‘Entering into the (cold) Jordan’

Posted on January 31, 2012 by Global Mission Support

The Rev. Bradn Buerkle is an ELCA missionary serving in parish ministry in Novosibirsk, Russia. To support Bradn, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.


Plunging into ice-cold water is how some Russians mark the Baptism of Christ.

Plunging into ice-cold water is how some Russians mark the Baptism of Christ.

This year for the extreme-sports-like celebration of the Baptism of Christ (Jan. 19 according to the Orthodox calendar) I joined the crowds that jump into various bodies of blessed ice-water, “entering into the Jordan” as they call it here. I must admit that any deep, spiritual meaning behind this event is still a bit foggy to me — I’ve learned in the last few days that many in the Orthodox church consider the tradition a bit suspect, too.

But what, after more than a decade in Russia, is pushing me to participate in this rather unusual practice? It was jumping out a window.

That’s right. I’ve started jumping out a window regularly in the past few months. It has been part of my weekly trip to the banya (the Russian version of a sauna) ever since winter started. There’s a window from the shower room that gives you direct access to a snow bank, and I’ve found that going out into the snow after sitting in the heat makes the banya even better. While there was no banya on Jan. 19 (there was, thankfully, a heated tent for changing your clothes — they even distributed hot tea inside), going “into the Jordan” was simply stepping it up to the next level.

The reason I write about these rather insignificant and personal experiences is that, for me, they are symbolic of what I want 2012 to be. The last few months have been a time of moderation: The situation in the congregation is stable. The ecumenical situation in Novosibirsk has also been generally positive. The church structure in which I am working shows positive signs, and even the situation in the country has improved, insofar as people have started to make their voices heard and to push for change.

I realize that it would be easy to be content in each of these areas — in some ways, it is already better than one could reasonably expect. Yet, thanks to the snow bank outside  the banya, I’ve been reminded not to start the year ready to settle for “good enough.” Instead, I’m going to try to start it by taking it to the next level, even if that means diving into the shocking cold.

Bradn Buerkle