Late one night in spring, a decade ago, my then best friend Rex (we shared the same name), and our mutual friend sat in the caramelized smoking section of IHOP. We sat restlessly, drinking cup after cup of coffee in the plume of our nicotine cloud.
I had recently returned from a trip to Las Vegas. Typically a city for party lovers, and materialists—I was there for missionary work. After three months training, we spent one month in Myanmar, and one in Thailand. The idea was to spread the gospel, but that was a joke (one we didn’t share with our income providers). The truth is that we just visited churches, saw that there was another way of living besides the American way, and ate mind-blowing food—it was an adventure. I had to go back. I was young, and I had nothing to lose.
The problem for us sitting there at IHOP was that I was going to move to Las Vegas for a more permanent stay in about eight hours, and we didn’t want to end on pancakes and coffee. So we came up with a plan. Our mutual friend drove us back to Rex’s house in his old, dented, off-white, hollowed out 9 passenger van (the kind you find kidnapped kids in). I confiscated a half full liter of Coca-cola from his mom’s fridge, went to his garage, emptied the bottle and filled it with Kerosene.
I remember the nervous energy as we talked between long silences while we drove to the park. We assumed the parking lot would be empty that late at night but there were at least three other cars. I tucked the bottle under my pea-coat, walked down the sidewalk, and stepped into the unoccupied, jumbo-sized port-a-potty. I took a quick leak, opened the bottle, and soaked every angle. My Bic then ignited a toxic fireball that shoved me back to the sidewalk. Rex was laughing hysterically, and flung the backdoor open. The cars around us started their engines as I dove into the van, some backing up to trap us in the parking lot. But we escaped and sped away. We gave our goodbyes and parted ways. I drove home with a sense of elation which continued well into my stay.
I don’t think I’d do anything that extreme today. When I was young I felt invincible, I didn’t fear cops or much else. And as destructive as I sound, events like burning down a plastic toilet only happened once in a while. The only thing that even comes close was when we stole a four-way stop sign. My then peers and I preferred novelty over anything else, and since we were too young and antisocial to get any drugs, we opted for bigger challenges like theft and arson. I’m glad non of us got caught—arson doesn’t look particularly good on anyone’s record.
Two years later I found myself giving aid in Sri Lanka three months after the Tsunami hit. One night after we finished a church service a women approached our team and told us her husband was bed-ridden with severe pain in one of his legs.
We should have just called a doctor, Sri Lanka has better health care than we do (don’t quote me on that), but we prayed for him as he laid in bed. I was at the back of the group, so I laid my hands on my team members shoulders and she did likewise so that we were all connected as we prayed. And when we finished the woman in front of me told me she felt energy from my hand. I felt it too, but I wasn’t going to say anything about it. The man sat up and exchanged a few words with his wife in Sinhala. She looked at us and said his pain was gone.
Granted, our team were all young, naive, and some just plain stupid, so we didn’t really probe for the entire truth. I just took it for face-value, believing God healed him. Thinking back on his symptoms, he may have had a blood clot in his leg.
In my mind what had taken place was an act of god, proof of his existence, which nobody would ever believe. But it confirmed the energy I felt in my body, and it confirmed my faith in God. After everyone had cleared the room I led the healed to Christ* via his wife who translated between us. I didn’t know when I asked him to take the pictures of idols off his walls that I was really telling him to take his culture and throw it away. I hope he never did. That memory stays with me because of how it’s changed me continuously. It’s difficult to see the harm in what we believe is good.
When I was four or five, my mother was at work and my grandmother was napping so I climbed up my mom’s bed so I could reach the Sharpies she kept on the top shelf. I crept out, and scribbled on everyone’s doors at the small apartment complex. One of the residents caught me and when my mother asked why I’d had done it, I told her I was doing everyone a favor by writing their apartment number on their door. She laughed.
*I’ve haven’t been to a church in at least seven years, but the “leading a person to Christ” is just saying a special prayer together that confirms the new believers faith Christ. This typically occurs after a person has time to convince the non-believer that Christ did great miracles, is still alive in the sky, and will keep us alive in the sky with him if we believe.