By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
VINTON – Father’s Day was especially memorable for Hernan Irizarry, one of four dads who participated in a special outdoor baptism service June 17 at Magnolia Baptist Church in Vinton.
One by one, Irizarry, his fiancée, Jo Neil, and six others stepped in a horse trough on the church lawn and stirred the baptistery waters as around 40 members and friends cheered on each new convert.
Irizarry, who has four children living in his native Puerto Rico, said the baptism was symbolic of how Christ helped him overcome an addiction to drugs. He and Jo Neil both accepted Christ in March after attending a worship service at Magnolia Baptist.
“This baptism was a reaffirmation we were on the right track in our walk with the Lord,” said Irizarry, who travels with Jo Neil most Sundays by bus from Corpus Christi, Texas, to attend Magnolia Baptist. “I feel committed to share Him with other people as a member of a church that really cares about its community and world.”
The baptism service signifies a revival sweeping throughout Magnolia Baptist since Pastor Rick Edwards’ arrival in January 2017.
When Edwards became pastor of Magnolia Baptist, the Sunday morning worship service attendance averaged six and was on the verge of closing its doors, according to the Annual Church Profile that tracks vital statistics.
Eighteen months later, attendance for worship services has reached as high as 50. Edwards is confident they may not only break the all-time record of 19 baptisms set in 1986, but could shatter it if they reach a goal of 100 baptisms this year.
“God can do anything I’ve learned,” Edwards said. “I can give them a picture of their future to get them to commit to 100. Even if we reach 50, they have seen God move in a mighty way that seemed out of reach just a year ago. But we know God is in the business of making the impossible possible.
“We have come from a dead church that lost its first love to one that is filled with expectancy and seeing people saved,” he noted. “It’s a thrilling thing.”
Edwards credits an attitude of reaching out to neighbors, co-workers and others in the community as a key factor for the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of the congregation that relies solely on one-on-one relationships for its growth.
“I’m teaching them now to meet strangers and love them the Jesus way,” he said. “Jesus loved them all and wasn’t afraid of having his reputation marred by being with sinners. We have a lot of spectators who call themselves Christians, but followers are those who pick up the cross and have a daily intimate relationship with Jesus. I am trying to impress upon them to chase Jesus and pursue him passionately.”
Edwards is thankful God has given his congregation new ministry endeavors. Recent outreach opportunities added have included Sunday school, a Wednesday morning home-based Bible study and deacon ministry. Edwards hopes they can move into another building on its campus in the future.
“We have just started the growth process, he said. “We are motivated by the word of God to impress upon people to go out and share the Word of God. We are focusing on the Great Commission in our own Jerusalem right here. We have people committed as we go to our friends and tell them about Jesus.
“I encourage people to go out and chase Jesus,” he said. “I ask people on Sundays if they have a chasing Jesus story. They are on a spiritual journey that is not just adrenaline. They are having a relationship and a makeover. We will pursue that and see how we do.”