The Baptism That Almost Wasn't

The branch in Jakobstad (called Pietarsaari in Finnish) is one of the few bilingual units in the world. When I was there in 1990, there were two microphones at the pulpit. Each speaker would use his native language, Swedish or Finnish, and an interpreter would translate every line into the other language. For a ten minute talk one would have to prepare only five minutes of material.

In the spring of 1990 I served in Jakobstad with a succession of companions who spoke only English and Finnish. I spoke only English and Swedish, so whenever we were with a member or an investigator, one of us did the talking while the other one smiled and tried to keep his eyes open. Unfortunately, that meant that I was stuck with babysitting duty at one particular investigator's home, with a very rowdy and uncooperative three-year-old.

We had found his mother in the area book. Apparently missionaries had taught her for quite some time, but they eventually stopped and never wrote why in the area book. Elder Rosenhan and I were trying to drum up some investigators for our teaching pool when we discovered her page in the area book.

We dropped by and found this sister receptive and willing to talk to us. We never figured out why the missionaries had abandoned her. In any case, we soon put her on the track to baptism. The members smiled indulgently, and when pressed, scheduled a baptismal service for after church.

We soon learned that whoever built the church in Jakobstad hadn't counted on the baptismal font ever being filled with warm water. We'd get about fifty liters of warm water before it turned cold, and then we'd have to turn the water off and wait for it to heat up again. At that rate, we'd never start the baptismal service before midnight, so we decided to go ahead and fill the font with cold water.

When this good sister put her foot in the water, she said her heart almost stopped. She realized the importance of her baptism, however, and walked down into the icy water. She had asked Elder Jönsson to come up from Närpes (Närpiö) and baptize her, and he tried to do so as quickly as possible, so they wouldn't have to stay in the water too long.

Unfortunately, he didn't submerge her completely on the first try, and she climbed up out of the water to warm up a bit. No amount of cajoling could bring her back down into the water, so we had to postpone the baptism until the next day.

First thing Monday morning we went over to the church to start filling the font. We put big pots of water on all four burners of the stove, and measured the temperature of the water in the font with a borrowed thermometer. We were confident that when our erstwhile baptismal candidate came for the afternoon baptismal service, she would like the temperature.

She didn't like the temperature. The water was too hot for her. We solved that easily by adding cold water, and another soul joined the body of Christ.

Story: Lee Choquette
Photo: June 2, 1990

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