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RELIGION / Exploring issues, answers and beliefs

Salvation on the Beach

August 26, 2000

The immediate question was about salvation from jellyfish.

The 10-year-old at the Agoura Bible Fellowship church in Agoura Hills wondered if he would be stung by jellies during his baptism at Zuma Beach.

Church secretary Nancy Angel telephoned the Malibu lifeguard headquarters to ask if the jellyfish were still around. Los Angeles County authorities reported back that they were gone.

Thus assured, the boy joined two dozen others who gathered at the beach at sunset Aug. 20 to be baptized in the Christian faith.

In a tradition that is 2,000 years old, Christians are convinced they will have true salvation--eternal life--if they believe in God and accept Christ as their savior.

For many fundamentalist Christian churches, baptism is a public declaration of that faith that involves a dunking in water. In some places, it can take place in rivers or lakes. In Los Angeles, the immersion usually occurs at the church.

But for two years in a row, the Agoura Hills church has carried out its ceremony at the ocean.

The regular beach crowd had thinned out and the sun was beginning to dip low over the Pacific as those being baptized stepped forward to tell why they were doing it. A few curious beach-goers edged their way into the crowd.

The roar of the surf and the wind coming off the ocean made it difficult to hear. County rules prohibit loudspeakers on the beach.

Those being baptized ranged in age from 10 to 47. Their individual stories ranged from humorous to heart-rending.

Soon, it was time to go into the four-foot waves.

"We didn't find out until later, but lifeguards from tower 2 rescued two people from riptides up the beach from us during the baptism," Pastor Dave Gudgel said afterward.

The crowd lingered on the beach after everyone was out of the pounding surf. As the sky turned deep purple and the orange sun slipped from view, some talked about returning next year to be baptized themselves.

The beach, they said, is the perfect place to experience their God's power and glory.

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