KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Anything but typical is typical for members of First Family Church, judging from its baptismal service March 5.
The 37 candidates, ranging from a young football player to an advertising executive, each waited patiently in chilly waters as their personally written testimonies were read aloud before they were immersed in believer’s baptism.
The pastor wore a white suit coat and tie; the setting was a borrowed sanctuary flanked by stained glass; and the congregants — an ethnic, cultural and economic mix from the metropolitan Kansas City area — are as unique as the church itself.
First Family, a Southern Baptist church not quite four years old, is a growing congregation of nearly 1,200 members. They currently meet in a middle school for two weekly Sunday morning worship services and more than 25 Bible studies while awaiting the completion of their new $8-million campus on 51 acres in Overland Park, Kansas.
Pastor Jerry Johnston, a popular, longtime youth evangelist, baptized the believers at New Haven Adventist Church, where approximately 200 First Family folk met for the two-hour long celebration punctuated by clapping and casual conversation from the baptistery.
“Isn’t this a good time hearing about how God is working?” asked Johnston, surrounded in the second-story baptistery by plants and greenery. The midday sun shone through three slim stain-glassed windows at his back while he read aloud each testimony immediately before immersing the candidates.
Eighteen-year-old Ashley Jamison said in her testimony she began attending First Family at the request of classmate Phil Kelley who is active in First Family’s youth ministry.
“Before I was saved, I was completely and totally lost,” she wrote. “I accepted Christ into my life Dec. 4, 1999, and I have never been so happy. Jesus has filled all the places in my heart and he has brought a smile to my face and a yearning to learn to my heart.”
Johnston read a few testimonies of the younger candidates while he balanced them on his knee in order to raise them high enough to be seen above the water and the brick edifice of the baptismal.
“Now that [Jesus is] in my heart, I feel I’m not as mean and selfish as I used to be before Jesus was there,” wrote 9-year-old Rachel Baker, whose mother and brother were also baptized.
Musician Pat Bryant, bass player for the First Family orchestra since 1996, said he is thankful for God’s “great patience and tolerance.” When evangelist Bailey Smith preached last year during a special event at First Family, Bryant said he didn’t know for sure whether he would go to heaven if he died.
“I really thought I was saved,” Bryant wrote. “What a deceitful act Satan plays on people by leading them to believe they are saved when indeed they are not.”
Twelve-year-old Kyle Keeney recalled rededicating his life to Christ at a junior high boy’s Bible study. Keeney’s round face and short-clipped haircut prompted Johnston to ask him whether he was going out for football.
“Yes,” Keeney responded quickly as the congregation chuckled along with Johnston. The laughter was quickly replaced by tears later when 35-year-old Raymond Liao told of his health problems related to medication for epilepsy and a traumatic upbringing in a dysfunctional home.
Johnston later again became emotional when reading aloud a testimony by Jill Putzier who spoke of the love she has for her husband and two “awesome stepchildren.”
Describing herself as “lost and wandering,” Putzier said she had gone to five different colleges in her quest to “try and find my place in this world.”
“I thank God that I am a new creation, heaven-bound and free from the chains of sin,” Putzier wrote. “I thank God for my family and my church. I thank God for a pastor that preaches the truth.”
Testimonies throughout the afternoon reflected a variety of faith backgrounds, witnessing encounters and cultural perspectives.
A young advertising executive, Abby Reib, said that despite her reputation as a “good girl” when growing up, she didn’t know how to be a Christian.
“I had already discovered something was definitely missing from my ‘religion,'” she wrote. “Everyone kept talking about living a Christian life and I just wanted somebody to tell me how to get started and what to do next.
“I have attended many, many different churches. I was baptized as an infant and confirmed in the Lutheran church. I always viewed my confirmation as my public affirmation of my faith but have now realized that that is not what Jesus intended,” Reib wrote. “This is why I’d like to be baptized.”
Due to the number of believers awaiting baptism, Johnston noted that another service is planned for the end of March.