By Barbara Denman —
Florida’s beaches, rivers, lakes and pools came alive May 7 with the gospel testimonies of 1,285 new Christian believers as 112 Florida Baptist churches partnered for “Acts 2:41 Sunday — Baptizing Coast-to-Coast.”
From the sandy white Gulf beaches of Perdido Key in Pensacola to the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean that stretch from Jacksonville to Miami; from the Suwannee River to lakes and state parks in every region, thousands of Florida Baptists and onlookers gathered to celebrate and witness the hundreds of Christians who publicly professed their faith through baptism.
Several churches reported that following the public baptisms, those who watched from the beach and other public places listened to gospel presentations and were led to the Lord and baptized on the spot.
Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, created Acts 2:41 Sunday and challenged Florida Baptist churches to engage in the effort. “My desire was to celebrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a unified manner across our state,” Green said. The idea was sparked after a conversation with David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, about the church’s annual beach baptism celebrations.
“I thought it would be exciting for churches to join together from coast-to-coast. The conversation stirred my heart to extend the challenge for Acts 2:41 Sunday.”
With nearly 1,300 baptisms reported, Green said, “The results of the day demonstrate the power of the Gospel and the evangelistic passion of our churches. It is thrilling to witness the incredible reports of our Florida Baptist churches celebrating baptisms throughout our state.”
While a handful of Florida Baptist churches baptized large numbers of new believers, the majority of churches baptized less than 20 and some in single digits. Each soul making a public commitment to Christ was cheered and celebrated.
Many pastors baptized their own children or grandchildren, as did Elbert Nasworthy, pastor of Myrtle Lake Baptist Church in Land O’ Lakes. “It was such an exciting time,” Nasworthy said referring to the baptism of his grandchildren Isabella and Anthony Cobb. “Tears were flowing as I was able to say ‘I baptize you my brother and sister in Christ.'”
More than a dozen Hispanic churches united through the Miami Hispanic Fellowship of churches to celebrate the public professions of faith together. Led by Pastor Moises Robaina, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Adonai, as many as 300 people gathered at Virginia Key. Located at the entrance to Key Biscayne with the Miami skyline looming in the background, the crowd saw the testimony of 83 persons who were immersed in the water.
That strait was the one many of the Cubans crossed as refugees to reach America and now it has become their waters of baptism and testimony of transformation by Jesus.
Through an interpreter, Robaina, a Cuban native, said he had not seen this kind of public demonstration and witness since arriving in this country many years ago. He said he had been asking the Lord to send revival and the opportunity to see a great movement of the Gospel as he had seen in revival in Cuba. On Sunday, the pastor said his prayers were answered as churches and believers gathered to give a public testimony and the Gospel was preached.
More than two dozen Hispanic churches across the state participated in the Acts 2:41 emphasis. They were rallied by Pastor Javier Sotolongo, who serves as first vice president for the Florida Baptist State Convention, when he spoke to the pastors at the statewide Hispanic pastor’s retreat.
The day was filled with amazing stories of new believers coming to know Christ and following in believer’s baptism.
Andres Lavanderos, pastor of Oak Harbor Church in Jacksonville’s Mayport region, baptized a 73-year-old man the pastor had led to Christ the week of the baptism. Paula Phillips said she had been praying for her husband Ron to be saved for 50 years.
Another divine appointment came in the Oak Harbor church parking lot. A young man who had once attended the church approached Lavanderos upon the pastor’s arrival on Sunday morning. Explaining his life had been in a downward spiral, the young man reaffirmed his Christian faith after speaking to the pastor and was baptized that afternoon as a new creation in Christ.
First Baptist Church in Dowling Park began Sunday morning singing “Shall We Gather at the River” as pastor Shawn Johnson shared with the congregation the significance of the ordinance of baptism. Six salvations resulted that day.
Then seven new believers — from age 9 to 64 — gathered on the banks of the Suwannee River and were baptized while church members and onlookers watched. “It was powerful,” Johnson said.
Acts 2:41 Sunday was “an incredible charge for our church and our state,” Johnson said. “The waters of baptism were stirred all across this state. The kingdom is seriously impacted on this day.”
Louis Egipciaco, pastor of Elevate Church in Miami Lakes, performed 11 baptisms in the shallow waters of Key Biscayne. He applauded Florida Baptists’ Acts 2:41 emphasis.
“My favorite part of beach baptisms is how public it is … the worst invention probably was a baptistery because it’s the most hidden form of a public testimony,” he told those gathered as he began the baptism ceremony.
Willy Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, celebrated 82 baptisms and “rejoiced over powerful stories of faith,” he said.
“Specific baptism events like Acts 2:41 help our church focus on intentional evangelism,” he said. “It makes you focus, ask the question, draw the net, and seek a response. People respond when we directly, lovingly and clearly invite them to respond. Acts 2:41 gave us a great opportunity to call people to respond to the message, and I’m grateful for that.” — Baptist Press
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.