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Baptizing In Muddy Water

There’s an old-time country artist I really like called Stonewall Jackson. I heard this song called “Waterloo” and was instantly hooked.


A couple weeks later I came across another Stonewall Jackson classic called “I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water.” It was recorded in 1965 and reached number eight on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. The song tells the story of a boy born in Macon whose father is incarcerated in the Macon jail. His father gives him some wisdom, “if you keep your hands clean, you won’t hear them bloodhounds on your trail.”


Unfortunately, the author of this song does not heed his daddy’s advice. He “falls in with bad companions” and robs a man in Tennessee. Soon enough, he’s locked up and the jailers “threw away the key.”


The chorus goes like this:


I washed my hands in muddy water

Washed my hands, oh but they didn't come clean

Tried to do what my daddy told me, yeah

But I must have washed my hands in a muddy stream


On February 28, HeartBound Chaplain John Richardson, Chaplain Emily Kelly from the Department of Juvenile Justice, Grace Hall, and I walked into Burruss Correctional Training Center to baptize 10 young men. Chaplains John and Emily had been working with many of these boys for years and the time had finally come for them to publicly proclaim their commitment to Christ. We made our way down to the gym to prepare for the ceremony and after some finagling, managed to get the baptismal trough out of a closet to fill it up.


There was only one problem -- the water was freezing cold and flowing at a snail’s pace. An enterprising helper recommended that we hook the hose up to the water heater and pump from there, so we did. The water pressure (and temperature) increased instantly then rust-colored water started gushing out of the hose. The entire baptismal trough became muddled with this murky, brown water. We all looked at each other with dismay thinking that there was no way these young men, many of whom are already afraid of water, would get in. We didn’t have enough time to drain the trough and fill it back up before the young men arrived. Chaplain John was calm and collected, insisting we would make it work somehow.


Sure enough, the young men arrived and took one look at the water and recoiled in disgust. “What is that?” “I’m allergic to rust!” “You want us to get in there?”


I couldn’t bear the thought of losing the chance to baptize these young men because of some muddy water. My reaction was instantaneous, “Look, this water’s just a little dirty, check this out.” I scooped my hand in the water and took a sip. The guys’ eyes grew wide. They couldn’t believe I dared drink the water. Chaplain John then did the same. “It’s just like the River Jordan. I promise you’ll be fine,” he reassured them.


Then all ten young men lined up on the bleachers, ready to take the leap from salvation to baptism. Chaplain John explained the importance and meaning of baptism. “It’s not enough to just splash water on someone and declare them clean and free of sin.  You must make a commitment,” he said as he splashed water from the trough onto the boys in the front row. “You must make the plunge.”


Ten young men went into the water. Ten baptized souls emerged. They’d symbolically been washed clean in muddy water.


Recently, when I was reading about good and evil, the following quote stood out to me: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either - but right through every human heart… even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an uprooted small corner of evil.” - The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


Good and evil exists in each of us. There is plenty of evil in prison. Chaplain John is fighting evil five days a week as he visits Burruss Correctional Training Center, Metro Regional Youth Detention Center, and Rockdale Youth Detention Center. He travels nearly 500 miles every single week ministering to incarcerated young men. His ministry is only possible through donations by supporters like you. He is serving directly on the front lines and as evidenced by the 10 young men willing to make a public profession of their faith at Burruss, he’s making a difference.


Thank you for your support and your kindness. We hope you have a blessed day.



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