My family moved a lot. In the years when I was 11-14, we lived in 3 different states for seasonal work, and 3-4 additional states for various other church or work-related reasons. So we weren’t in a ‘settled’ church. Mom asked me if I understood baptism, and she gave me a couple verses to look up in my Bible. I did look them up, and got excited about it. But there was still that issue of a church…
In the Mennonite church that we were part of, a person who got saved was expected to go through 6 months of ‘instruction class’ (where you were taught all the Mennonite doctines and church rules), then be baptized, and be taken into the church as a member. This structure was quite rigid; you couldn’t just be baptized without the 6 months instruction, and yet as a Mennonite, you wouldn’t be welcome if you went to a different church to be baptized. So I waited.
When I was 14, we were attending a small church in Oklahoma. It was made up of several families who had broke away from the Mennonites, and a few other christian families needing fellowship. We attended that church for about 6 -8 months, I guess. The first few weeks we lived in our fifth-wheel camper while we fixed up a dilapidated old house.
Dad had stripped the carpet and couch out of the back of the camper, and put a small woodstove in the middle. The floor was unfinished wood, and the six of us sat scrunched around that stove during the cold winter weather, pulling our folding chairs as close as we could without burning our shoes. I don’t remember where the chimney went… I guess Dad must’ve cut a hole in the roof to stick it out.
I remember Dad trying his best to get us kids to join in on family worship. He would read a passage of Scripture, and expound on it awhile, then ask us our thoughts. There were four of us girls at home at this time. All four of our brothers were out and about on their own. And us girls were used to our brothers and Dad loudly discussing ideas and thoughts. We scarcely knew how to discuss Scripture, and we weren’t interested in discussing it with Dad and Mom. We just wanted to get family worship over with! So Dad got discouraged and finally stopped trying. (Shame on us kids!)
But the thing about this church was; they all seemed excited about God. I could see why Dad was drawn to them. It was a very young church, maybe 1 year old? And everyone was on fire for God. They were trying out new ideas and sharing God’s love and God’s dealings in their lives. They genuinely loved the Lord! We were only there several weeks when two of the young men were baptized. I stood on the riverbank and sang joyously with this new group of believers, resolving to be the next one in the river.
I told my parents that I wished to be baptized. Dad was happy. Mom was hesitant, but she also agreed. We talked to the preacher. He asked me and my parents to come over one evening to discuss it. He read some verses, and asked me to read some verses. While reading my verse, I mispronounced the word: vehemently. He gently corrected me, but I was mortified! I have never appreciated ‘grammar nazi’s’ since. 😀 We discussed my salvation, and I was nervous because I didn’t have a ‘grand’ salvation story, nothing real dramatic, and I stammered around, unsure how to say what I meant. But he was kind, and didn’t mind that I was nervous to the point of being unable to speak.
The next Sunday after service, the whole church drove down to the river again. Dressed in white, but wearing my secondhand rose-colored coat, I walked out into that muddy Cimarron river. It was cold enough to take your breath away, but I didn’t care! My teeth chattered as I answered his questions, but I couldn’t stop smiling! As I came out of the water, the church family standing on the river bank broke into song: “Oh happy day, that fixed my choice! On thee, my Saviour, and my God!”
Cimarron River, Image courtesy of Britannica
Being baptized was a special experience for me. It was a public way to show my sincere love and commitment to Jesus Christ. I was taking my stand with Him, and telling the whole world that I was a child of God.
“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4
But I still did not understand how to gain victory over sin. My life was beset with lying, despair, temper fits, and unkindness. I had a sharp tongue and was not slow to use it. I tried – oh I tried! I hated myself. I felt so guilty for being such a mean person. But I was powerless. I listened in church, and yet never heard the answer I needed.
We soon moved on from that church, back to a Mennonite church in Illinois.
See, when I was six years old, we moved to this small country church in Illinois. We had moved away and then back to it many times. We lived in 7 different houses in that community, and one of the houses we moved in and out of, several times! My dad saw inconsistencies in the Mennonite church, but Mom grew up Amish, so Mennonites – to her – seemed like a good place to be. The inconsistencies that Dad noticed, she was ok with, since to her – it was just a chosen lifestyle.
Well, this church was one of the most caring churches that I have been to. They loved my dad and our whole family. And even though they would’ve loved for us to all be members and stay there, they didn’t pressure us, and always welcomed us back with open arms. Even after I was baptized in a non-Mennonite church, they welcomed me into the church later that year.
So when my friends were baptized and taken into the church, I sat beside them and was given the ‘right hand of the fellowship’ into the Mennonite church as a member. I thought that since I was baptized, and a church member, I would surely become more holy.
But it didn’t work that way. I still could not gain victory over my sins. I fell daily into anger, jealousy, unkindness, lying. I contemplated giving up. As our home and family situation deteriorated, I seriously considered running away. I thought about leaving the church behind and just living how I wanted! But two things held me back:
1 My mother had instilled a proper fear of God in me, from a child on her knee. I knew that I could run but I couldn’t hide from Almighty God.
2 My brothers loved me, and I couldn’t run away from home and ever be able to face them again. I just couldn’t. So I stayed home. I would rather be miserable than to disappoint them. They were my heroes.
So there I was. Stuck in the same frustrating circle of sins. I just wanted to know how to get out!
...Stay tuned for next week! Victory is coming!
O happy day that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day;
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!
’Tis done—the great transaction’s done;
I am my Lord’s, and He is mine;
He drew me and I followed on,
Rejoiced to own the call divine.
Now rest, my long-divided heart,
Fixed on this blissful center, rest;
Here have I found a nobler part,
Here heav’nly pleasures fill my breast.
High heav’n that hears the solemn vow,
That vow renewed shall daily hear!
Till in life’s latest hour I bow,
And bless, in death, a bond so dear.
Philip Doddridge, 1700’s