How could we do it?
That was the central question.
How could we honor Jake’s desire to make a public declaration of his faith through baptism and also address his sensory integration challenges?
For kids like Jake on the autism spectrum, sensory inputs can be unsettling and disorienting. Jake had witnessed the baptisms of his two brothers. Micah was baptized in December 2010 and Caleb followed three years later in 2013. Both of Jake’s brothers had chosen to be fully immersed by water. Jake knew that water immersion would be difficult for him. So much so, that Jake wasn’t so sure he ever wanted to be baptized. Even if warm water was used during the immersion experience, his brain would find it difficult to filter the multiple sensory inputs to his body.
We didn’t want Jake to feel out of sync during his baptism. We wanted Jake to feel celebrated and for his God to be glorified when Jake decided to confirm his faith in Jesus Christ.
So, we made a plan. That’s what Witherows do!
First, we took Jake through the steps of baptism to affirm his decision and to make sure he was ready.
Then, we shared with Jake that he didn’t have to be immersed in water for his baptism. We informed Jake that some faiths affirm baptism by sprinkling water over the head. Jake smiled and said in response, “I can do that!”
The final question centered upon where and with whom Jake would like to be baptized. John and I have made it a point to have our boys surrounded by people who love our family and have relationship with us when they are baptized since we live so far away from our family in the States. Jake asked if he could be baptized in Matopos, Zimbabwe. Matopos is our second African home. Chris and Norma Ferguson, who live there, have become our children’s African grandparents. In addition, this is where Jake loves to climb, climb, and climb on the granite rocks.
This request made sense to us. For it is written:
They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 NIV
In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul described how the Israelites were fed each day by their Savior; the Rock as they traveled through the desert to the Promised Land. Their hunger and thirst were satisfied. Their every step guided by their Lord. Each step was secure and strong upon the Solid Rock. Their salvation was found in Him! What an amazing and life affirming gift for our son – to be baptized upon the Rock in the presence of family and friends.
So, on September 28, 2014, Jake Nathanael Witherow was baptized in the presence of his family, Chris and Norma Ferguson, and our team from our home church, Sunset Presbyterian on the Rock that is Christ!
Jake asked his brothers, Norma, Chris, and members of the team to read Scripture he had chosen for this special time.
Then, Jake asked his dad, Chris, and Gail to pray for him.
Finally, it was time.
Jake was asked to affirm his faith in Jesus Christ and be baptized. We put a towel around his neck to catch any water drops that might unsettle him. The last thing we wanted was for Jake’s sensory issues to prevent him from enjoying and relishing in this significant day.
We praise God because Jake loved every minute of his baptism!
We needed to do something a little different to help Jake participate fully in his baptism experience. We don’t think our God minds all that much how such a thing happens. In fact, we believe our God is all about affirming life and the beautiful, unique and amazing creation He has made in our son, Jake.
Jake’s favorite verses are these from Matthew 6:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (NIV, Matthew 6:25-27)
Jake works to make these verses true in his life. His sensory struggles are real and cause him to fear that he cannot do things at times, like his baptism. However, with patience, creativity, love, and affirmation our God shows us the way as we trust in Him.
Jake also selected this verse to be read on his baptism day:
“Trust in the LORD forever. For in God the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock.” (NIV, Isaiah 26: 4)
September 28, 2014 is now another significant day in our family to reflect upon and celebrate. Jake Nathanael Witherow confessed Jesus Christ as Lord of his life! How grateful and excited we are for our son as he goes forward with his Savior and Lord Jesus and finds his strength and nourishment upon the Rock that is Christ!