Caleb’s Baptism


 It’s Sunday morning and I’ve made my morning trek on that winding county road to the Church on the Knoll. It’s a pleasant walk in the coolness of an early new day. I enjoy the adventure, as I live not far from the old church, which sits on a knoll, just above a lazy brook flowing to the mighty sea. I like to go early as I can sit by the brook and enjoy the peaceful sound of nomadic water searching for its destination the sea. How fitting, I ponder, that a church should be built here. From tiny brooks great oceans are born and from small churches great congregations are also born. Such as that great one in the soon to come Kingdom of Heaven.

The church, along with the grand spirits that attend, is a storybook version of that which authors and musicians have written and sung about. The church stands elevated upon the knoll with a high steeple pointing toward the heavens. Interesting to notice, as the steeples shadow travels across the grassy ground, it is, as a sundial to detect the ages. Painted white with green trim, the old wooden building sports a new red shingled roof, which we all gathered to place upon it last summer. Inside the one room structure still has an old potbellied coal burner for heat in the winter. Hard Oak Pews with Burgundy colored cushions. The church doesn’t have stain glass but a few years back purple colored glass was installed. We have only about twenty-four members and over the years we’ve become a small family. We all are involved in the victories and sorrows of each. I don’t suppose it is better or worse than any other congregation but in stormy times the family at the Church on the Knoll is an anchor.

Sunday Bible class forms in the back of the church with Brother John our teacher. Brother John is also the elder of our church and full of wisdom from his many years. The young ones meet in the front with Sister Mary and they share scriptures together, which they have memorized during the previous week. We don’t have a pastor but once a month, maybe twice; one comes to visit our church and give us God’s message. Brother Simms gives us the word each Sunday when we have no visiting preacher. I will admit he is not dynamic but he is very inspired by the Word of God.

This Sunday was special. Being the small community we are when a wedding, funeral or baptism comes along it is an event. Usually calling for a covered dish meal immediately following the service. Caleb Hodge was baptized this Sunday and the whole church family showed up for that. If you knew Caleb you’d understand the significance of this turning point in his life. Caleb’s business is a very perky moonshine operation in the back hills surrounding Ballengee. Though a little shine never hurt anyone the lifestyle it generates does not exactly fit in a church congregation. Homer Massy had been working and praying about Caleb for a long time and the Holy Spirit had now began His work. So this Sunday Caleb, with Homer and Brother Simms at his side, stood before us and gave an account of his journey to the Cross of Salvation. Then we all gathered by the brook and Brother Simms Baptized Caleb in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It was a marvelous thing to witness and I am glad the Lord blessed me with the witness of Caleb’s Baptism.

After the service we all gathered beneath the trees and enjoyed some of the best cooking to be found in the county. We ate and we had fellowship and then had an old fashioned Gospel sing, which I being well known for my monotone voice, lip-synced. The Crawford brothers, Johnny, Willie and Bob, led us while playing the guitar, violin and accordion. They themselves with their booming voices make a great trio.

With everyone fed, visited and sung out we slowly dispersed and went our way to bask in the Glorious Day the Lord had given each of us. I found myself back down by the brook sitting on a well-rounded rock musing, as this is my sport.

Water suits well my musing sport. Water, we drink it, cook in it, grow our gardens with it, why we even wash ourselves in it. The very sound of it is a great accomplice to the flow of my thoughts. I’ve felt its excitement as it gushes across the shallow rocks in the Greenbrier River. Been moved to power from its pounding along the shore of mighty oceans. I sleep best as it dances across a tin roof. Now it is but a trekking sound, which is much how my thoughts are while pondering Caleb’s Baptism. Certainly there is more to water than an H and two O’s for today Caleb was baptized in it.

Imagine that, Caleb Hodge, Baptized! I have been knowing Caleb ever sense. The spirits of the more loving would describe Caleb as just plain quarrelsome. I myself would say just plain mean. Caleb first bumped into me back at Ballengee Elementary School. He was a bit more than just the school bully because none of the other bullies would mess with him either. At first I felt sorry and understanding of Caleb. He didn’t have a Mother or Father. Caleb lived with his grandmother and she was a sight to see. I cannot remember anything about her except she was always sitting on the porch chewing some Mail Pouch Tobacco. They lived up on Creamery Mountain and I liked going up there but I usually stayed away from the Hodge farm. Caleb beat me up a couple of times. Once because I wouldn’t give him my apple out of my lunch bucket. The other because he wanted to impress my date for the High School Prom. Actually if Caleb had known the attention I got from her because of that he would have found another target. But those were the early years and sense we both left the confines of school life our paths parted.

Recently, or the last six or seven years, I knew Caleb best by his dog. Now Caleb was not the most handsome person though I would not say he was ugly. He might have even been a reasonably good-looking person if his personality had not always been in the way. Caleb had also let himself go over the years and his features showed the ware. But his dog, now that was an ugly creature. I remember the first time I saw his dog, Mott. My job at the Lively’s feed store would give me cause from time to time to go to Caleb’s place. He lived in the same house as when he grew up with his grandmother. But now it was a rundown old wooden shack waiting for a match to set it off. The wood hadn’t seen paint in many years and some of the boards were rotted away. The tin on the roof was a rusty red that streaked down onto the concrete slab of the porch. The front yard had every imaginable antique farm implement rusting away. In the back of the old house was a mountain of trash that hosted a tribe of cats and raccoons. Somehow I would always picture a lower class of Lil Abner when I would vision in my mind what I had seen. This picture sat about 100 hundred yards back from an old wooden fence on the top of a hill. At the gate, with his cement colored hair stood Mott like a gargoyle guarding the passage. If Mott knew you he would only snarl and bark a few times till a stream of cursing came from the house. If Mott didn’t know you, well you’d be lucky to escape with out needing some serious medical attention. Mott was a huge dog. He was near the size of a calf. Mott only had one ear, the other torn off in a fight with a panther, and no tail. The story goes, and I believe it to be true, that Caleb cut Mott’s tail off in a fit of rage and beat him with it. Now I believe it because that sounds exactly like something Caleb would do. Once when I was at Caleb’s he took a tree branch to Mott and beat him senseless just because Mott was scratching fleas. I would, and maybe should, had came to some sort of rescue but I have not been able to forget the beatings I have received from Caleb. Besides Mott was no friend of mine but I did feel very sorry for any animal to have to live in that mess at Caleb’s house. But I guess in a sort of way Mott felt I was a friend because he never attacked me at the gate. I supposed I should be honored because the first time my boss, Tom Lively, went to Caleb’s he needed stitches at the town clinic. If it means anything then, at least Mott was more civil than his master Caleb.

Now the events recorded in the Ballengee Record substantiate the following account as told to me by the more reliable gossip channels of our small community. One evening after a good brewing at the still Caleb came home rather out of physical control from testing his stock. Apparently he stumbled into bed knocking over the table and passing out on the bed. Normal enough as we all know except the kerosene lamp went to the floor and lit the place up. Caleb was to far gone to move and would have surely perished in the fire. With blazes quickly spreading throughout the house and smoke bellowing out windows and door, Mott charged in and drug Caleb out. That old shack lit the countryside up for miles around and many folks came to aid in putting out the fire. Of course by the time anyone arrived there was nothing left to be saved. What they found was a slightly toasted Caleb down by the creek and a charred Mott lying near by on the ground. They got Caleb to the Hospital in Capitol City but there was nothing to be done for old Mott.

This should have been a life-changing event for Caleb and it was. He got even meaner than he was before. I suppose losing the only friend he had was just more reason for his hated instead of a cause to change his ways. I being less sensitive felt that, Oh well; you reap what you do. But Homer Massy is the kind of person that can find value in anyone. Homer was determined to bring Caleb to account for what he had been and get his life turned around. Homer would talk about Caleb all the time and would go out and visit Caleb often. Easier now that Mott no longer guarded the gate. I don’t think Caleb took to Homer at first. But Homer wouldn’t give in and kept sharing with him the Gospel of Jesus each and every chance he could.

At first Homer told us that Caleb would get very mad and threaten him. But as time went on and Homer kept going, Caleb would start to listen. Then Caleb began to get mad again but not at Homer, more at himself. Homer believed that is who Caleb has been mad at all along. First time Homer said that to Caleb, he did throw him out. But for an old fellow Homer is a toughie too. Homer would just keep going back and visiting; praying and seeking answers from God. Finally Caleb snapped and went to his knees and prayed for God’s forgiveness. Homer said the man shook and truly desires to change his life and follow Jesus.

Now I know that through God all things are possible but I would never have suspected any possible change in Caleb. I have managed to break a few bad habits and know the difficulty that it is. But from at least as long as I can remember from those days back in grade school till now Caleb has been just plain mean. Friends, I am not going to tell you but that is a very long time. So when I first heard the news I went straight to Homer and asked what finally turned Caleb around. I know that Homer has solicited the prayers from the church. I know Homer Massy doesn’t do much with out the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I believe that if you pray for God to move a mountain it will be done. I also know it would be easier to move a mountain than Caleb Hodge. So I said to Homer, “ I know it is the Holy Spirit that changes the hardest of hearts but just what did you say that Caleb hadn’t heard before?”

“Well son,” Homer said to me, “it was Mott. I asked Caleb how come he treated Mott so poorly. Caleb said he was real sorry bout the way he treated that dog and really did miss him very much. Caleb said if he had it to do over again he would have treated Mott like a King. After all, Caleb said, the dog saved his life. Well I told Caleb what was done was done. Old Mott loved you in spite of the way you treated him but it is past now and you can’t get that chance back. Then I told him that Jesus loves him much more than Mott ever could and died to save his life also. And then I told Caleb that there is a vast difference here. That Jesus offers him a chance to do it all over again. That Jesus offers forgiveness and a cleansing of the wicked life of the past. That Jesus offers an abundant life ahead and peace and rest at the end of the journey. Caleb thought about that for a moment and then he broke. It was an amazing thing to witness son.”

Sitting here on this well-rounded rock by the brook I ponder this event, the Baptism of Caleb. It is an amazing thing to see such a drastic change and conversion in some one. Kind of like Paul maybe. Could be one never knows does one. I do know this and the evidence is clear that there most certainly is a power greater than our own. There is a master plan not only for our lives but also for that of all life. That in God’s creation and will all things work for the Glory Of His Name. What tragedies come our way is mostly of our own doing. But only God can reach down into the dregs of our workings and save us from the fate we so much deserve. We had better be careful when we judge these things in our own mind. For all is the working of God’s will. I know from where this brook comes and I know to where this brook goes and all that it endures along the journey is necessary towards its end. So as it is in life. Each one is God’s life from which it comes to where it shall return. It is a cycle in the Will of God, in the constant need of His cleansing water, His filling spirit and the proof of Fire. It is a blessing to us all when one chooses to abide in that truth. Such is Caleb’s Baptism as well as our own.

Oh by the way. That still of Caleb’s. He sold his secret recipe to the NHRA. They are using it as a fuel for them fast cars. Check it out!


Copyright: Thomas N Kirkpatrick 2001

Durant Bible College


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