Perspiring, Dana swapped the heavy basket to the other shoulder. Scanning the Yarden River, she only saw reeds, bushes and trees. Where could they be? Ahavah assured her the multitude couldn’t be missed. Careful not to surprise a sleeping animal, Dana hid the basket behind some bushes.
Occupying both sides of the Yarden, crowds listened to a man dressed in rough clothes.
“If you’re not the Messiah, who are you? Are you Eliyahu the prophet?” someone yelled.
“No. I am the voice of one calling in the desert: make straight the way for the Lord,” the man answered in a booming voice.
The throng of spectators parted. Someone waded towards the man in the River whom people called Yohanan the Immerser. “Look, God’s Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world!” Yohanan exclaimed.
“That’s Yeshua. I’ve heard him preach,” Ahavah whispered.
Puzzled, Dana watched. At first Yohanan seemed unwilling to immerse the man. She couldn’t hear what they debated, but in the end Yohanan complied.
Then, to Dana’s amazement, the clouds suddenly parted, the sun shone directly on the man in the water and a turtle dove landed on his shoulder.
“Did you see that?” Ahavah exclaimed.
“Shh, Yohanan answers questions,” someone said.
Before being immersed, Yohanan admonished each person to share their belongings, to be honest, and be content with their pay.
Dana was mesmerized by what she heard and saw. Forgotten were the dirty clothes she promised Ima to wash. She felt such longing, such need in her heart. But for what? And why? She looked at Ahavah, who also listened intently. Was it the preaching, the people’s changed faces after they emerged from the water? What was it?
When red and pink hues began to color the western sky, Yohanan made his last call, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”
As if pushed, Dana walked towards the river. With hammering heart she entered the muddy water, struggled with her floating dress and stopped in front of Yohanan.
“What’s your name, girl?”
“Dana bat Shimon.”
“Dana, do you understand that this baptism is of repentance and forgiveness of sins?”
“Yes, I do.” Dana’s voice quivered.
“And that you must produce fruit in keeping with repentance?”
Dana noticed his eyes were kind. She swallowed, took a deep breath and said, “Yes, I will try.”
Like she’d seen the other people do, she crossed her hands over her chest, and closed her eyes.
“Don’t be afraid, I’ll hold you tight,” Yohanan said kindly. Then with a loud voice, “Dana bat Shimon, I, Yohanan, a servant of the living God, baptize you.”
Pulling her gently backwards, he held her under water and immediately lifted her up again. Coughing, Dana wiped the water from her eyes and looked into the smiling face of Yohanan.
“You are cleansed of your sins and forgiven. Go with God, Dana!” he blessed her.
Her spirit soared and with a heart that overflowed with peace and joy, Dana waded back to shore.
“You look so happy!” Ahavah quickly covered Dana with her cloak. “I wish I could be so brave!”
“I am very happy, but we have to go home.” Dana shivered, then gasped when she suddenly remembered the hidden basket.
“We’ll retrieve it tomorrow,” Ahavah said. “Are you going to tell your parents what happened?”
“Of course! Everything,” Dana said. “And from now on I’ll try not to grumble about being the oldest daughter, and that Ima treats me like a slave. I’ll try to be a good daughter.” She chuckled. “And next time Caleb steals a fresh baked pita, I won’t call him a dog.”
“Well, not exactly, I just said he should stop acting like his name, which of course made him mad as a hornet.” Remorseful she said, “I took my frustration out on him. He pushed me and I fell in the dough, but thankfully Ima intervened before we killed each other.”
Now Dana could laugh about it.
“Seems you’ll need extra grace for that brother of yours,” Ahavah said.
Not wanting to be robbed of her joy by thinking about her brother, Dana exclaimed, “I’m so happy I could sing!”
“Well, what’s keeping you?” Ahavah smiled.
“I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, o Most High!”
The girls’ bright voices resounded through the darkening hills while they walked towards Beit Anyah.
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