Recording artist, serviceman among 8 baptized at SBC

by Shannon Baker, posted Thursday, June 23, 2005 (16 years ago)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Two new believers, a Christian recording artist and a soldier who served in Iraq, were among eight people baptized at the Southern Baptist Convention June 21-22 in Nashville, Tenn.

The baptisms underscored the unfolding "'Everyone Can' Kingdom Challenge! ... Witness, Win and Baptize One Million!" championed by SBC President Bobby Welch. The two new believers were the results of the largest-ever Crossover evangelistic thrust to precede an SBC annual meeting.

"I just need to be saved," Billy Strong, 21, admitted after attending a Crossover block party June 18 at Ivy Memorial Baptist Church in Nashville, an outreach which was sponsored by Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church.

Strong and Lisa Clark, 28, who also attended the block party, went to Ivy Memorial for the first time the next day. There, they became Christians. And two days later, during the afternoon business session of the nation's largest evangelical body, they were baptized.

Joining them was Denise Lingefelt, 42, a former drug addict and prostitute. Lingefelt, who grew up in 17 foster homes, five group homes and eight orphanages, had once worked temporarily in the Gaylord Entertainment Center, site of this year's meeting.

"I used to clean this place. Now, I am getting cleaned up in this place," she marveled.

Pointing to the white baptismal robe she was wearing, she tearfully added, "I'm finally going to get rid of all the dark that has been in me, and I'll be white like this."

Their pastor, Teopil (Phil) Gruita, originally from Romania, has baptized nearly 50 people in his first year -- in fact, his first pastorate -- at Ivy Memorial. Gruita showcases photos of each baptismal candidate on the walls of the church's baptistery.

"The photos show each person that they are being baptized into a family of God, into the church, and into the Christian community," he said. "It shows that they are not alone."

Eric Kilby, 27, another of those baptized during the SBC, became a Christian when he was young and has served the last eight years in ministry as tour manager and baritone saxophone player for internationally recognized Christian recording artists Denver and the Mile High Orchestra.

And despite his fulltime ministry -- about 115 shows a year -- he had never been baptized, partly out of concern of what others would think about him.

But in a recent church service after the invitation, Kilby firmly decided, "It's time to be obedient!"

His pastor, Poly Rouse of Hermitage Hills Baptist Church, rejoiced, "What a great defeat of pride!"

Flanked on the platform by friends Mike and Teresa Pinkelton, Kilby was joined in baptism with his new wife, Julie, who at 41 has been a Christian for seven years who also had not yet been baptized. Symbolically representing his spiritual leadership in his home, Eric assisted Rouse in baptizing Julie.

Rodney Kelly, 22, who recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army specialist in the 101st Airborne, wanted to get baptized before his wedding on June 25.

It was during his premarital counseling with his fiancée Brooke Story that Kelly's pastor, Gordon Donahoe of Donelson View Baptist Church, introduced him to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Donahoe, who noted that the soldier had been under a state of conviction during recent church services, said Kelly openly wept during his conversion experience.

"I have never seen such brokenness," Donahoe said.

"To tell you the truth, everybody wanted me to be saved, but I was being stubborn," Kelly said. "But now I know He's there with me. It's a great thing."

Even though Robin Hunt, 54, had been attending Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Tenn., for years, she "didn't really turn my life to the Lord" until recently.

She started attending the church with her son before he was killed in an automobile accident 16 years ago. Three years ago, Hunt's husband, Ted, whom she married at the age of 14, also passed away.

The pain of these losses compelled her to talk to her pastor, Ken Clayton, about her relationship with God. She said she has since come to realize that God had been with her all along.

"Brother Ken says, 'God is good all the time,'" Hunt said, "I am starting to learn that there is good in every situation if you look for it."

Following the address from President George W. Bush, Pastor Jim Cross of First Baptist Church in Donelson, Tenn., baptized Luke Charlton, 7. Cross chose Luke over other baptismal candidates for the SBC venue because his story is becoming the minority testimony: He is the product of a Christian family.

"Luke was in church nine months before he was born," Cross said. "His godly father and mother have given him his first glimpse of his Heavenly Father."

After the baptism, dad Troy Charlton acknowledged that he is from a generation of families who attended church. Troy's father is the chairman of the deacons at First Baptist.

"The biggest thing we do [to share our faith with our children] is through our example," Troy Charlton said. "We try to show God's love the best way we can."

"For Baptists, baptism is an important symbol of salvation," noted Tal Davis, the North American Mission Board's interfaith evangelism manager. "So this year, the Southern Baptist Convention included several baptism ceremonies under the auspices of the local churches to demonstrate the importance we place on this ordinance."

Because baptism is an ordinance of the church, all baptisms were conducted with the full approval of the sponsoring home churches, with members from each church present to witness.

Each of the pastors performing the baptisms readily acknowledged that baptism is not the salvation act, but rather an external indication of what has already been accomplished internally in each of the candidates.

Robert A. Mowrey, pastor of First Baptist Church in Scottsboro, Tenn., witnessed firsthand this transformation when 16-year-old Bobby Welch got on his knees and prayed for Jesus to come into his heart.

Acknowledging the impact that Mowrey had on his life, Welch invited his former pastor to pray after the last baptismal ceremony.

Throughout the convention, Welch asked, "Who can witness, win and baptize 1 million?" Each time, he heard the same thundering response: "Everyone can -- and I'm it!"


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