Sunday, June 17, 2012

Life After Baptism, Parts 1 and 2

A week ago we went to the baptism of a 10 year old boy, Ricardo - the son of a couple in our ward.  He has wanted to be baptized for a long time, but he has great fear of water.  We went to the church at the appointed time and found it dark.  The missionaries came soon after with the news that the baptism was off.  Ricardo wasn't ready.

 It's possible he was remembering the first time he went to be baptized, about a year ago.  That time he stood in the water with the missionary for over an hour, but could not bring himself to the point of being submerged.  Miriam has tried several times during this year to get Ricky to take swimming lessons so he won't be afraid to be baptized.  But he refuses.

 Tonight, Thursday, we call the missionaries a few minutes before 7;00 to see if the baptism is really going to happen.   Yes, they say. But not until 8:00.  Can we borrow your hot pot?  We want to get the baptismal water a little warmer for Ricky.

 This is an electric pot we use to heat our dishwater. It holds 2 liters of water.  I  think about the house we live in which has no heater. Neither do the churches, nor the office in which we work.  Neither is there a heater for the water used in the baptismal font.

 "No way," I think.  "That little pot will make no difference whatsoever."  But I give it to them anyway.

 "Maybe it will be okay," I say to myself.  "It's not really cold here - just rather. . . fresh."  These are the kind of positive words I tell the unhappy missionaries to use.  I am practicing what I preach.

 We arrive at the church at 8:00, but Ricky and his family are not here yet.  Neither is the Bishop.  But six elders are hustling around managing the water.  Two of them come in with a huge pot full of steaming water and pour it into the font. They have carried it five blocks from their house where it was heated on their stove.   I put my hand in the font water.  Yes. It's still fresh. But Ricky should be okay.  After all, he's lived here his entire life without a forced-air furnace. "He's used to it," I tell myself.  These are the kind of positive words I use to think, "We positively didn't come out in vain tonight.  Surely this time he will be baptized."

 I watch while they pour little pot after little pot of water into the font.  The water stays fresh.

 Ricky and his mother, Miriam, arrive.  Miriam has brought a friend, Julienne, who is an investigator, she tells me.  She has not brought her husband.  "El está en crisis," she tells us.

 "Oh, no!"  we think.  He was sick for many months and has only recently become somewhat better.  He has stayed home in great pain.

 The Bishop arrives soon after, wheeling his bicycle down the hall. (We do not leave valuable things unattended at night here.)   He is dressed in Levis and a nice sweatshirt.  "Hmmm,"  I think.  "He's thinking there will not be a baptism tonight."

 The elders keep pouring little pots of water into the font.  Miriam tries to test the water with her hand.  She can't reach it.  She's too short.  Julienne tries to test the water. She is shorter than Miriam.  "It's still fresh,"  I think, but I don't say it aloud.

 Miriam pulls a pair of flip flops, an orange t-shirt, and some camo shorts from a grocery bag.  She gives them to Ricky, and I realize she brought them for him to wear in the font.  I say nothing.  I have learned to be quiet sometimes.  "This is not my job,"  I think.  "Some elder will get out white clothes for Ricky and he will change without my intervention."

 This is just what happens.  In a while Ricky, dressed in white, enters the room followed by two missionaries also dressed in white.  This surprises me.  "Has Ricky not yet chosen who will baptize him, so both got ready and are waiting for him to pick which one?"

 "Well," I think, "they can work this out without my intervention."   I have learned to be quiet sometimes.

 The Bishop calls the meeting to order, and we sing a hymn, then I offer the opening prayer.  I ask Heavenly Father to bless Ricky that he will be able enter the water without fear.  This is more than positive thinking.  I have faith that this can happen.  Of course, I realize that my faith can be over-ridden by someone else's agency.

 While the Bishop welcomes the visitor, Ricky walks out of the room.  Bruce whispers that he thinks Ricky has gone to hide somewhere now that we are down to the wire.  But then we hear people talking behind the shutters that close off the font from the room we're in.  It's Ricky and four missionaries.  The light is on over the font and we can see through the slats in the shutter. An elder pours another huge, steaming pot of water into the font.

 Then the two elders dressed in white step down into the water.  "Wow! "I think.  "They can both count this baptism!  If it really happens."  That's still a big IF.

 Ricky steps into the water.  He makes a sound that I interpret to mean, "THIS WATER IS REALLY FRESH!!!"

 An elder says something indistinguishable that I interpret to mean, "We put hot water in here just for you.  It's fine."

 I clearly hear Ricky saying, "?Dónde está el agua caliente?  (Where is the hot water?)  He searches around with his foot, but does not find the hot water.

 The elders gently pull him off the steps, and Ricky clutches at them.

There are no more questions about water of any temperature.  This is now a matter of life and death for Ricky.  We understand that how cold or warm the water is will not matter to a ten year old boy who is thinking he may drown in the baptismal font.

 He clings to the elders.  They have a hard time removing him.  Ricky is not a small boy.  He is actually rather hefty.  He comes to his mother's shoulder, and even though she is short, that is saying something.  An elder says, "?Tienes confianza en nosotros?"  (Do you trust us?)  Ricky answers with something that I interpret to mean, "Not really, guys."

The three arrange themselves for the prayer and the baptism, the elders speaking persuasively. It is difficult with Ricky trying to hold on.

An elder raises his arm to the square and speaks the baptism prayer.  Ricky keeps his eyes open.  The prayer over, the elders try to lay Ricky back in the water.  Nothing doing.  He struggles to remain standing.

 More words of persuasion.  The words for baptism are spoken again,  This time Ricky leans forward and plunges his face into the water.  He looks up at the elders expectantly.  No one wants to say the words that have to be said.  The elders look for mercy from the Bishop, who shakes his head.  The boy's back never entered the water.

 I look at Julienne to see how she is taking all this.  "His body must be entirely submerged in the water - everything at once," I explain.  She nods in understanding.  She says, "It's just that he is so afraid of the water.  He had a bad experience once in the water.  He almost drowned."  I nod in understanding.

Another prayer is said.  Ricky stands like a piller in the water.

 I say to Julienne, "I've never seen a baptism quite like this."  I'm thinking I should say "attempted" baptism.  She says, "He really wants to be baptized.  He's just afraid."  I am glad to see that she does not see this as coercive, but rather as persuasive.

More words of persuasion, Ricky still resisting.

Bruce leans over and says, "I can't take this.  I'm getting out of here."  Bruce loves Ricky.  He walks out of the room.

Miriam is leaning against the wall with her back turned to the font.

Julienne and I are avidly watching the most unique baptism I could ever have imagined.

Suddenly the baptism is over.  No more words of persuasion - just action.  An elder slips his foot behind Ricky's knees and the other leans him back. As if they had practiced it a dozen times.  !A perfect dunk!

The boy is baptized before he knows what is happening and  before he can express his fear again.

He comes up and gasps for breath.  "No me siento bien!"  He exclaims.  (I don't feel well!)  But it is over and done.  In a few minutes he does feel well again.  Very well.  He has accomplished what he feared he could never do.  And he has survived!

"Bien hecho!" We say to Ricky.  "Good job.  Well done."


 We go to Sacrament Meeting this morning (Sunday, 10:00 a.m.) expecting that Ricky will be confirmed.  Miriam is sitting on the front row of the chapel, which is their usual seat, but she is alone.

She tells us that she went early this morning to work her land a little.  This is land thirty minutes away by bus where they are going to build a house - someday - when they have the money.  She came straight from the land to the church, changing her clothes on the way.  She isn't sure where los Ricardos (father and son) are.

As she talks I see Ricardo, padre entering the chapel.  He is alone.  But he looks better than I thought I would see him after his crisis.  He stops to shake hands with people as he works his way to the front.

Then I see Ricardito, happy and smiling, walking up the aisle.  He sits down just as the meeting is starting.  We sit down too, anxious to hear what Ricardito thought about his baptism after considering for a while.

After the opening song and prayer, the confirmation is announced.  The Ricardos go up to the stand and the bishopric joins Ricardo, padre in laying their hands on Ricardito's head.  It is a lovely blessing. I write quickly all I can so I can give it to Miriam to fill in.

After the confirmation, the Bishop invites Miriam to join her husband and son next to him.  They stand with arms around each other while the Bishop talks about eternal families and the important step Ricardito has taken in spite of his temorcitos (little fears).  We smile to ourselves.  "!Little fears!"

When the meeting ends we hurry forward to talk to them.  Ricky has jumped up and is being embraced one at a time by various women in the ward.  He seems to take in stride both the hugs and the felicidades.  We tell him our felicidades and then he splits.

"What did he think of the baptism?" I blurt out to Miriam.  She is smiling.  "Oh, era increible!  El dijo a todo el mundo que era bautizado - la familia, los vecinos, todos!  Era tan feliz!""  (It was incredible. He told everyone that he was baptized - the family, the neighbors, everyone!  He was so happy!")

"Y tambien me dijo,"she says, 'Dejes de hablar de lecciones de piscina.'"  (And he also told me, "Stop talking about swimming lessons.")

 Se dice (It is said) that all's well that ends well.  So it has.

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