Baptizing the Immobile

by Drew Brattrud

When the coroner left, I felt a deep sense of sadness.

“J” lived in a neighborhood of section 8, government sponsored housing. Riddled with drugs and gangs, the San Bernadino projects seemed to be the end of the line for all who lived there.

A heavy sense of despair hung over the place. There was no hope, no motivation, and no reason to work. It seemed no one there tried to better themselves. Kids, neglected by single mothers, scurried constantly up and down cement stairwells. Out front, older folks sat smoking on porches and steps, staring into the distance, doing nothing. They were waiting, in the middle of the day, as though a parade were about to come down the street.

But nothing was coming. There was no parade. There was no hope in this area frequented by the death team of police and coroners.

Despite all that, however, as I stood in “J’s” small, studio apartment, I found hope. A source of comfort—a piece of paper hanging on an otherwise bare wall.

I had visited “J’s” place numerous times. Each time would end with a prayer to cast out the voices he heard, telling him to “end his life.”

It wasn’t just the voices, however. He knew his liver could not handle the alcohol he kept hidden around his home. But why was he hiding it? He lived alone, alienated from his family by his dysfunctions. I wonder if he was hiding the alcohol from himself, hoping he wouldn’t find it. His drinking had taken almost all his health.

I was blessed, really blessed that he came to our little congregation a dozen years ago when we were starting out as a new church, meeting at J.W. North High School. He had hope in me as a minister—but much more than that, he put his trust in Jesus to save his soul.

I remember when his trembling hand went up to ask Jesus to be his Lord. The following week he wanted to be baptized, but his frail body would not do well being dunked. He had great difficulty walking, often opting for a wheelchair—and he was not light enough for us to carry into the water.

The solution was clear. The following week, I brought in five 5-gallon buckets. After the service we sat him on a bench just outside the door where we met and—to the roar of the congregation—on the count of “in the name of the Father, his Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit,” five of us each dumped out a bucket and dowsed him until he was thoroughly drenched.

If they can’t get into the water, bring the water to them. Even today, thinking of his smile brings tears to my eyes.

One room, two chairs, a tiny table for TV dinners, a mini fridge with a microwave on top and one simple decoration—his baptism certificate hanging on the wall.

For me, it was more than a decoration. It was a declaration of hope.

Andrew Brattrud is pastor at
Riverside Christian Assembly
in Riverside, California.