Servicemembers baptized at the cradle of civilization
November 14, 2004
LOGISTICAL SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq — The decision danced and floated in her consciousness like a butterfly on a summer day, always bouncing, always tempting, but never touching down.
It was there for weeks — months, even. Perhaps years.
But then Spc. Audrey Griffiths came to Iraq. And the decision came to earth.
On Friday, she stood waist-deep in the water at the outdoor pool on Logistical Support Area Anaconda and allowed Chaplain (1st Lt.) Dan Langston to grasp her firmly and dunk her — curls and all — beneath the surface of the cold, clear water.
When she emerged, sputtering and smiling, Griffiths, an administration specialist with the 319th Corps Support Battalion, had been baptized. She had placed her life in the hands of Christ.
“It was something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but I wasn’t actually able to come to a decision until I got here,” said the 19-year old.
Griffiths was one of eight soldiers baptized in the short ceremony beneath an overcast Iraqi sky. Others, too, said their decision was made easier here in this country, but not, perhaps, for the reason most obvious.
Jesus was not invited into their lives and asked to forgive them because they face the possibility of dying in this stubborn war. The daily rocket and mortar attacks did not anchor that decision for them.
“This is such a holy place, a biblical place,” said Sgt. Randy Layne, 26, a mechanic with the 158th Aviation Regiment.
It was here between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — the land once known as Mesopotamia — that Abraham walked. Some biblical scholars believe the Garden of Eden was in this area.
Layne, in fact, had hoped to be baptized in the waters of the Tigris River, but his request was turned down.
Chaplains agree that the significance of the soldiers’ reaching their decisions in this place is not related to the ongoing battle between the United States and their allies and the insurgents.
“I don’t think being here in Iraq [as soldiers] has a major effect on our congregants,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Al Lowe, head chaplain for the 13th Corps Support Command and now deployed to Anaconda.
He doesn’t think the very real chance of a scrape with mortality here is as much a factor as the troops’ simply seeking a better way for themselves.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) R.J. Gore, chaplain for the 172nd Corps Support Group, agreed with his boss.
“I don’t think it happens more frequently here than it does anyplace else,” he said, discounting the danger as much of a motivator for the troops’ decision.
“I’ve seen some troops wrestle with their relationship with Christ,” he said, but they were having that struggle before they came to Iraq.
Lowe said individuals come to the decision in different ways.
“Some experience the ‘road to Damascus’ moment and it happens — boom! — just like that,” he said, a reference to the conversion of the Apostle Paul.
“Others, over a long period of time, are dealing with their spiritual needs and make a slow, conscious decision. There’s no one way.
“There have been a number of Christian conversions here. I don’t know how many.”
Langston, a reservist who is a professor at Southwest Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, said the baptism is a public expression of the private decision made by the converts.
“We baptize them to show the decision has been made,” he said before the ceremony. “This is the public commitment that ‘I’m a Christian.’”
The immersion, common in the Protestant faith, he said, is a “huge object lesson.” It symbolizes that Christ died, was buried and emerged again to enter heaven.
The eight soldiers did that, Langston said, by going under water and emerging.
He joked, saying anyone who goes under water but hasn’t given their life to Christ is “just a wet sinner.”
Spc. Gwendolyn Palmer, 34, of the 302nd Transportation Company was shivering in her wet clothes after her baptism, but it might not have been the chill in the air.
“My cup is running over,” she said to explain her exuberance.
For her, too, the experience of being in Iraq, a place of biblical history and significance, boosted her decision to take the plunge.
“This is the Holy Land,” she said, clutching a towel around her. “This is where we came from.”