It took some careful maneuvering to get to the front of the sanctuary.
Spotlights lit the band in an array of colors, but the rest of the room was dim.
I concentrated on getting through the sea of bodies without falling or knocking someone over.
When I reached the front and turned toward the huge group, it was obvious that the members of Destiny Church in Indio, Calif. were happy to be there.
The rows were filled with people singing, swaying and raising their hands in worship.
A current of anticipating ran through the crowd.
There were people in every row wearing bright red shirts that said “I did it!”
Appropriate, since today was “I did it!” Sunday, a day organized by church staff for those who wanted to be baptized.
I could still hear Pastor Obed Martinez’s emotionally-charged message as I made my way to the adjoining building where the baptisms would take place.
“Baptism is an outward expression of an inward impression,” he preached in a booming voice. “It’s about making a public confession and leaving the old life behind.”
“Amen!” interjected church-goers.
Following a successful baptism event in October —518 people participated— Pastor Martinez and the staff at Destiny Church were anxious to organize another one.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Martinez said. “These are the largest baptisms in the valley’s history.”
Heading into Baptism Sunday, 167 people had signed up to participate, said Jorge Orantes, executive assistant to Pastor Martinez.
However, they weren’t the only ones baptized today.
A lot of the friends and family members who came to support a loved one during their baptism decided to be baptized too, said Martinez.
Including the estimated 75 people baptized at tonight’s service, approximately 370 people were baptized today, an exhausted Orantes told me over the phone.
The same thing happened during the event in October; the members of the support system see the transformation and want that for themselves, said Martinez.
“When people get up and spontaneously participate in a baptism, it’s a moving moment man,” said Martinez. “It’s so touching.”
Pastor Martinez told me that what he witnessed at the event in October moved him immensely. There were people from all walks of life deciding in the moment to be baptized, he said.
“We had parolees with ankle bracelets getting baptized. They wrapped the device or left their leg out of the water,” he said. “It was amazing.”
I observed the people making their way into the baptism room. Pastor Martinez was spot-on; the people participating were all very different. They were young, old, married, single, parents, grandparents and those with no children. Some were baptized alone, some alongside family. Their common thread was their love for Christ.
I watched as a couple was baptized together and thought back to my own baptism a decade ago, which happened to be with my husband. Baptism is an important step for every Christian, but marking that milestone with John by my side made it that much more meaningful.
I talked to the couple- Chris, 29, and Elizabeth, 25. They’re dating. She’s been attending Destiny for two years, he’s been there just two weeks.
“It was time to get the Lord in our relationship,” Elizabeth told me. “It’s our new beginning.”
Chris smiled at her and added, “The steps we’re taking together have already made a huge difference. What I’m seeing and experiencing, it’s hard to even describe.”
Some might ask why Christ-followers should be baptized, or whether it’s even important.
Pastor Martinez answered that question with a question of his own.
In the middle of a passionately-delivered sermon, Martinez let the room fall to a quiet hush before asking, “If baptism wasn’t important, why did Jesus do it?