Noting the centrality of the event in Mark, the Yardenit Baptismal site, at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan River flows out of the Sea, has teamed with Christian Embassies around the world and Armenian artist Hagop Antressian to exhibit Mark 1:9-11 in different languages throughout its site.
Its name based on 2 Corinthians 5:17 (“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”), the “Wall of Life” presently features 55 panels. Antressian hopes to complete about 150 more. The linguistic diversity of the project ranges from tribal tongues of Africa and Indonesia to the world’s most popular European languages to Asian languages and their calligraphy.
“Every language has something special,” according to Antressian who explains he invests so much attention to Asian symbols that he has had to correct fewer mistakes in those languages than he has in Latin-lettered languages which he knows well (English, French). “Asians have visited, read the passage in their language and been very complimentary,” he beams.
David Parsons, media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem insists, “The ICEJ was very thrilled to be involved in this project because of the central place that the baptism of Jesus holds in his life and ministry. It marks the start of his public ministry and one of the important Divine affirmations of his credentials as the “Son of God.”
Staff from Kibbutz Kinneret, Israel’s second oldest kibbutz, asked ICEJ to help finance the project. “We agreed to approach our national branches to ask them to sponsor a panel in their respective language and many responded. We helped find sponsors in other languages that were not yet covered,” explains Parsons. The embassy paid for 31 panels.
Although scholars are divided regarding authentic location of Jesus’ Baptism, the Yardenit site is alluring in its unadorned simplicity. About 500,000 pilgrims a year are attracted to the location, enjoying the clean waters of the Jordan River just meters south of the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main reservoir. Yardenit has installed steps and banisters leading into the river for safety. Recent additions to the site include a lift to transport handicapped pilgrims to the water’s edge.
While there is no charge for visiting, pilgrims must purchase or rent white robes (at a reasonable price) in order to enter the river. Congregations can have services beside the river or, if a longer worship is needed, Yardenit staff make available a comfortable eucalyptus grove.
Since its beginning in 1981, about 10 million have visited the site. Pilgrims of all denominations visit, immersions occurring according to individual doctrine and practice. Often, according to ministers bringing congregations to Yardenit, the immersions represent devotees rededicating themselves to God and are not, strictly speaking, “baptisms.”
Russians and Ukrainians enter the waters and can’t resist a swim. They immerse themselves three times, and even three sets of three times. Spanish Catholics arrive and scarcely enter the river as the priest cups water in his hands and lets it drip over their heads. Evangelicals from South Africa sing choruses at a small amphitheatre on the Jordan’s banks before entering to be immersed by the pastor.
The locale prompts visions of a biblical scene. “It is impressive to be, after 2000 years, in the same waters where Jesus Christ was baptized. I imagine Jesus and John the Baptist with his disciples on the river bank explaining the scriptures and announcing the Kingdom of God,” according to Maria Angeles from the Andaluz region of Spain.
While many Israelis visitors simply enjoyed the beauty of the site, others revered the religious significance. Hadas from Tivon, near Haifa, explained, “For me there is something very special here. You hear the singing and experience something spiritual, the clean water, people from all over the world.”
When Ettiene Viviers , a new believer at Shekinah Ministries in Pretoria, South Africa, made plans to visit Israel he knew he wanted to be baptized in the Jordan. “I realized we were coming to the Jordan and I said, ‘That’s it. That’s where I’m going to be baptized.”
“It was beautiful; this river has a lot of meaning to it. It was the river where Jesus was baptized. And I think it's just nice to know after I came to faith that I was baptized in the same river where he was baptized.”
“It’s like a cleansing, leaving the past behind and walking out of the water clean, basically starting a new life on a clean slate, purely walking with faith in God.”