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Baptisms at midnight and in Atlantic Ocean kick off effort to baptize 1 million in year

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Twenty-two people from 12 churches in Florida took the baptismal plunge in the Atlantic Ocean Oct. 1, marking some of the first baptisms in what Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch hopes will be 1 million converts and baptisms within the next 12 months.

Welch is confident the 1 million goal can be reached.

“If each of our 43,500 churches would baptize at least two converts per month, we’d break the one million mark easily,” he said. “That would be more than a million hell-bound souls turned heavenward.”

Echoing Welch’s remarks, Charles Mims, the pastor of South Peninsula Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, said, “It’s not for the sake of numbers. It’s for the sake of bringing a million new people to know Christ.”

The 1 million baptisms challenge runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2006.

But the Florida baptisms were not the first ones of the year. That honor likely goes to John Britt, who was baptized at First Baptist Church of Kirbyville, Texas, at 12:01 a.m. Oct. 1. Although he had been attending church, bouts with alcohol and a destructive lifestyle kept him from surrendering fully to Christ, he said.

His wife, Lynn Britt, a member of FBC Kirbyville, helped him find a church that he said truly cared.

“I’ve tried to go to church in the past, but I’d always done it for the wrong reasons,” he said. “… I found a church and they have showed me the right way and it’s been a blessing with this church. They’ve shown me the right way and they took me in. I took that first step and I’m not turning back.”

Britt has been busy at the church helping serve victims of Hurricane Rita.

“We’re not turning anybody away,” he said. “If they need something, we’re going to give it to them. That’s what God put us here to do, and we’re gonna do it.”

The church’s pastor, Charles Z. Burchett, performed the baptism. Welch had met Britt a week earlier while touring towns in southeast Texas hit hard by Hurricane Rita.

“Hurricane Rita blew through Kirbyville, and the wind of the Holy Spirit stirred John Britt’s heart to obey Christ in believer’s baptism,” Welch said.

The Florida baptisms in the Atlantic were part of a service by the Halifax Baptist Association

Dennis Belz, director of missions for the association, said he was “grateful our churches could come together for this event. I’m sure we’ll do this again -– maybe around Easter of next year. I trust we’ll have all our churches represented then.”

The first 22 baptismal candidates were ethnically diverse, representing both sexes, from age 7 to 90.

Ben Wightman, 83, said that he just “never got around” to being baptized until now. “The years just rolled by.”

Stroke victim Scott Goodman rode his wheelchair into the water. It took four men to baptize him. A member of Bella Vista Baptist Church in Edgewater, Fla., Goodman emerged from the water with two fingers in a “V” signifying victory.

“I believe we are on our way to victory,” Welch said after the rally. “My prayer is that God will bless these efforts, and His people called Southern Baptists will catch this wave of baptisms today and ride it ’til we reach one million.”

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