Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery
Maybe getting rid of the Pink Floyd tape was more significant than I realized. The next day we learn Father is coming to visit us in two weeks. That news has me more bouyant than I’ve been in a long time, and I allow myself to believe that I’m personally responsible for this great blessing. Though of course I can’t say anything to Carl or the sisters.
All of us are immediately gripped in paroxysms of joy and anxiety. Carl has become an even more pompous ass than usual, pushing us in the single-minded pursuit of getting ourselves ready spiritually and physically. Since he’s shown a willingness to pitch in for a change, I am able to put up with him, but only barely.
There is, of course, the practical: Where will Father sleep? What will he eat? What needs to be done to get the center spruced up?
This is relatively easy. The fixing up requires only a bit of money, a thousand dollars or so, so it’s quickly decided we must go fundraising for a week. Except Carl, of course, who will stay behind at the center with Nina and Louise to begin the preparations. Which is fine with me. All three of them are poor fundraisers, and it would be a real drag for me personally to have Carl along on the trip.
Normally, we are confined to fundraising in Indianapolis, which is difficult area. But under the circumstances, Larry Krishnek has granted us permission to journey north to South Bend, considered the best MFT area in the state. His teams haven’t been there in nearly two months, so it should be very fruitful.
Leading a fundraising team is a unique challenge. It requires motivating the team members, in this case four women in their early twenties and one woman in her mid-thirties, to willingly undertake an unpleasant task for upward of 20 hours a day, for days on end without letup.
This is not sales. That would be far too easy. This is hard, hard work. Ninety-five percent of the people will say no, and many of them will be emphatically negative. Some, especially born again Christians, might even turn vicious and seek to persecute any fundraiser they encounter by calling the police and any other form of harassment they can think of. Many of them believe it is their Christian duty because they think Father is satanic and must be opposed vigorously.
Each morning, after just a few hours of sleep, my job is to deliver a pep talk that will get the sisters pumped up to face this negativity and come back with enough money to make it worthwhile. A good fundraiser who’s properly inspired can easily make several hundred dollars a day.
But motivation during this trip is much easier than normal because there is the impending visit by Father to spur us on. My typical morning pep talk goes something like this: "To occupy the same physical room as Father, to have him speak to you in person for hour upon hour, to have him looking hard at your face and deep into your soul -- let’s just say you don’t want a lot of junk in your heart. Now all of us have plenty of sinful stuff in there we’re not proud of. Fortunately, fundraising serves a valuable dual purpose in this regard: Not only does it generate the necessary income we need, but it helps purify the soul as well.
"By setting a monetary goal -- a hundred dollars a day per person, which all of you are easily capable of making -- you will feel a great sense of victory at the end of the day when you make it. That you know. And the more persecution you endure and are able to overcome by sincerely loving and forgiving those people, as Christ would, the greater your accomplishment.
"Pushing ourselves this way each day, overcoming the rejection and persecution to reach our goal, is our shortcut to salvation. We may be sinners, but fundraising scrubs our souls. We know we’re not perfect -- we can never eradicate the Original Sin by ourselves, only Father can do that -- but at least we can claim we’re making great progress. That’s how we can look Father in the eye and not feel horribly unworthy to be in his presence."
At least that’s the theory. In practice this kind of motivational talk only works sometimes.
Day One of our week-long trip is incredible, with the sisters all bringing in good results after each run. Each of them easily exceeds the hundred-dollar mark. It appears our swing through South Bend and the surrounding area will be a smashing success.
But our euphoria and confidence are short-lived. The hard realities of fundraising hit the next day. With no rhyme or reason, since all the external circumstances are more or less the same, our results plummet. This time the sisters experience every bad thing a fundraiser can face: police problems, kickouts, harassment, rejection, the works. Only Gail manages to break a hundred dollars. At the end of the night there’s a huge discrepancy between the totals from the two days.
This is where a fundraising captain earns his stripes, by picking up his defeated team and inspiring them to fight on. I tell the sisters not to worry, that this kind of difficulty is to be expected because of Father’s visit, that Satan will try very hard to get us to quit. Overcoming these adversities only makes us stronger. It will make the victory that much sweeter when we meet Father.
"No cross, no crown," I say, a glib reference to something Christians often say.
There can be a variety of internal reasons that an individual member fails to make her goal, such as harboring resentment against the people who persecute her, or becoming greedy about making money. But when an entire team is struggling, as this one clearly is, there’s only one reason: disunity with the central figure. In this case, me.
So after a couple more days of disastrous results, it’s abundantly obvious to everyone that we have a serious unity problem. The only remedy is tearful repentance. Each night, after we’ve blitzed all the bars and hung out in front of every all-night convenience store and still come up short, we do a lot of crying, hoping -- expecting -- our tears will clear the way for a good result tomorrow.
But it doesn’t happen. Each day our totals go down. Only Gail is able to make her goal most days. It would be tempting to give up and go home, but that would be unthinkable. We could never meet Father as quitters. We have no choice but to slug it out.
At the end of the week we have made only a little more than half of our goal of $3,000 -- $1,747.66 to be exact, minus the cost of food, gas and a week’s stay at a motel (one room, since I slept in the van). We regard ourselves as failures. Especially me, since I’m the team captain.
This is not like other fundraising trips, where we have failed to make our goal. Lord knows I’ve been down that road many times before. This time it’s to prepare for Father's visit. This time is for keeps. We went out there every day determined to prove ourselves worthy, and every day we came back with less than the day before. It’s only natural that all of us are subdued as we hurtle in silence down I-65 South through the cold night back to Indianapolis.
"Thank God for Gail," I say to Suzy, who is riding shotgun, supposedly to prevent me from falling asleep, though she’s the one nodding off. "If it weren’t for her, our result wouldn’t have even been this good."
Gail, the only black sister in the center, is our best fundraiser, owing to the fact she’s a four-year veteran of MFT. Gail is one of the few members who can make money almost anywhere, anytime. And if it’s not working for her in one place, she just goes somewhere else. Nothing seems to discourage her or slow her down, not even the racism she encounters. It’s rare when she doesn’t make her personal goal, which is usually $200 -- $300 on Fridays and Saturdays when we typically make a lot blitzing bars. From a team captain’s perspective, Gail is the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg. She is personally responsible for half our team total during this trip.
"I don’t understand why it was so difficult," I say. "South Bend has always been great area."
"All I know is that everywhere I went, people said someone had just been there," says Suzy. "I told you this area was no good, that we should do small towns."
Her voice is full of accusation. She blames me for the poor results.
"Commander Krishnek said this was his prime area," I protested, "that no one had been here for nearly two months."
"Well, someone was ahead of us, muchacho, selling the same product as us."
"You know we couldn’t do small towns. Commander would have skinned me alive if he found out. MFT is saving those towns for next month’s competition."
Suzy’s not really interested in my excuses. "Perhaps you made some bad condition," she says.
This immediately puts me on the defensive. I'm afraid to ask, but I can't leave it hanging out there. "What do you mean?"
"Carl is doing a 21-minute cold shower prayer condition every morning for us. And all of us sisters are out fundraising all day long and half the night for a solid week. All you do is drive the van. You’re warm. You eat. You don’t get out and fundraise, not even for gas money. I’m saying maybe the reason we had such poor results is because you made a bad condition."
"As a matter of fact -- and I wasn’t going to mention it, but I will now that you brought it up -- I did fundraise, every chance I got," I fire back. "I admit it wasn’t much, since I didn’t have a lot of time between pickups and dropoffs. But I did make gas money."
Suzy doesn’t say anything. Both of us know what's really bothering her. She doesn't like me and she's making no effort to hide it now that our trip is done. Had she been united with me, had we had some sort of mutual bond of respect and affection, it's quite likely we would have done much better. As the oldest and most mature sister on our team, I was counting on her support. It's clear now she was merely going through the motions.
It's too late to do anything about our fundraising total now, but this situation requires some major attention or Suzy will make my life hell back in the center. I need to make a conciliatory gesture. I decide to fall on my sword and hope that appeases her.
"Look," I say. "As team captain I’m totally responsible. You did a fantastic job taking care of the sisters, and I'm going to report that to Carl. I know how hard you worked and how hard it was for you to keep going with your back problems. But you never quit and you never complained. And you were right about the small towns and the flowers. I should have called commander and gotten permission to change our area. I should have listened to you, and I'm sorry I didn't. You didn't fail me, I failed you. When Father comes next week, all of you sisters can look him straight in the eye and know you did your absolute best. The only one who failed is me."
I pause, gauging her reaction. Nothing yet. Then, in a low voice, as though confiding some deep secret, I add: "The truth is I’ve been struggling a lot with Carl. He’s not like other church leaders I’ve had. It’s hard for me to support him the way I should. I’m sorry. I know my disunity with him is the reason we didn’t make our goal."
"Yes, it is," she says, her voice thin and sharp as a blade.
For a long time we drive in silence. At first she seems pleased that all of this is now squarely on my head. But as the miles roll past, she starts to soften a little, perhaps realizing she is not totally blameless. Finally, she says: "I’ve been struggling to unite with him, too. We all have."
Success at last. I press on, laying on a few more layers of self-recrimination for good measure, hoping to gain more of her sympathy.
"I could have scouted the area better," I say. "I guess I didn’t expect so many kickouts. Maybe if I had fasted--"
"No!" Suzy says firmly, though now with a bit more motherly kindness. "Father said team captains should not fast while they are driving. It’s not safe."
I'm satisfied she's no longer angry with me and I shut up.
Neither of us feels much like talking anymore anyway. We'll be home soon enough, to face the music then. So we both retreat inside our private thoughts, listening to the hypnotic hum of the tires on the highway and admire the magnificent beauty of Indiana’s snow-covered farmland under a three-quarter moon.
I comfort myself with the knowledge that $1,700 was a very good result, well worth the trip. It's more than we need to get the center ready for Father. It's just not as much as we should have made. Well, so what?
Suzy starts awake. "Sorry, captain. I dozed off. Sleep spirits got me."
"That’s okay. I’m fine. I’m not sleepy. You can rest if you want." I almost never get sleepy while driving, even late at night.
"You know I can’t do that. Father says always two people must be awake when driving at night. Too many accidents. There’s an all-night place at the next exit. We can get some coffee."
I wish she had gone back to sleep because I was starting to feel okay again. I didn't want to stop because I'm not sleepy. Plus I'd really prefer the solitude. But I don't want to risk pissing her off again, so I get off at the exit and order two coffees at the drive-thru.
Back on the interstate, Suzy sips on the hot coffee. "Captain. I have been praying for you lately, and I feel I should tell you what’s in my heart."
Damn. I get a bad feeling she's about to twist the sword I fell on fifty miles ago, the one I had almost forgotten. But before she can say anything, something weird happens. We come up behind a slower moving car, a black Cadillac, and as we get closer I can read the license plate. It’s a California vanity tag, "SATAN3."
Even a backsliding cynic like me is not blind to such signs. Whatever Suzy wants to tell me is going to hurt.
"Hold that thought." I speed up to pass the Caddie. Get behind me, Satan.
Suzy dives in. "You have a chapter two problem."
No shit, Sherlock. Tell me something I don't know. Of course, I don't actually say this out loud. I'm waiting to see where she's going with this.
But I already know. She's going to tell me I'm not fighting it. And it's true. Ever since that night in Kansas I've had very little desire to shut out these thoughts about women in general and sisters in particular. I'm willfully indulging in sexual fantasies, though how Suzy could actually know this is a mystery to me. Unless I’m to believe, as she said, it’s because she’s been praying about it, which I seriously doubt. It's just a guess on her part, but one that is almost always right. Everyone indulges in lustful thoughts from time to time. It's normal. Even Suzy, though I'm sure she'd deny it.
At any rate, there’s no defense against this kind of accusation. She's judging me for what's in my head, and that's totally unreasonable. It's what I do that matters. As long as I don't act on these thoughts, there's no crime. I've even entertained thoughts about Suzy’s ample breasts from time to time, though not right at this moment.
"Carl is concerned you’re getting too close to Nina."
"Nina!" I’m speechless. I want to backhand her. I don’t, of course, but I’m furious. Nina is from Los Angeles and relatively new to the church. She's barely 22 and only been in the church about a year. She's very pretty with a nice body, and I've gone out of my way to avoid her, to not show any interest in her. She really would be trouble for me if I allowed it. So I've been very careful, and Suzy's accusation really pisses me off.
Thank God she didn't pick up on Carol, who's asleep in the seat behind me. She's the one I've been getting too close to. We've developed a real bond, and her being on the team has been one of my guilty pleasures. It doesn't bother me that she's been cursed with the fateful combo of tiny tits and breeder hips that are endemic to church sisters. I don't care that her hair is kinky or that she has a plain round face. When she smiles at me, I know it's love. And I love her back. If Father matched us together, I'd be very happy.
But no need to fill Suzy’s mind with any of that. Her holier-than-thou judgment of my flawed character has left me twisting on my sword until my insides are shredded. I am still seething when we finally pull into the driveway at one am. Despite the hour, and against Carl’s protests, I remain outside, attacking the new layer of snow and ice on our parking lot that accumulated during the week that Carl obviously was too busy or too lazy to deal with it. For 45 minutes I forget all about forswearing swearing, unfurling a steady cloud of snow and carbon dioxide and expletives into the frozen air until I’m exhausted and soaked with sweat.