Shall We Gather at the River?
I had a unique, memorable ministry experience the other Saturday. The story started last October.
While visiting in my office last October, I had the privilege of leading a man named Andy to receive Jesus Christ as His Savior. When we finished praying, I asked him how he felt about being baptized, the next step of obedience that follows the salvation experience and demonstrates we’re serious about following Jesus.
He was excited about being baptized, but then he said, “I have a favor. Will you baptize me in the Chattahoochee River?”
“Sure!” I said. “Where?”
“At Jones Bridge. My uncle used to take me fishing there, and one day we were fishing and I saw a man in a suit and tie walk out into the water, and another man in a suit and tie follow him, and I thought, ‘What are they doing?’ He baptized him right there. And I thought, ‘that’s where I want to get baptized.’”
So the weeks passed, and we finally got our schedule together and locked in Saturday, September 17, at Jones Bridge Park in Gwinnett County. This county park is located about 50 miles from Fayetteville, off of Georgia Highway 141 in Peachtree Corners.
The 30-acre park is nestled against a scenic bend in the river, and features a large children’s playground, a sand volley ball pit, soccer fields, pavilions for cook outs and family gatherings, and plenty of parking.
It also is directly across from HALF a steel bridge that starts on the other side and extends into the Chattahoochee. According to Peachtree Corners Patch , John F. Martin bought land on both sides of the river at this site and operated a ferry.
When he died, he left the land and the ferry operation to his daughter, who married a Jones. When the old Milton County and Gwinnett County went together to build a bridge, they named it Jones Bridge.
Construction of the steel girder and wooden plank bridge was completed in 1904, and served well for at least 20 years. But the depression hit and replacing the rotting wood was expensive, so the bridge was closed. By the time the bankrupt Milton County merged with Fulton, the bridge had been unused for several years.
Many years later, the exact time-frame is unknown, workers showed up on the Gwinnett side with a crane and several trucks and started dismantling the steel. When a neighbor asked what they were doing, a worker stated that they had been ordered to take down the old span to prepare for the new bridge that was to be built.
When this news reached county commissioner A. J. Corley, he was immediately suspicious because he knew for a fact no new concrete bridge project was in the works. By the time he arrived on site, the workers had disappeared with half the bridge. The guess is that the workers, who were never caught, took the steel somewhere and sold it for scrap.
So we gathered at the river, and I admit I was a little uneasy about the river since I’m not much of a swimmer. As strongly recommended before getting on the Chattahoochee, I called the Buford Dam Army Corps of Engineers number to see when they were releasing water. Their release schedule was 8:55 p.m., so I didn’t have to worry about quickly-rising, fast-running waters.
We stepped in and I was surprised at how cold the water was. The water near that bank was calm and fairly clear. We walked out about waist deep. Family and friends stood on the bank and smiled as I lowered Andy into the water and then as he stood back up.
It was a special moment for Andy and for me, and I believe God was smiling.
The sun was bright, the playground was full of children and parents, another family was grilling nearby, a fisherman was casting his line, two kayakers were paddling around the bend, and rippling water made beautiful background music as it ran over the rocks. It was a good day to be on the water. And it was a good day for a baptism.
(Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, GA. The church family meets at 352 McDonough Road, near McCurry Park, and invites you to Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m. each Sunday. Visit them at www.mcdonoughroad.org and like them on Facebook).