"Always soap the bottom of a pan before putting it on the fire," the wilderness guide instructed his less-than-rapt audience.
"What's that do, make the fire purtier?" Slade's comment evoked guffaws from his inner-city buddies who, like him, felt out of place in the Canadian wilderness.
"He who speaks first rests last," the guide quipped, handing Slade the soap and skillet.
Slade cursed under his breath, but grabbed the skillet and began spreading the slimy substance over its outer surface.
"Swearing just earned you the title of dishwasher tonight, too."
George, the boys' counselor, had been silently observing, but dramatically retrieved a green pot scrubber from his hip pocket. "Soap the skillet, Slade. But leave the pasta pot to me. This wonder-scrubber can scrape the warts off a toad. If my scrubber doesn't clean the un-soaped pasta pot quicker than you clean your soaped skillet, I'll do the remaining dishes. Otherwise, they're all yours."
The guide couldn't help smirking as George shook on the deal and smugly plunked his pot on the grate.
Experience had taught George that intervention was more than a long-range goal for this edgy group. It was a minute by minute effort. His quick thinking had eased the tension and prevented a situation from escalating. It was one reason why he was successful with at-risk teens.
George had earned the boys' trust and respect, but their hearts were iron-clad. "Father, melt their hearts. Help me show them their need," was George's constant prayer. It was also his purpose in bringing them to the wilderness far from broken homes and filthy streets, disconnected from cell phones, drug dealers, and i-pods.
Meal preparation continued under the guide's direction. Soon all were engaged in raucous banter as they performed their assigned tasks. The meal didn't look half-bad, and since it was the only offering, no one turned it down.
"Now for the pot scrubbing test. Observe." George whipped out the scrubber and straddled a rock. He confidently began to scrub.
"Hey, man! What happened to ready, set, go?" Slade grabbed the skillet and dishrag.
The contest didn't last long. Much to his surprise, Slade's rag wiped a clean swath with each swipe over the skillet. George, meanwhile, grimaced and grunted as he scrubbed his pot, with little to show for his effort.
Slade slapped out a victory beat on the gleaming skillet's bottom. The others began to chant. "Soap's cool. Slade's no fool"
It was dark by the time George finished the dishes. His muscles ached; his hands were raw; and the blackened pot would never be the same. But God had spoken to him through the sweat and the grime. Maybe this was the message that would soften the boys' hearts.
"Guess I deserved to do dishes tonight," George admitted, rolling down his shirtsleeves. "My own stubborn pride is what did me in. I did learn something, though. Soaping a pot saves a whole lot of work."
The boys chuckled and George grinned. "It made me realize that you guys are a lot like these pots." He let their jeers and snickers fade before continuing. "You're all headed for a fire of some kind or another. Some of you are already feeling it. Alex here has to work after school just to help his mom buy groceries. Jaydon's dad died of AIDS two months ago. The fire is something different for each of you, but you're all going to face it."
"I can't put out the fire, but I can offer you soap." George raised the bottle of soap with one hand. "The soap is Jesus. I'm offering Him to you tonight just as I have many times before. He simply asks you to choose Him. He has already done the rest. He died so that you could live. He lives again to go with you through the fire. Will you still stubbornly insist on doing it your own way? Or will you let Jesus shield you from the darkness of this world? Will you soap the pot?"
George bowed his head. His shoulders heaved, betraying his emotions. Just then the bottle of soap was removed from his hand. He watched incredulously as Slade bowed his head over the soap. Then the next young man reached for it, and the next. Slowly, silently, it made its way through the entire group.
To an unenlightened observer such reverence for soap might have seemed an odd expression of faith, but to George it was perfect.
I love the Lord Jesus with all of my heart. Besides being a teacher, I have been a newspaper guest columnist and have had several short stories and poems published. I love extracting beauty from the ordinary: vegetables, notes, fabric, flowers, paper, weeds, words. http://www.faithwriters.com