Superintendent, Tennessee Conference