After church services, our Sunday turned into a complete antithesis of our missionary trip. We had an overnight resort stay at the coast—all inclusive; all the food you could eat, all the cheap-alcohol drinks you could drink, a comfy bed, and a hot-hot shower. The treat came blended like a good wine; with a twinge of guilt nicely balanced with a hint of I-deserve-this. Maybe we didn’t really need a day at the resort, but I sure did like the change.
We waded into the ocean, where the wide shoreline arched outward on either side. A ship moved silently along the horizon, while closer to shore a parasail tethered to a quick motorboat glided along. Ghostly-white tourists sunned themselves on the beach. Thick jungle climbed the distant hills. This was the Dominican Republic you see in the travel brochures; the Dominican Republic where Jenny McCarthy no doubt resides as she encourages reality-television couples to go out and find love in the jungle.
We circled back to the pool, and found ourselves parked at the swim-up bar. Pastor Dave joked that that should be where we held our team devotional that night. “Absolutely,” I agreed, sipping on some rum-spiked slushie. “And every time somebody says ‘Jesus’ or ‘God,’ we take a drink.” I think he was ashamed that he found my joke funny…for his face went blank and then into his palms as he exclaimed, “John!” He laughed a bit before adding “you can’t turn it into a drinking game.”
“Why not?” I asked. “Eventually, someone’s gonna see the light.”
During the week we had three home-cooked meals each day. Dominican food slightly modified to cater to the American palette…always a variation of chicken or pork, rice and beans with stale sandwich bread and fruit for dessert. At the resort there was beef and breads and soups and pasta and pizza and desserts galore…and with each helping my inner Oliver Twist cried out “Please, sir, I want more.” It was certainly wasteful, and yet for all the chefs on staff, not nearly as good as the simple meals cooked up by the kitchen staff back at the dorm.
After our team recap, we all relaxed poolside in recliners in the dark, listening to the resort guests do karaoke. The host was a little spark of a man who ran the show much like those awful variety shows you stumble across on the Spanish cable stations. It was entertaining, but we weren’t really paying attention to anything but each other. A slow decompression from the week’s activity had begun.
Late into the night, Dave and I finally had a chat. That morning, before church, I had some things I wanted to ask him…mostly related to questions that had been on my mind since the start of the trip. The experience I had in the church service changed the scope of what I needed to ask.
I tried to share with him some of the strangeness of that experience…what was going through my mind, what I was feeling. I shared with him some of the insights I had, and kept some to myself. I’m still not yet ready to share everything from that morning. I hadn’t yet wrapped my head around that experience, what it was, why it felt so crazy and yet so not-crazy. A few folks, hearing my story, have said that that feeling I often refer to sounds like getting wrapped up in the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure about that, but I like the idea. And, poor Dave, I could tell he couldn’t make much sense of what I was yammering on about but he tried to follow my thoughts and offer counsel.
So, I stopped trying to explain it all.
“This morning, before church, I wanted to ask if you thought I was a Christian, and if so was I enough of one.” I swallowed. “But, now I know the answer to that. Given that you’re the pastor of Lifeline, and knowing all you know about me, how would you feel about a baptism?” That morning, the scope of that question was me asking my pastor if he thought I was good enough. That night, however, that question was more about me asking him if he felt comfortable enough. A subtle difference, yet profoundly different…I was fine, however he felt.
Dave’s reaction was both subtle and not so subtle. “Oh,” he blinked. “Yeah. Let’s talk about that.” And afterwards he added, “This is exciting. I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight.” But, exhausted from the week, he was snoring inside two minutes.
After breakfast and a few rounds of water volleyball the next morning, the team all headed down to the ocean. Dave asked me to share my thoughts, and I tried to keep it brief…recapping much of what I’ve been writing about lately. I worried that Dave and Steve were going to dunk me twice and shake me under the water for good measure, but it was a pretty normal baptism aside from the tourists looking on.
It was an awesome moment for me despite there being no heavenly songs, bright angels descending, or trumpets blaring. The team headed back to the pool and I sat on the beach with the waves rushing in and out. My thoughts raced back to my daughter having been born some 12 years earlier; the many heart surgeries she’s endured; and how I think I had lost faith because of it all, without knowing it.
Somewhere along the way in trying to figure out this whole “God” thing…I stopped feeling so angry. What started out as a challenge to God turned into a small step of faith, which led to ever larger leaps. I never imagined I would ever end up sitting on the shore in the Dominican Republic, simply grateful.