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Harvest Sunday draws hundreds for water baptism

More than 325 people were baptized October 31, 1999, at Canyon Hills Assembly of God after a two-week outreach brought the greatest harvest celebration the church had ever seen.

Approximately 2,000 people gathered at the church’s morning service and cheered as new Christians made their way into an above-ground pool that was brought into the sanctuary. The first few rows of seating were removed so the 25- by 30-foot pool could be set up.

Pastor Wendell Vinson, senior pastor of the Bakersfield, Calif., church, says Canyon Hills’ pastoral staff was in the pool baptizing six to seven people at a time. Even at that rate, the service was one-and-a-half hours of nonstop water baptisms with lines forming outside of the church.

"It was a rush," says Julie Morton, who had just given her life to Christ a few months before the service. "It was so powerful. It was wonderful to get into the pool and see my friends and family cheering me on. You could actually feel the power of God and almost see a glow in people’s eyes as they were watching."

Two weeks prior to October 31, the church held outreaches that brought more than 400 to Christ. Between Jesus Jam rallies held by the youth group and one-on-one invitations to special services for both adults and teens, Canyon Hills witnessed a soul-saving harvest. In fact, about 50 more people accepted Jesus at the baptismal service.

"There were a lot of unsaved relatives who came to watch their family members get baptized," Pastor Vinson says. "When we gave the invitation for salvation and baptism, there were entire families who stepped out of their pews. These people didn’t come prepared with a change of clothes."

The environment was electric, observers say. The choir sang, and the praise and worship team continued to lead the congregation in praise songs throughout the service. The applause grew loudest when a young man in a wheelchair was baptized. The usher who had helped this man on a regular basis was so excited that he ran down the aisle and jumped into the pool to assist.

Ron Caoua was initially nervous about getting baptized because of the magnitude of the service and the large crowd.

"I felt better when I realized how much the congregation was enjoying the service. People were cheering for me and later coming up and telling me they saw me get baptized."

The crowd continued to applaud as the pastors baptized an entire family at once.

For three years, Cindy Erikat had prayed and fasted for she and her husband to be baptized together. He was saved last year, but had no interest in being baptized, she says. But, from the choir loft, Cindy watched her husband take off his boots and head toward the pool.

"I knew God was telling me that it was time to go down and join him so we could get baptized together," Cindy says. "Ever since, my life hasn’t been the same."

That testimony is typical of people who were baptized that day, Pastor Vinson says. "What an exciting thing — to give the devil a black eye on Halloween.

"We’ve always had Harvest Sunday, but this year we wanted harvest to be more than a season," Vinson says. "We wanted to have a Kingdom harvest.

"This whole thing was just an overwhelming experience," he says. "God really moved past our expectations."

— Travis Spencer


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