Sep2WedSeptember 2, 2020I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.Psalm 121:1-2
It was during a Sunday evening service at Alta Vista Baptist church in Ottawa. I was nine years old, dressed in a funny looking choir robe with a weighted bottom to prevent it from riding up when I stepped into the water. My two best friends, Scott and Brad, were with me as we stood backstage shivering; more from our nerves than from being overly cold. One after the other, my Father who stood before us in the large tank, called each of us in turn to step down into the water. First it was Scott, second was Brad, and as Brad returned from behind the small door, I handed him his towel and knew my turn had come. Nervously I stepped into the frigid water, which I was assured ahead of time would feel just like stepping into bath tub—It didn’t.
I took my dad’s hand, stared down at the water and slowly made my way into the baptismal tank. I glanced back and smiled anxiously to my two friends, who were now drying off—if they got through it, so could I. I then turned awkwardly to look out at the encouraging faces filling the church pews, and began mentally preparing myself for the plunge. Taking in the familiar faces; my mother and grandmother sitting up front and bursting with pride. A couple seats over, my older brother Ken, probably making inappropriate faces and hand gestures, when my dad, the Reverend Stephen Bell, began asking me two life altering questions:
Dad - “Have you, Jeff, received Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?”
Me - “I have.”
Dad - “Is it your desire today to follow Jesus’ example and his commandment to be baptized?”
Me - “Yes.”
My father directed me to turn sideways and to cross my hands over my stomach as he stepped in behind. As I turned sideways, I noticed the small doorway at the opposite end of the tank was also open, with two more sets of eyes watching on. Before I could figure out who the mysterious guests were, I heard my dad repeating the familiar refrain, “Upon your profession of faith, and upon your desire to follow the Lord’s command, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Down I went—splash! And I am certain my dad held me down a little longer than normal, but fortunately he still remembered to raise me back up.
I knew the decision of baptism was an important one, but as a nine year old boy, I didn’t fully appreciate the full significance of its weight until I rose from the waters. I wiped the moisture from my eyes and began my ascent up the steps, but not before taking another backward glance to figure out who the mysterious watchers were. Shocked, overwhelmed and humbled (and I still am today when I reflect upon it), when I realized, there watching my baptism, in a wheelchair with a hospital nurse, was my grandfather, Papa Bell.
As a young boy my Papa was my hero. In the words of a popular children’s book, “I loved him to the moon and back.” Sadly, by the time of my baptism, Papa was palliative and restricted to a hospital bed. The baptism service was to be the final time Papa left the hospital as he would graduate to glory shortly after the memorable night. When I consider what it meant for Papa to be at the last of his grandchildren’s baptism, I realized this decision was important to this saint of man. By his sacrifice of being there, I knew he was letting me know that my public decision to follow Christ was a big deal.
At the end of the service, those who were baptized were called up to the front of the church for a time of prayer and to receive baptism certificates to mark the occasion. I shook my dad’s hand, took the envelope and remained standing for prayer with my two buddies. After the service, I ran straight over to see my Papa, gave him a very gentle hug, and showed him my certificate before he was escorted back to his hospital suite. Included on the certificate was a passage of Scripture, which I proudly read to Papa:I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.Psalm 121:1-2
My Papa was the one person I always looked up to, but the harshness of reality was telling this young kid, the hero I “lifted my eyes to” was not going to be around much longer. But this passage, on this night, and still to do this day, taught me the one I should be looking up to was not a godly grandparent, but to the one my Papa looked up to, the one “who made the heaven and earth.”