Baptizing Jesus

As a missionary, I was never a big “follow the Spirit” kind of guy. I was always more of a rationalist. But I had one experience that made me wonder whether there wasn’t more to the idea of following the Spirit wherever it listeth than I had previously considered. This happened in late May, 1978.

I’ll begin the story with a quote from my journal for 31 May 1978:

A few days ago we were going to see a referral or something, and Haynes [my companion] said “The Spirit says to go see Grubbs.” Well, I couldn’t figure out why the Spirit would want us to do a dumb thing like that, but we went anyway.

As I had guessed they would, the Grubbs (an elderly couple that really weren’t interested) “flaked out” [a journal quote] on us. But while we were there a member drove by and said to go to his house for cake and ice cream, as it was his daughter’s birthday. This member family was as poor as dirt, but were salt of the earth types and they happened to live just sort of kitty-corner from the Grubbs.

So we go to the family’s house, and the mother tells us we need to rush over to the VA hospital to give a man another blessing. This man had cancer, and we had given him a blessing previously, but they had isolated the cancer and were taking him into surgery again, so he wanted another blessing. So off we rushed to the VA hospital (sans cake and ice cream!) to visit with this man and give him the requested blessing, which we were glad to do.

After all of that, we were in the elevator and this man says to my companion, “What’s that on your shirt?” We had been babysitting a cockatiel for a part-member family we were teaching, and Perky had pooped on my companion’s shoulder, and neither of us had noticed it until now. So we started talking to this man, whose name was John, and he told us he had visited Temple Square, and we asked him if he would like to learn more, and he replied “Sure.” So we started to teach him. He attended Church and came to the investigators’ class, and during the course of the lesson, which I was teaching, he asked at what point one gets baptized, and so I gave him a baptismal challenge right there in class, and he said, “Where’s the water?” So he was baptized the following Saturday, which happened to be the day after the priesthood revelation was announced.

In my journal I effusively wrote after this experience “Now tell me the Holy Ghost doesn’t work!” Now I’m probably back to being more agnostic about whether we were given specific direction to go visit the Grubbs with the idea that this convoluted chain of events would necessarily unfold, or whether our good fortune in finding John was simply a product of being out and about doing the Lord’s service. But either way, it was quite a set of circumstances that led us to John.

What I didn’t go into in my journal, but remember vividly, was John’s appearance. I’d say he was in his late 20s, maybe 30 or so. He was a very handsome man, tall, with broad shoulders. But what was particularly distinctive about him was his hair. He had long, straight light-brown hair, which went at least half-way down his back, really almost to his waist, and also a nicely trimmed beard. I don’t recall whether I asked or he volunteered the information, but he informed me that he had striven to make the Savior his example in all things, even to the point of grooming himself the way he imagined (and popular contemporary culture confirmed) that Jesus himself did. And he really did look the part; he could have been the Greg Olsen Jesus had such a thing existed at that time. He was a military veteran (which is why he had been at the VA), but he was also a humble, sensitive man, physically beautiful with a beautiful spirit to match.

Which is why it was always painful for me to sit next to him when we took him to Church. I’m sure that if I could perceive the stares and hear the whispers, he could, too, although he never let on. My ward saw this man and saw a hippie, a druggie, and wondered what such a long-hair was doing in our church. (This was less than a decade removed from the sixties.) And yet his sole purpose in wearing his hair that way was to emulate the Savior. Which made me wonder–if the Savior himself walked in and sat down in one of our meetings, would we greet him warmly and embrace him as a brother, or would we eye him with suspicion and talk about his appearance behind his back?

I am confident that my ward today would warmly embrace a John/Jesus were he to appear, for which I am grateful. I’m less confident that that welcoming embrace would be universally received throughout the wards of the Church, however.


  1. Latter-day Guy says:

    Yep. Not in my ward. They’re good folks, but I think that distinctive grooming choices would get in their way, and many would find it difficult to be welcoming. It’s too bad we put so much emphasis on “product image,” but I don’t think it’s an uncommon failing.

  2. Kevin,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. What a great experience to have while on your mission. I hope John has continued as he started.

    You wrote: “As a missionary, I was never a big ‘follow the Spirit’ kind of guy.”

    As a influential adult I hope you have or will have the desire to follow the Spirit. When I have it has been amazing to see the Lord at work and the methods He uses to accomplish His purposes.

    For example, On Friday I felt impressed to call a friend who I hadn’t talk to in nearly a year. I put the feeling off because I was busy, the feeling persisted so I called. He picked up the phone weeping because he had just learned of the death of a loved one moments before. We talked and the conservation was such that both of us knew the Lord had set up the timing of the call.

    I thank the Lord for this experience and many others I have been able to experience.

  3. What happens when John turns up at church the next week as Jenny, dressed in a skirt, blouse, and wearing lipstick?

    That’s a test for a ward’s tolerance. I saw such a thing first hand about ten years ago.

  4. We taught a punk girl, and she dressed like a punk her first few weeks at church. A few of the members were a bit scared of her, but the majority of them embraced her. Of course, this was in Germany, and just a few years ago. The first (and only) counselor in one of my branches had a pony tail, so I guess the image thing works a little different there.
    I think, as a general rule, the further you get from greater Utah, the less people care about how long your hair is.

  5. I was much more a “follow the spirit” type on my mission. (It was part of my “give your all, but give it all to God” approach) but I don’t want to go on about that. I just wanted to say that this is a choice experience with John. I wonder if you’ve been able to stay in touch? I know one of the things that has always helped me was my ability to stay in touch with my missionaries.

  6. I’m confident my ward would successfully run Jesus out of the place unless he was wearing a white shirt and grey, dark blue or black suit.

    We had a guy in his thirties with long hair and tattoos that got baptized in my last ward, we were able to shame him into going inactive within three months, no matter how hard the bishop tried to get people to stop bugging him about his appearance. The righteous brothers and sisters in the ward were careful to make sure he knew he looked like a “head-banger”, “druggie”, “parking lot dude” and “molester”.

    I for one am glad we can all look the same as we attend our meetings, it’s the only way to feel the spirit.

  7. In one of the wards I attend regularly, there is an investigator who has long hair and a long, semi-scraggly beard. His wife was baptized yesterday, and they both have been accepted and embraced completely by the ward.

    Great story, Kevin. Fwiw, I’m positive He set in motion the chain of events that led you to John. I’ve seen it happen too many times to chalk it up to coincidence.

    Please e-mail me. I want to ask you something more about this experience.

  8. Kevin, I am having a deja vu with your story. Did you post it before?

  9. I have seen this happen in our Branch, as well. It isn’t only Utah members that can be judgemental.

  10. Interesting stuff, Kevin; thanks for the post. I wonder if another way of saying the point about not being a follow-the-Spirit person might be that you saw the Spirit as functioning more as an enlightening of your rational mind than as an extra-rational force? Not to put ideas in your mouth…

    If there’s one conviction I have about missionary work, it’s that pretty much any approach will succeed sometimes and fail other times. I suppose that might be part of why the church moves missionaries around from area to area; a diversity of missionaries, with a diversity of teaching and spiritual styles, may reach a greater range of people than would ever be reached with a single style — no matter how effective that particular style.

  11. I categorically adjudge Utah members to be judgmental.

  12. This is a cool story. Like many people, I’ve had definite spiritual promptings that turned out to be important things. I don’t discount the idea at all, in fact.

    Once when leaving a 5k race that me and a few of my achievement day girls ran in, I saw a bad wreck that happened in front of me. I was pretty sure all the girls and their parents had left the parking area behind me, so I wasn’t even guessing it could have been one of them. I saw that there were several people helping so I drove away. The spirit moved me to go back and see if I could help. I drove back and parked and talked to other people and there was a nurse who had stopped, the paramedics were using the jaws of life to get a lady out of her car. Still I had this strong impression that I was needed, so I walked forward thinking perhaps my engineering experience would come in handy. Someone said to me “are you a friend of Ms. Jones?” (name changed) I said “Ms. Jones?” realizing that was the name of one of my girls who had run the race that day. I looked on the side of the road and the girl was there. She ran and hugged me and I was able to help by comforting the girl, following the ambulance to the emergency room, taking the girl and her younger sister to get food while their father was with their mother in the emergency room, and then going with them to what remained of the car which was totaled to get out what they needed, such as homework, school books, etc. That was a very strong feeling that came over me that I was needed at that wreck, despite what looked like on the surface was a situation being handled well by others. It kept tugging at my conscience when I tried to drive off. I know it was a prompting.

    Another time was when I adopted my son I had the strong impression that it was absolutely the right thing to do. Almost immediately afterward one thing started going wrong after another which in retrospect may have all been good things, for various reasons, but at the time I was worried and I wondered if I’d done the right thing after all, but I had that earlier feeling of absolute rightness to get me through.

    Being a mother turns out to be about 1000 times harder than I ever dreamed, as before, it turns out, I was comparing me on a perfect day with the the other mothers I know on average days. Being an aunt, which means a few hours of quasi-motherhood at a time a few times a week at most allowed me always to be rested and patient and loving. I wasn’t prepared for what happens after you’ve been sleep-deprived for weeks on end and are exhausted and then one more disaster happens. I feel now as though I really suck at being a mom, and all the other moms I know including my own are way better moms than I. So sometimes I have doubts that I’m cut out for this job, and I wonder if I’m doing my poor son more harm than good. At times like that I remember that feeling of absolute rightness and I humbly pray to God to make me into the mother he knows I can become, since after all, he approved this arrangement at the start. That was a powerful feeling that I know came from the spirit and it sustains me and keeps me strong.

    There are many, many more times when I’ve had that direct contact, so I know beyond any doubt that it’s real. I feel bad when I read things about people of other faiths who pray and wait patiently their entire lives for one such experience. I think we almost take it for granted sometimes, the permission we have to be in direct communion and partnership with a living god. Other people are so thirsty for just a taste.

  13. I’m going to start pushing the fold on purpose.

  14. One of many experiences I have had that convince me the Lord knows us intimately:

    Our Father Knows Us Better Than We Realize

  15. What happens when John turns up at church the next week as Jenny, dressed in a skirt, blouse, and wearing lipstick?

    At the risk of moving us off topic, I should comment that there are transgendered members of the church, many of whom are active. I’ve been following an internet list for transgendered Mormons, because I want to understand more of their experience. My impression is that most of the active individuals are well received in their wards. A number of fully transitioned individuals regularly fulfill callings in their wards. Yes, some do attend the temple.

    Although there are certain stipulations outlined in the Handbook of Instructions regarding transgendered individuals, in practice there appears to be a good amount of flexibility by the local leaders and a willingness to treat each situation on an individual basis.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    – No, I haven’t kept in touch with anyone from my mission 30 years ago.

    – Yes, you may e-mail me at klbarney at yahoo dot com.

    – No, I haven’t posted this story before. I needed to consult my journal to get the details straight; it’s not a story I could have told effectively off the top of my head, because it was too complex a fact pattern.

    I sense a certain discomfort with my acknowledgment that as a matter of style I prefer to be organized, prepared, efficient and complete rather than relying on promptings of the Spirit. So I was the type of missionary who would prefer to prepare a tracting map of the area and go through it systematically rather than wandering around aimlessly waiting for an impression of which house to knock on. That’s just me; don’t let my preference cause you any discomfort if you’re more of the follow the Spirit wherever it listeth type.

  17. Fwiw, Kevin, I was that same type of missionary. I’ll e-mail you.

  18. Kevin,

    Your comment #16 seems to say that being disorganized allows for the Spirit and being organized doesn’t. I am more like you in organization skills and planning. I feel that this allows for more guidance from the Spirit than the other approach.

    While serving my mission the most profound Spiritual experience I encountered, the gift of tongues, didn’t result in a baptism. I’ve always been puzzled by that. I’ve wondered why the Lord would extend that kind of experience to an investigator who ended up rejecting our message.

    One point of interest regarding this experience was immediately after teaching him by this gift he asked to be baptized. The Spirit of the meeting was undeniable.

    The next time we were scheduled to meet he came and told us his family had talked him out being baptized. He was studying to become a minister. I’ve wondered if later he may have been drawn to the church.

  19. Last Lemming says:

    On the subject of missionaries following the Spirit, I like to quote D&C 80:3.

    Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss.

  20. Kevin,

    My experience is that if you are out doing the Lord’s work, you are more likely to find opportunities. Sometimes, we need to be prompted, but sometimes we are just in the right place at the right time, doing our duty diligently, and we don’t need to be prompted as much. Many of my best experiences in church service have come because I had organized myself to be doing the things that would put me in places where I could be of service, just as going to the hospital to give a blessing put you in touch with John.

    As for John and his long hair, he’d hardly get much notice in our ward. We’ve been pretty tolerant of all sorts of folks. Again, the farther you get from the Wasatch front, the more diversity there is, and the more tolerant everyone seems to be.

    I promised when I moved from Utah 15 years ago not to be a Utah Mormon basher, but I have seen the difference.

  21. I can’t believe no one has yet posited that if Jesus were to show up in church, it would be in a white shirt and tie. Not necessarily a suit coat. And maybe the tie would be ugly. But it wouldn’t be a licensed-character tie.

  22. I forgot to say that that was a good story, Kevin.

    I went to college with a guy who looked like Jesus. I didn’t know him personally. Frankly, his Jesusness was intimidating.

  23. Great story. I like to think my ward would welcome John or Jesus.

    When one of my uncles was bishop, he had a man in his ward who thought he was Jesus. That was actually pretty problematic; that Jesus carried a gun and bought a Cadillac and sent the bill to my uncle (his Bishop). Nice of Jesus to buy American, though.

  24. A little timely Overheard in the Ward:

    Jesus among us

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