On the second day of a 10-day November trip to Israel, Pastor Terry E. Mackey of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix, stepped into the Jordan River to baptize his flock.
Sixty Pilgrim Rest members and 22 from Scottsdale’s Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) toured the country Nov. 7-17 together. For most, it was a first visit and nobody, not even people who had been to Israel before, knew what to expect.
Jews stood on the shore and watched the baptism, transfixed by the powerful image of their new friends immersing themselves in the same waters as Jesus in the New Testament.
“Some of the Jews were moved to tears — it was incredibly emotional for everyone,” CBI Rabbi Stephen Kahn told Jewish News.
Kahn knew some remarkable things could transpire for both congregations during this unique voyage, which “was really what I wanted.” He just wasn’t sure how those things would manifest. The baptism became one of the most talked-about moments on a trip full of talked-about moments.
“Powerful and emotional” was how Martin Shultz described it. The longtime CBI congregant theoretically understood what a baptism was but that idea “was nothing like this,” he said. He watched as even people with physical limitations, some using wheelchairs and canes, refused to be deterred and stepped into the river one at a time.
And when they came out, Kahn was standing on the shore with a towel, ready to assist the newly baptized.
When Shultz first heard about the trip, he immediately signed up for what would be his third visit to Israel. He hoped this time would be “an intense learning experience,” he said. “It worked out to be a whole lot more.”
Pilgrim Rest Elder Richard Yarbough said that having everyone present for the baptism gave the moment “a different feel, a different significance. We were blessed to have our friends from CBI witness it,” he said.
CBI Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin explained that for the Jews in the group, who often experience their religion more with their brains, witnessing something so heartfelt and tangible left them asking themselves and their rabbis, “How can I experience Judaism more from the heart? What can we do Jewishly that is tantamount to this baptism experience?”
“Our members really saw what that faith system, their religion, their pastor, means to them and it was very extraordinary,” Kahn added.
Much more was ahead.
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