It was a cold night. Ophelia Edson watched the big white puffs of frosty air flaring into the night as people chatted to one another standing outside the meeting hall. She had a lot on her young mind. The revival meeting she had just sat through had struck a chord in her heart and she mulled over the preacher’s words silently. Her mind wrapped around the appeal he had made, calling all those who had never given their lives to God to do so without delay. Ophelia had sat rooted to her seat staring intensely at the man. She could sense that God was calling her. She shifted restlessly from one foot to the other as she considered her options.
It was freezing.
One of the coldest winter nights they had experienced in a while for sure but it wasn’t a huge deterrent. She could be in and out before the cold really set into her bones and then if she changed into something warm soon after she was sure she would be safe. She glanced up at her father who was talking softly to a group of friends beside her and took a deep breath. There’s no harm in trying Ophelia she said to herself, the least you can do is try.
Hesitantly she tugged on her father’s arm in the hope of gaining his attention. After a short moment, he turned and huddled down to meet her gaze.
“What is it Ophelia?” he asked gently.
Ophelia felt herself relaxing. There was something about her Papa that made her feel safe and loved. Maybe it was the gentleness in his eyes or the calm, reassuring way he spoke or maybe it was his deep love for Jesus. Ophelia couldn’t be sure. Maybe it’ a combination of all three she thought to herself. But Papa was waiting for her to answer him.
She took a deep breath and spoke in a quiet rush “Papa, do you think I could be baptized tonight?”
Hiram Edson was silent for a long moment as he studied his daughter’s upturned face.
“Well, now Ophelia,” he said in his slow measured way “you know it’s a mighty cold night tonight. One of the coldest winter night’s we’ve had in a while. It’s about a two or three-mile drive down to the lake and I reckon the lake’s already started to freeze around the edges” he paused as he considered the situation.
Ophelia took the small pause as an opportunity to soldier on. “But Papa, the preacher said that we needed to give our hearts to Jesus as soon as we could and I…Oh, Papa, please? I feel that I need to give my heart to Jesus right now”
Edson wearily eyed his daughter. He remembered well the incident involving Charles Fitch 11 years ago in 1844. Fitch had stayed in the cold water for too long as he baptized a group of converts and had died of pneumonia a few days later.
Of course, Ophelia wouldn’t have to be in the water for that long he reasoned but then again…
“You’d have to ride all the way back here in your freezing clothes and then, even after you changed, it’s a long drive home in the open sleigh” he looked at her doubtfully.
“Please Papa” Ophelia begged “please let me get baptized tonight”
“But who would baptize you at this late hour?” her father asked.
“I’d be happy to baptize her Brother Edson,” a voice said from just a little way away. Edson looked up to see one of his friends who also happened to be a minister walking over to them. He had overheard the conversation and now stood smiling happily at Ophelia.
Hiram Edson shot Ophelia wary glance before looking up at his friend. “Are you sure?” he asked hesitantly
“Of course. We can be down to the lake and back in no time and as long as she’s dry bundled up warmly for the ride back home I see no reason to fear” he paused for a moment to take in the excited look on Ophelia’s face.
“Besides” he continued softly “I’m sure God will protect us from the cold.”
And so it was that Ophelia Edson was accompanied by her father and a minister down to the lake one cold night in 1855. They used a hatchet and an ax to clear away the crust of ice that hung thinly around the edges of the water. Ophelia and the minister then stepped into the lake and she was baptized. It was a night neither Ophelia nor her father ever forgot and it marked the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in Ophelia Edson’s young life.
Somethings in life are worth waiting for but other things should never have to wait, come rain, hail or ice.