Baptism by the Red Sea

October_2007_img_0581_2A few weeks after we arrived in Cairo, we were invited to a baptism. A boy in the branch had turned eight and wanted to be baptized…in the Red Sea. (Take that, tepid baptism font by the Relief Society room!) My mind was blown by this, the Red Sea! Wow! I’ve heard of people getting baptized in Lake Michigan or the Mississippi River, but—no disrespect intended—that ain’t no Red Sea.

In Cairo branch fashion, it was a family event, with the branch members as the extended family. The fact that everyone is so far from their relatives means that church members go out of their way to provide friendship, comfort, and a sense of familiarity for one another. Something about the people of God bearing one another’s burdens, comforting those in need of comfort…

So we all met at the church, piled into cars, and drove in a modern caravan, no camels involved, to Ain Sukhna, a beach resort area about an hour and a half away. We passed some of the resorts until we arrived at a more isolated stretch, where our caravan of Mormon minivans with diplomat license tags pulled over on the side of the road. We walked across the street and climbed down onto a narrow jut of beach and rock surrounded by aqua water. I guess I didn’t really think the Red Sea would actually be red (don’t laugh at me – you’ve all thought that too at some point), but I definitely never pictured it as being so stunningly blue.

We spread out towels and blankets and settled onto the sand for a prayer and a hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” one of my favorites. As we sang about the beauty of the world God’s hands had made, I found myself overcome. I looked at the calm water, once such an integral part of the journey of God’s people and a continuing symbol of divine deliverance, and then around at the branch members who had been gathered together as a family to welcome a boy into their community. I felt God’s greatness and presence.

The boy walked out into the Red Sea accompanied by his grandfather, a striking white-haired man who in church the day before had shared his experiences about losing his wife to a prolonged illness and then finding strength in Christ again. With the words of the baptismal prayer, the boy was immersed under the waters of the Red Sea and emerged dripping wet and grinning ear to ear. I found myself smiling too as I looked out at the pair dressed in white, standing waist deep in the blue water with the sun dancing on the gently lapping waves.

After the baptism, we celebrated with fresh juices and cake, then waded out into the sea and swam for a while. From shore the sea floor appeared to be brown and ordinary. But once I put on a snorkeling mask and peered below the surface, I discovered a million vibrant colors: blue coral, bright fish, sea urchins waving in the current, and shells that I had only seen as decorations in people’s homes. I snorkeled around for a while enjoying this panorama until I heard a shout. Having just watched Shark Week on Discovery Channel, I panicked and shot up out of the water. To my relief, it wasn’t a Mormon baptism version of “Jaws.” A dolphin had popped up next to one of the swimmers! We rushed out of the water and to the top of the rocks, where we watched it continue on its path across the Red Sea, a second one trailing behind in the distance. Once they had disappeared from sight, we slowly climbed down and gathered our things together for the drive back to the city.

Cross-posted at State of D’Nile.

Comments

  1. I love this. Of all the baptism accounts that Kris and I have gathered, one of my favorites is from a group of General Authorities that toured Europe and the Middle East. At a time when re-baptism was common, how could they not do it when coming upon the Jordan River?

    I have always loved the idea of Baptisms in nature. The first font in the Church was in the Nauvoo temple, and then that one wasn’t in use that much. The feeling is somewhat amplified when it isn’t the stream down the road, but an iconic body of water like the Red Sea. Waters of life, indeed!

  2. My mission was an island mission and we were prohibited from baptizing anyone in the beautiful blue ocean. Instead we got to perform the ordinance in a font with water so filthy that we had to put three coffee filters over the tap just to get brown water. I’m sure there was a good reason for this, although if I ever knew what it was I have forgotten in over the last 13 years, but it was unfortunate nonetheless.

  3. Melissa,
    I hate you.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Wonderful account!

    A small practical question–when you went swimming, what kind of a bathing suit did you wear? Does the fact that it is a largely Muslim country require something beyond what you would wear in the States? (This summer I saw a Muslim girl swimming with her family; the father and son wore regular swim trunks, but this young girl wore a neck to ankle full-body suit.)

  5. I understand and accept fully baptismal fonts, but… dang, girl! I’m jealous. What an amazing experience that must have been.

  6. Kevin: Well, over a decade back some friends invited us out to Ayn Sukhna where the local swimming women wore the full range from bikinis to head-to-toe Abayas in the water. Go figure. One thing Egyptians never did (at least in my experience and certainly would be shocked to hear otherwise) was swim nude – that was left to European tourists at resorts that most Egyptians steered far clear of.

  7. I have a memory of some fatalities during baptisms in rivers. Oliver Olney mocked his former coreligionists that they had turned the Mississippi into a boiling cauldron with all their baptisms. I seem to remember an anti-Mormon source mocking people who had died in baptisms (although in one line of thinking it’s the best possible moment to die).

    I personally would love to be baptized in a sea.

  8. One of the most striking memories I have as a missionary was baptizing a father, mother and daughter in a lake outside of Kiev. It was a summer evening and a lot of people were swimming nearby. We attracted attention in our white jumpsuits, of course, and as we made our way to the beach and a small crowd gathered to watch. I waded into the water and turned around to survey a number of topless women watching from the shore. It was one of those incongruous (to my American mind) things that made me love my mission experience.

    Afterwards the son in the family, who had participated in the discussions but declined baptism, stripped down and had a swim before we set off for home.

  9. There were no fonts available in the mission when I served but I have been told that when a font was installed it was the only place anyone wanted to be baptized.

  10. In the philippines were fonts are scarce, we baptised all the time in the ocean. It was nice sometimes, but most times, it was just complicated because of the waves. It was easier than the font though…

  11. But only because the font:
    1. Would not get filled because members wouldn’t fill it like we asked
    2. Members would drain it after we filled it but before the baptism started
    3. Once there was a Cobra in the font.

  12. Adam Greenwood says:

    Excellent. Thanks for sharing.

  13. When I visited my parents in Saudia, I loved the Red Sea.

    It is really quite striking.

    A lot prettier than the man made lake I was baptized in. The Boy Scouts had set up on the beach our branch usually used, so we walked around to a muddy cove and I sunk more than ankle deep in what felt like bottomless mud.

    But at least my feet did not come up when I was baptized.

  14. Excellent. In a nice stroke of symmetry, we’re going to a convert baptism this afternoon in the Baltic Sea, per request of the convert, a delightful young adult woman. Of course, its abot 10C / 50F, so the effec is decidedly different.

  15. Great story! Thank goodness it sounded like decently warm water. I was baptized in the Susquehanna River, and waited until April from my birthday in January so the ice would only be around the edges instead of the river being frozen solid! I wish I could remember the beautiful nature, but all I remember was that it was frigid in that water! Also, that’s great that a lot of the ward came. No one came to my baptism except my family pretty much! But I do have illicit pictures of the dunking!

  16. Kevin, I just wore a one piece bathing suit from Target and capris. I think that Egypt is probably a little more tolerant than many countries around here. Just like in the streets you see everything from Western dress to full veil-including gloves and everything, I think at the beach you’d probably see everything from my suit to Burkinis. Maybe a few bikinis thrown in too, from the Europeans (you know, people like Ronan, who sit around in cells under freaky chapels being jealous).

  17. If I’d known when I was baptized that I could do it in nature, I would have demanded to go outside and be dunked in the Rio Grande. I imagine that would have been very special, in a different way, one involving Border Patrol and dogs.

  18. Melissa,
    I do not, nor have I ever, worn a bikini.

  19. I remember when I toured Israel with my London Study abroad group, a couple of the professors along had the privilege of baptizing their sons in the Jordan River. That was memorable. But my favorite was when we were living in Dubai — we were there during the first Gulf war in 1990 and several kids — my daughter among them — turned 8. We had to wait until tensions were somewhat eased in the spring and we wouldn’t create alarm on the beach with something unusual. We went as a branch down to the Arabian gulf (which is what they call the Persian gulf on that side)in the early morning and 3 children and 3 dads waded out to water deep enough to perform the baptisms. The dads were witnesses for the baptisms of the other children. They were far enough away that I couldn’t hear the prayers, but I admit to taking some pictures. It was a great experience and has been a fun memory for my daughter. We didn’t go swimming afterwards, but back to our villa for food and fellowship. When we lived there, I did swim wearing a regular swimsuit, but I’ve seen many Arab women enter the water completely covered with their burquas.

  20. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) says:

    I was baptized in the Red Sea, as was my sister. One of my brothers was baptized in the Jordan River (the one in Israel, not Utah). :-)

  21. dolphin=dove?? its possible : )

    thats an awesome story though…

  22. I was baptized in a font (3 times thanks to my long hair and dress,) as was my next youngest sister (first ever in a new building,) but the youngest one out of the three of us on this branch of my family? Baptized in a pool. In like, October. With rain. Weeks after the last time someone had uncovered the pool. There was a dead rat. And of course, after we’d convinced her (she HATES water) to get in despite all of that, my stepfather messed up the words. Took forever to get her back in the pool. I’m not sure she’s EVER gone swimming since that day.

    I’d love to see a baptism done in a river, but I think the non-standard baptism scenarios we have already had were about all the adults in my family could possibly endure.

  23. When I lived in Turkey we had a baptism in the Aegean. Now, I’m in Saudi, and my daughter has the opportunity to be baptized in the Arabian Gulf (aka Persian Gulf). It’s a hard call, because I kind of want to her be baptized at home where my mom and family members can see it. But it would be more memorable to be baptised here. And we live a block away from the beach. Nice!

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