Despite our oft complaining, we really do have it easy here in the U.S. Just yesterday, I heard about some people at a local church who were upset because the heater in their usually cozy baptistry was not working. This account reminded me of a story from Zambia just a few weeks ago while our grandson, Michael Powers, was there on five-week mission trip.

One morning during the Bible lesson at the Christian School in Siabalumbi, two young girls announced that they wanted to be baptized. The response to their request was immediate. No scheduling a date on the calendar or heating up an indoor pool. Everyone just started out to locate a place where these girls could be baptized.

Being the dry season in Zambia, it was no small task to locate water. Finally, after about a two-mile hike over rough terrain, a stream was located. By this time, two more girls had decided they wanted to be baptized.

No jumping directly into the water in this case. The men got long sticks and probed the murky water for any kind of wild life that might be on the bottom. Finally, after determining there were no snakes or crocodiles, the four girls were baptized. Then, the joyful group sang songs as they made the two-mile trek back to the school.

Walking to Find Water – Michael on the right with backpack (Photo by Dr. Martha Elford)

Baptizing in the Zambian Creek (Photo by Dr. Martha Elford)

The church of my childhood encouraged, but did not require baptism for membership. When I was around 12-years-old, my mother, drawing on her strong Baptist background, told me it was time I was baptized. Since my name apparently means “compliant,” I did so without thought or question. Later, in my youth catechism class, I learned the church’s four paragraph Baptisimal Covenant. It ends, “ I receive baptism as a testimony to men and angels, that my faith for salvation is in the Life, Death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Many years after my baptism, our daughter became a volunteer mentor to adults seeking membership in her church. During eight months of weekly sessions, the volunteers receive a variety of mentoring assignments. One year she was assigned to speak to the group about being baptized. Following is her very thoughtful reflection on the meaning of baptism.

Reflection on Baptism given by Joanne [Powers Mruzek] at RCIA

My mother grew up out West, and so the summer I was eight years old my parents decided to take our family on a cross-country trip to visit some of my mom’s family in Colorado and California and to see some sights along the way. I remember seeing the Grand Canyon and driving through the Petrified Forest. I was impressed with the mountains of Colorado and the beautiful rock formations in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs where we stopped to visit family. I also have clear memories of seeing the talking Presidents exhibit at Disneyland, and visiting the Home of the Future, which featured a phone that allowed you to see the person you were speaking with. At the time, I thought that was pretty cool. But my most vivid memory of that trip is of seeing the ocean for the first time.

I remember being amazed by the size of the ocean. I grew up in Indiana so the only thing I’d seen stretch seemingly for miles on end was a cornfield. I was surprised by the salty taste of the water. I enjoyed the powerful feeling of the tug of the water as the waves lapped my feet and seemed to pull me deeper into the water as my feet sunk into the sand. The water felt cool and light, but powerful. It made me feel both excited and anxious.

Water is a powerful presence in our lives. Water is continually being cycled through the atmosphere to the soil and every body of water and is used by all plants and animals to maintain life.  Every known form of life depends on water to live.

Large bodies of water can cause massive destruction or provide hydroelectric power to millions. We need water to keep our bodies hydrated and cool. We use water to grow and cook our food, and to clean everything.  It can be used for both cooling and heating, and to extinguish fires. We use it to heal and provide comfort to our aching bodies, and we head to the water for exercise and recreation. Life on earth could not exist without water.

When we think about the properties of water, its uses and power, it makes perfect sense that God would choose water as the “outward and visible sign” of baptism.

The exact definition of a sacrament is that it is "an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace."

God gives us the grace we receive in the sacraments through a union of the material and the spiritual. The grace itself is invisible. But the grace comes to us through the visible things that we know and understand from our daily lives.

This combination of an outward sign and inner grace is called a Sacrament - a holy thing.

A broader definition I found of a sacrament is this: “A sacrament is the encounter with God when something of the material world becomes a conduit, or a door to the sacred.”

In the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, during the blessing of the baptismal water these words are used:

“Father, you give us grace through sacramental signs,
which tell us of the wonders of your unseen power.

In Baptism we use your gift of water,
which you have made a rich symbol
of the grace you give us in this sacrament.

The Catechism says the following about the fruits of Baptism: “forgiveness of original sin and all personal sin, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” “The person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ.” “Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship.”

What can be more powerful than that? During your baptism, or as you recall your Baptism throughout your life, take a moment to think about the powerful significance of the outward and visible sign that is used in this sacrament.

Without water, life is not possible. Without baptism, Christian life is not possible. 


  1. Reminds me of baptisms in Ecuador. To paraphrase the fellow in Acts, "There's water what hinders me from being baptized?

    1. Secondary Roads, sometimes we forget importance in favor of comfort. Like your paraphrase!