water deep enough for baptism was a challenge in Uruguay
By Joseph Shepherd
December 13, 2006 | No one in the small Uruguayan town
of Carmen ever expected to have a baptism there, so
it's understandable that they had never put much thought
into where to baptize someone. "You'll never even find
anyone to teach here," said Carlos, one of two men who
attended the small Latter-day Saint branch in Carmen.
"They're too hard."
I can see why he thought he was living in modern-day
Sodom. Although as in all Uruguayan towns there was
an imposing Catholic church prominently placed facing
the town square, its influence was dwarfed by the number
of whiskerias that speckled the dirt streets
of the rural town of a thousand. The gauchos, the South
American version of our cowboys, living on the surrounding
ranges would ride into Carmen to visit the whiskerias
"Whiskerias are like bars," my missionary companion
told me, "but a whole lot worse."
Just down the street from one of these ill-reputed
houses lived Omar, an 18 year old that we met playing
soccer on a day off from our missionary efforts. When
we visited Carmen the following week a friend of Omar's
found us and told us that Omar was waiting at his house
to talk about religion with us.
Just a couple weeks later we were scratching our heads
to find water deep enough to baptize him. In this green,
fertile country I wouldn't have expected so much trouble
in finding water. There weren't any rivers for miles
around, just miles of vineyards and open range, home
of the ostrich-like andu. In Carmen we didn't have a
church with a baptismal font, just the living room of
one member's house that served as a meeting place for
The only open water around was in the city's swimming
pool, so we hopefully visited the town hall in hopes
of reserving it for a baptismal service. I don't think
there was any protocol about what the pool could or
couldn't be used for, but our proposition raised some
eyebrows. So they responded that the pool could not
be reserved for religious purposes.
We talked to the church members and they told us there
was supposedly a hidden lake in one of the vineyards
outside of Carmen. So we followed a dirt road out of
town, hoping to find the owner of the vineyard and obtain
permission to use the lake.
Who would have thought that such a little country
could contain so much wide-open emptiness. There wasn't
a sign of life except for the tens of thousands of grapevines,
each uniformly planted and supported by a wooden frame
in a vineyard that stretched beyond the horizon. We
walked for miles before we came to a house, a little
We clapped our hands at the gate -- that's the Uruguayan
version of knocking on a door -- and out came a hunchbacked
old woman with her daughter and grandson. Was this the
vineyard with the lake in it? Yes. No, the owner wasn't
available right now, but she would be happy to show
the lake to us. It wasn't far from here.
The grandmother led us through the vineyard with too
much enthusiasm for a woman so bent over. Her daughter
and grandson trailed behind, interested in the novelty
of the two gringos in suits. We reached the top of a
hill, from where I expected to see the lake. The vineyard
continued stretching in all directions. Not far from
here, the old woman said, and we continued up and down
hills. If we held a baptism here, would they like to
come? Of course, nothing interesting ever happened in
Finally trees came into view, big shady trees full
of the sounds of animal life. We walked through the
cool shade and over fallen trunks to the edge of a pristine
paradise of a lake. A flock of geese-like birds flew
from the surface of the water as we approached. In my
heart of hearts I knew that even though we were in South
America, deep in the waters was a lunker of a trout.
What elation we felt after our hours of walking. I
couldn't imagine a more beautiful place for a baptism.
In my mind's eye I could already see the figures in
white stepping into the clear water. This was the place.
I asked the old woman if she thought the owner would
let us use the lake.
"I think he would," she replied."But we can't contact
him right now. He's in jail for shooting the last person
who trespassed to fish here."
Needless to say, the lake didn't work out.
We baptized Omar in a filthy, parasitic puddle of
a pond we found in the city park. Omar, dressed all
in white, disappeared completely from view when he was
immersed in the murky water. I had to wonder if his
sins could be washed away in water so dirty, but Omar
emerged from the pond exuberant and glowing. Carmen's
first new member of the church in years could hardly
contain his happiness as he walked half of a mile back
to his house, a towel wrapped around him.