ROSSVILLE, Ga. (Oct. 12, 2017) -- This morning was not a normal day at the office. When I arrived, our administrative assistant Darlene Wilson Hicks told me a young man with a backpack had been by earlier and asked to speak with me. She told him I was not in yet and to come back in about an hour.
“I really don’t have time for this today,” I said, and I went into my office and started working.
Later in the morning, I looked out the window and there was the young man sitting on the steps with his backpack and a sleeping bag rolled tightly beneath it. I said something to Darlene again about not having time as she went to unlock the door.
As she greeted him and told him I was very busy today, she asked the young man what his need was. I listened from my office and quickly learned he had not come for the usual -- money, food, lodging, gasoline, bus ticket – all of which Darlene would have helped provide. Instead, this young man desired to be baptized.
Hearing that, I got up and went to the door and invited him into my office.
He was soft-spoken but sincere. From our brief conversation, my sense was this young man from West Virginia was suffering from mental illness, undiagnosed or diagnosed, and currently not taking his medication. But that did not matter. This young man, who was just traveling, was trying to figure out who he was and how to be better than what he kept hearing in his head. He had come to the conclusion that a missing part of that awareness was his relationship with God. We talked about what that meant and that being baptized was not going to make his life easier or make all of his problems go away, but he would know to whom he belonged.
A few minutes later, he and Darlene and I went into our sanctuary. He knelt at the altar, and this young man on a journey to know himself took that first step by being baptized and hearing that he was a precious child of God – a child whom God had known even before he was born, and had led him to this place on this day for this purpose.
Tears were shed, and not just his. It was a holy moment.
He wanted to remain in the sanctuary for a few minutes to pray, so we left him there in the presence of his Father. Before we did, however, I put a small scallop shell in his hand – the shell I had used for his baptism. I reminded him that life will still be hard and told him to pull the shell out whenever he is struggling. “The shell will help you remember your baptism, who you are, and whose you are,” I told him.
Before he left, we gave him information about places and ministries in the area that might be helpful to him. I thanked him for giving me the honor of baptizing him this day. He never asked for anything else. He was given what he had sought, and that was enough. My guess is he is already moving on down the road, continuing his journey.
It is my prayer that he at least now has the most important piece of the puzzle in place around which the picture of his life will begin to unfold.
The Rev. Ginger Howe Isom is pastor at McFarland United Methodist Church in Rossville, Ga.