Chris Doleman, a former NFL lineman who is in the Hall of Fame, says his trip to Israel and baptism there was ‘an experience that can never be replicated. We saw so much, learned so much.’
Chris Doleman’s road to glory took him from small-town York, Pa., to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he said none of that compares to a life-changing trip to Israel where he was baptized in the Jordan River.
‘Doleman, drafted out of the University of Pittsburgh by the Minnesota Vikings as the fourth player overall in the 1985 NFL draft, was one of 19 Hall of Famers who took a trip to Israel with United States Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, David Baker of the Hall of Fame and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. If someone got more out of the experience than Doleman, he has not emerged.
“Phenomenal,” Doleman, 54, told Urban News Service. “I would say to all African Americans: Go. It’s an amazing place.”
Doleman, who is a Christian, considered the opportunity to visit “the actual place where Jesus traveled a once-in-a-lifetime chance I couldn’t pass up. To be able to go and touch and see where Jesus walked, to see the Holy Land, was amazing.
“People talk about Calvary. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it.”
The trip was the brainchild of Dermer, a former star quarterback for the Israeli football team who grew up in Miami loving sports. “This experience brought my two passions together,” Dermer said. “Football and Israel. My thinking was that if we allow these men to see Israel for themselves, they would be sort of ambassadors to help spread the accurate word of what it’s like.
“The image of Israel is that it is in major conflict. The reality is that it’s a beautiful, safe place with a rich history. And Chris Doleman and the others embraced all that they were able to experience in about five days.”
Doleman, 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, who played most of his 14-year career with the Vikings and chalked up 150 1/3 sacks, is a self-described “germaphobe” who refuses to touch public door knobs with his bare hands, among countless other idiosyncrasies. And yet during a visit to the Jordan River, Doleman volunteered to be baptized in the small body of water.
“It was an out-of-body experience,” he said. “I’m not one for public displays. When in church, they have the call and I’ve never been moved to go up there. But when the offer came up in Israel, my hand popped up. I don’t know how, it just did. Everyone looked around. I was the last person they expected to volunteer.”
DOLEMAN ‘VISIBLY MOVED’
The Jordan River is not a pristine channel of clear water. Rather, it is dark and muddied. And yet the “germaphobe” did not hesitate to be dipped.
“The Jordan River is where Jesus was baptized, OK? There is no new water in the world. It’s all recycled. So there’s a chance I was baptized with the same water as Jesus. That’s why I did it. It looked like the river (near Atlanta, where Doleman lives) but smaller. If someone asked if you’d like to be baptized, they’d say, ‘Ah, nah. We can do it in the church.’ For me to volunteer in the Jordan River means I understood that it was where Jesus was baptized — and that my life wasn’t fulfilled.”
As a child, Doleman said his parents told him and his four siblings that they had been baptized when they were so young they could not remember. After his experience in the Jordan River, Doleman said he called his father.
“I said, ‘Pop, I got baptized in the Jordan River.’ He said, ‘I’m glad. You were the only one (of his siblings) who wasn’t baptized.'”
Doleman laughed recalling the story, but his recollection of the experience was filled with emotion. “I saw Chris the night he was baptized, and he was visibly moved,” Dermer said. “I think they all were surprised by the depth of the experience.”
They were surprised by how safe they felt, too.
“Our guide told us we were an hour’s drive from where ISIS was cutting people’s heads off, which was crazy to learn,” Doleman said. “But I never felt like my well-being was in jeopardy. We had armed guards the entire time. And there was no drama where we traveled. Jerusalem was on one side of the street, Jordan on the other side. I mean, that close. But I didn’t care. I felt like if I was going to die there, it would have been worth it.”
A ‘MUST-VISIT PLACE’
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SOURCE: USA Today – Curtis Bunn