Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Baptism! It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

By Rodger Dean Duncan

The high point of our week, as you might imagine, was the baptism of Amber Cook.

Teaching Amber Cook has been a delightful experience. She 
is a bright, joyful, and very spiritual young woman.
We first met Amber several weeks ago. She was brought to church by Ross Cooper, the executive secretary in the Young Single Adult Branch. Ross teaches physical education at Midway High School where Amber teaches special education. Amber, who graduated from Baylor University, got interested in special ed because her younger brother is autistic.

We visited with Amber a couple of times and were impressed by her. One Sunday Ross asked us if we would teach her the missionary discussions. Naturally, we said we’d be delighted to. Except for one lesson that we taught her at the branch president’s home (where we had dinner), all lessons were taught in our apartment. 

When he heard my conversion story many years ago, Boyd K. Packer told me that I have a “believer’s heart.” I am certain that description also applies to Amber. Although she was raised as a Catholic, everything we taught seemed familiar to her. To double check, we would teach a lesson. Then before we taught her the next lesson, we would ask her to “teach back” the previous lesson. She never missed a beat. It was obvious that she not only understood every principle and doctrine intellectually, but they were becoming imbedded in her heart. She kept every single commitment we asked her to make. She accepted our challenge to be baptized, with a specific date, the second time we met with her. For the past several weeks she has attended every single church meeting.

Saturday’s baptismal service was excellent. It was attended by about thirty people, including several investigators. Amber’s parents came up from San Antonio. Her father is Baptist, her mother is Catholic. They clearly felt welcomed, and they clearly felt the spirit of the meeting. Blake Christensen, president of the Waco Stake, presided. Rean and I gave the talks. Because the baptismal font was still being filled, we gave our talks back-to-back (before the actual baptism) and were asked to take more time than originally planned. This worked out nicely because we spoke under the influence of the spirit and the result was even better than we had hoped.

The Gordon B. Hinckley quote is a four-foot poster that
Amber created for her apartment wall. She did it weeks 
before her baptism.
In addition to Amber’s parents, Ross Cooper’s parents were visiting from Wyoming. Their trip was previously scheduled. They just happened to be here on Amber’s baptismal day. Ross’s father, who is not a member, told us three times that he really enjoyed the baptismal service and that he appreciated what he had been taught.

Then on Sunday I confirmed Amber during sacrament meeting. Her mother and brother were also present, as were Ross’s parents. I had previously explained to Amber’s mother and Ross’s father that fast and testimony meeting is kind of an “open mic” experience where members have the opportunity to express their appreciation for the gospel in any way they deem appropriate. What I did not tell them is that in this particular Young Single Adult Branch you never know what you might get. Sunday was no exception. Before the testimonies began, the branch president invited a young black woman, who announced that she is a former Muslim, to sing an a capella solo. Let’s just say that we thought we were in a meeting at the First Baptist Church in Liberty … or a Gladys Knight concert. I suppose the latter is fitting, because the young lady does in fact sing with the Gladys Knight choral group.

About half way through the meeting, Amber bore her testimony. It was a very sweet and very specific description of her spiritual journey. She testified of her assurance that the doctrines of the restoration are true ... that Joseph is a prophet ... that the Book of Mormon, like the Bible, is the word of God. This was only about twenty minutes after her confirmation, and she sounded like a life-long member. It was exactly what her mother, and Ross’s father, needed to hear. I’m confident it was also good tonic for all the members.

And to top it off, less than half an hour after the meeting block, Amber had a recommend to do baptisms in the temple.

My only concern is that any subsequent teaching experience might seem downhill.

By previous assignment, Rean and I were in charge of the remaining two hours of the meeting block. We gathered the entire congregation in the Relief Society room. We were asked to teach gospel principles and practical behaviors related to preparing for one’s future. It was a lively session that included everything from a brief scene from an old “I Love Lucy” television episode … to a clip from a Quentin Cook General Conference talk … to a tutorial on how to how to establish and follow through on “SMART” goals related to everything from buying a car to completing a college degree to qualifying for marriage to the person of your dreams. There was lots of discussion, mixed with tears and laughter. The session seemed to be a hit.

The work is going well here. The members finally seem to understand that we are not getting transferred to another area, and we have integrated nicely into the Waco Second Ward, the Hewitt Ward, and the YSA Branch. We hosted Bishop and Sister Partin (Hewitt Ward) for dinner last week, and the conversation gave us some additional insights into how we can be helpful.

All is well.