Kevin’s mom approached me and abruptly said, “I think Kevin is ready for baptism.” It is certainly not uncommon for me to hear from parents of twelve year old boys this type of request. But this request was anything but common.
Kevin is a child with significant developmental disabilities. He was born premature, which plays a role in his disabilities. For the first two years of his life – the most important for development – Kevin was tragically neglected, which only exacerbated his disabilities. By God’s grace and love Kevin was adopted. I still remember when Kevin was brought to church for the first time. He could not talk, walk or even crawl. He whimpered and required near constant care.
“What are we going to do about Kevin?” I heard others ask. All of us – from workers in the nursery to ministers on staff – felt unqualified and helpless against Kevin’s formidable challenges. What we did was love Kevin, just as he was, and in the process discovered how deeply we were loved by him.
Through the years we watched Kevin grow up, so to speak. We watched him learn to crawl and then toddle and before long lumber around the classrooms and church grounds. He went from whimpering to smiling. In time he began to speak a word or two, then phrases, and now he can easily share a sentence with you when something is on his mind – and something is always on his mind! In preschool and later children’s choir we watched him stand alongside his peers while an adult held him by the belt to help him keep balance or keep him from ambling away. Kevin did not always know the words, nor keep proper tempo, but he nearly always smiled as he sung the words that mattered to him. And because they mattered to him they mattered to us.
Kevin is now a 6th grader, but he just cannot move about, play or interact quite like his peers. Sometimes all he can do is just sit, while a whirlwind of busy adolescents swirl around him. Just as often, however, his classmates will not let him sit, and so he gets drawn up into the activity too.
No, Kevin will never really understand what is meant by the words, “Jesus is Lord,” but then again, who among us does? So when his mother talked with me about Kevin getting baptized, I realized that I needed to change how I think of baptism and what it means to be fully included in the community of faith. You see in some ways preparing for baptism involves understanding basic doctrines of the Christian faith, especially regarding salvation. It is important, at least that has been my thinking, to understand that baptism involves entering the deadly waters, dying to self and being raised up to walk in a new life with Christ. But what if you do not understand it at all? Who among us really does? Baptism is not simply a transformation of the mind. It is a changing of the heart. Over the years not only has Kevin’s heart changed, ours have changed too.
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, after six others entered and exited the baptismal waters, along came Kevin, surrounded by three men who watched, supported, and loved this little boy through his years with the church. Kevin could not get the words quite right when he was supposed to say “Jesus is Lord,” and his immersion was a bit clumsy and piecemeal. Technically speaking, some parts of Kevin are a bit, shall we say, “unbaptized.” Still, Kevin taught us all that morning that belonging to the community of faith is not about what you know in your head. It is who you know in your heart. He taught us that love comes not from an intellectual enterprise. It comes from a place of trust.
Through the years Kevin was taught that Jesus is Lord and loves us as we are. In God’s cosmic mystery, that is exactly what Kevin taught us. We are all learning together.
I am grateful for my teacher Kevin.