It was a warm and sunny afternoon, picture perfect for an outdoor baptismal service. Church family and friends were abuzz with the excitement of the occasion. Several candidates stood and gave testimony to their conversion, bringing both tears and laughter from the onlookers. Pastor Neil led the way to the swimming pool.
Someone was heard asking, “Which is the shallow end?” while Neil kicked his shoes off. He half turned towards her as he stepped into the water: “Here ...” – and disappeared from view. There was a suspended moment before his head broke the surface of the water and he gripped the side of the bath with one hand. With no loss of dignity he pointed with his free hand, “Over there,” before he turned, classic crawling his way to the shallow end of the pool.
The moment was gone. The beauty of the service was unspoiled: the prayers, the praise and the worship were re-echoed in the continuing fellowship of the afternoon.
But the moment was not forgotten. At the next baptism service Pastor Neil was firmly escorted to the shallow end of the pool before the service began.
The years passed. Now grey-haired and plump, Muriel still shuddered remembering that baptismal service. It had taken several months of prayer and protestation before she found the courage to face the water. The question about the shallow end of the pool was hers. Because they understood her fear, Muriel was the first candidate for the afternoon’s baptism.
The intervening years blunted the fear somewhat but still Muriel stayed well away from water in any quantity.
The evening newscaster warned of thunderstorms and heavy rainfall up country from her home. She was not unduly concerned: her home was on a hillside well away from the local river. She was not at risk. However, the warning was followed by a news item showing a car tilted into a turbulent stream. Emergency workers were struggling to evacuate the person or people in the vehicle. Once again, Muriel was trapped. Terrified she watched the drama disappear from the screen.
She was a small child, strapped into the child restraint for safety. Mother was driving fast. Rain lashed the car; the wind pelted it with hail stones. She was on the bridge before she realised that the bridge was no longer there. Muriel heard her scream. It was her mother’s screams that frightened her first. The car splashed and rolled; something crashed into it with a scraping and grinding sound. Muriel began to cry. Her mother continued to scream.
Water seeped into the car.
Muriel and her mother were not aware of the efforts being made to reach them. A truck driver parked on the far side of the bridge saw the accident and called for help. Trained volunteers responded, bring needed tools and equipment. It was no easy task: the vehicle was momentarily wedged but threatening to pull away into the fast moving current again. The rescuers were fighting the current themselves despite the ropes securing their flimsy craft.
A sudden inrush of water brought with it a sturdy arm to release the belt of her child restraint. Her sobs were choked by the water of the river as they pulled her from the car. She remembered little of the events of the rescue: her mind was filled with the terror of the water.
Shivering, Muriel unclenched her hands and reached for the remote. In the welcome silence she brought her thoughts under control.
“Lord,” her voice was tremulous, “I don’t know where that car is or how many people are involved, but you do. I ask only for your help and protection for everyone who is there, and I thank you once again for your help when Mother and I were in a similar situation. Perhaps the people in this car do not know you just as we did not know you. Please send them a witness just as you did for us; someone to tell them about how much you loved us, and how Jesus died for us.”
Her voice faltered and she sat silent for a long time before whispering, “And if there is a small child in that car please save her from this terrible fear of water.”
Her own fear receded while she prayed. She leaned back in her chair and she slept.
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