Going more than 30 years without a haircut did not disqualify a 66-year-old Jamaican man from baptism.
But his decision to dart out of an evangelistic meeting and find a barbershop on a Sunday night convinced the pastor that he was willing to sacrifice all for Jesus.
George Johnson, a Rastafarian adherent who had taken a Nazarite vow not to cut his hair, told an astonished audience at a Seventh-day Adventist tent meeting in northern Jamaica that he once believed in the divinity of the former emperor of Ethiopia and had made plans to move to Africa.
But now, he said, his loyalty was to the Creator God and he longed to go to heaven.
“Even if I had to cut off my hand to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I would do it,” Johnson, freshly trimmed and shaved, said at his baptism.
With his voice choking with emotion, he added: “Nobody forced me to be baptized. No woman seduced me either. I hear them saying that Haile Selassie is God, but my God created the heavens and the Earth.”
Because of Johnson’s testimony, several people decided to accept Jesus and get baptized during the four-week “Prepare to Meet Thy God” evangelistic series last month. A total of 15 people were baptized.
Johnson asked to be baptized after deciding that his decades-long search for a church that taught biblical truth had ended at the tent meeting. He had lived for more than three decades as a devout Rastafarian, part of a religious movement that emerged from Jamaica’s slums in the 1920s and 1930s.
Rastafarians are united in their pride in African heritage and belief in the divinity of the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I. Their lifestyle often includes the wearing of their hair in dreadlocks, the ritual use of marijuana, avoidance of alcohol, and vegetarianism.
Johnson said he had visited many churches before attending the evangelistic meetings in the city of Falmouth Gardens.
“For 60 years I have been in the dark,” he said. “When I went to the campaign, I heard the evangelist preach. My eyes were opened. The good news filled my heart. I found my church, and I am not leaving it!”
The path toward baptism was not easy. Johnson decided to give his heart to Jesus at the start of the second week of the meetings. But the local senior pastor, Carlington Hylton, was uncertain if Johnson was ready. The two spoke before the evangelistic meeting opened on a Sunday evening.
“I went to the tent early, at about 6:30, to get acquainted with the candidates presented by the Bible instructors,” Hylton said. “George was shown to me as a prospect sitting in the front seat of the tent, waiting for his baptism. I asked the Bible instructor if there was any discussion with him about his hair, and I was told, ‘No.’”
Hylton spoke with Johnson about his religious beliefs.
“I asked him if he was a Rastafarian or if his locks were just a hairstyle,” the pastor said. “He told me he was a Rastafarian and was hoping to go back to Africa, where his forefathers are from. He said that he had taken a Nazarite vow, and his hair was his covenant, and it should not be cut.”
Hylton said he realized that Johnson needed more time. He assured Johnson that he was not being denied baptism and made arrangement to meet at noon the next day for further Bible studies.
But that same night, after listening to evangelist Livingston Burgess preach, Johnson went missing. He reappeared in line with the baptismal candidates.
“Who is this man?” asked Clavour Tucker, a local pastor who had just led the candidates in completing their baptismal vows.
“I didn’t recognize him, nor did anyone else,” Tucker said. “So I asked Elder Burgess to check who he was. To our astonishment it was George! He had gotten a haircut, a clean shave, and was ready for baptism.”
He said the excitement grew under the tent as the audience realized what had happened, and many began to clap with joy.
“We all couldn’t believe what had taken place,” Tucker said. “You see, at that time of the evening, most barber shops are closed. But George found someone to cut off his dreadlocks just in time to be baptized.”
Hylton said he was amazed, and his concerns were laid to rest
“There was nothing I could do. The man wanted Jesus so badly that he went and cut off his locks,” he said. “The cutting of the hair for me was a public statement that George may not know much, but he knew that God wanted him. I could not deny him baptism.”
Johnson said in an interview this week that he had no regrets about giving up his hair.
“When I listened to the sermon that Sunday night, I reflected that I had been in the dark all these years,” he said. “I couldn’t wait another day. I wanted to be baptized now. After hearing all that good news in the Bible, I realized that I needed Jesus now. That is why I cut off my hair.”