On an open field off State Road 542, members of the Christian Churches of Polk County offered a public baptism on the day before Easter. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
DUNDEE – On an open field off State Road 542 in Dundee stands a billboard, which reads “What Hinders Me From Being Baptized.”
“We’re keeping that there for 12 months,” said Tim Williams, a Winter Haven business owner and founder of the P.U.P. Project, which stands for Polk Under Prayer.
The billboard was sponsored by the Christian Churches of Polk County, and on the day before Easter, it stood over a stand where a band was performing, and where members of P.U.P. were gathering for a very special way to honor not just the Christian holiday that proclaims the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also something else. It was a public baptism, offered to anyone who showed up on that open field at 4900 Dundee Road.
It was the first time, Williams said, that an event like this had been done in Polk County.
“We’re hoping that we can maybe provide an avenue for people for peace when they’re struggling,” Williams said.
With several ordained ministers on hand for this portable baptismal, two praise bands, and numerous counselors available, they were ready to welcome anyone who showed up, looking for spiritual guidance.
Volunteers from Davenport, Lakeland, Polk City, Winter Haven, and Wauchula were at this event, assisting with the public baptism, and waiting to meet the needs of anyone who attended it.
“Maybe something catastrophic is happening in their lives, and they’re broken,” Williams said.
Richard Hoch of Lakeland, a member of the Highland Park Church of Nazarene, showed up to talk to anyone who wanted to know what faith could do to help them.
“I’m here for the Lord,” Hoch said. “I’d just like to see that people find their way. Baptism is an open public announcement of your faith. But that’s just one step.”
An even bigger step, he said, is if someone driving by on SR 542 just happens to notice the event going on — as well as the huge banner draped over a truck parked by the road which simply read, “He is Risen – Christian Churches of Polk County” — and, out of curiosity, decide to stop and see what’s happening.
“Maybe someone will be coming by and a seed will be planted, so they talk to us and know that someone loves them,” Hoch said. “That’s what we want to do here, is plant those seeds.”
The idea of a public baptism came from that billboard that Christian Churches raised. Since churches already do public baptisms in mobile home parks, it was decided to try one on private property, on the field next to that billboard.
Richard Geringswald, senior pastor of the North Side Christian Church in Lakeland, said this event was about conveying a very simple message.
“It’s called faith,” he said. “It’s almost like you’re preparing for it. We have the sacrifice, and we have the alter. Now the rest is faith.”
The baptism, he said, was open to the public, to anyone of any denomination, and New Testaments were being given away for free at the public baptism.
“We don’t know who,” he said. “We know where, and we know when, and we know why – the resurrection of Jesus Christ by mercy. Now we’ll be baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
Geringswald is also a member of the P.U.P group, and a part of the billboard campaign. So far, the group has posted 63 billboards in Polk County in two years, each one with a Christian message.
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