Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery
A brother named Paul passed through not long ago, on his way to Seattle. He told me he had been on MFT in Florida for a few months and hated his team captain and hated his commander and he had ended up at a workshop in Tarrytown for problem members at Mr. Kamiyama's house and hated that too and got into a screaming match with Mr. Kamiyama one evening and got thrown out. So he was on his way back to the Pacific Northeast to find his spiritual mother and try to find someplace to fit in other than MFT.
I told him I totally understood what he had been through, and then I told him about W, my nervous breakdown, and ultimately my own showdown with Mr. Kamiyama two summers ago. Paul laughed at that. He said he had met some other members, including a sister in Philadelphia, who had also had dramatic confrontations with Mr. K over how they were being treated on MFT. Paul said Mr. K really didn't give a shit what happened to individual members. He only cared about monetary results for Father. That's what made him such an effective MFT leader. As far as Mr. K was concerned, if someone couldn't hack it on MFT, he didn't need them and he didn't care what they did.
That certainly summed up my experience with him. Mr. K came to visit Indiana last year, the first time I had seen him since our showdown in the yard, and he acted like he had never seen me before. For all I know he may have had no recollection of that day. I think now, based on what Paul said, that maybe our confrontation wasn't so unusual for Mr. K and that's why he was able to forget it so easily. It's funny how something that could be such a big deal in my mind could be totally insignificant to the other person. Or maybe it was simply Mr. K's way of "fixing" the problem. He deliberately provoked me to stand up to him, because that was how to make me better. Either that or I would back down and shut up.
I'm only mentioning this because Mr. Sawamukai, who was also there that day I cussed out Mr. K, arrived in Indianapolis today to install a new MFT commander over Indiana and Kentucky. He didn't seem to remember me either. To him I was just another nameless, faceless center member of no value to MFT, and therefore of no significance to him.
A new commander was a disturbing new wrinkle to the tenuous fabric of my spiritual life. Larry Krishnek, probably my best friend in the church, was leaving Indiana to become commander of Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. This new order was simply a further modification of the subdivision of the United States into geographic fundraising regions, a nationwide mechanism that has been fully operational and lucrative for many years.
Except for heavily populated urban centers like New York and Los Angeles, the typical MFT region comprises several states. Each region is led by an MFT commander, who has under him four or five team captains, who in turn have under them up to eight fundraisers a piece. Each team has its own van -- bought and owned by headquarters in New York -- and its own assigned area within its region. Cross-border raids, even within a single region, are deeply frowned upon, but otherwise the competition to outdo each other is fierce. Hence, MFT is almost always in some level of competition, with each team trying to be the best in the region, and each region trying to be the best in the nation. It’s a very effective strategy for raising money, but hell on the members over the long haul.
It’s a huge honor and a sign of Father’s trust to be chosen as an MFT commander, because the amount of money generated is phenomenal. Even when teams and individual members are struggling, the cash piles up very quickly in the vinyl bank bags that each van carries. Thick stacks of ones and fives, with smaller stacks of tens and twenties, plus fifties and hundreds and a ton of coins -- all must be wrapped and counted twice a week to send to headquarters.
Every Monday and Thursday, without fail, each team captain is responsible to wire his team’s result from the previous several days to the Chemical Bank in New York, where the church’s MFT account is set up. One team captain in Texas had the account number engraved on the inside of a Western-style belt buckle so he wouldn’t forget it. I had it memorized. Bank wires were almost never less than $2,000 and often quite a bit more. Twice a week, 52 weeks a year, times 60 or so teams across the country. It adds up pretty quickly. Most of the money, from what I gather, is put into the New York real estate market.
Larry Krishnek had been in the navy and had a panther tattooed on his upper arm. It caused him a lot of embarrassment after he joined the church and a few weeks ago he decided to have it removed. It was horrible. The doctor scrubbed his arm with salt until it bled, leaving a nasty wound. Even after it healed, the panther was still visible, although much paler. To get it completely removed, he’ll have to go through that painful process three or four more times, and it will leave a scar. But Larry is willing to do it.
It was Larry who rescued me down in Texas and then kept me going here in Indiana. Now he was leaving. My apprehension over his imminent departure was growing by the hour. He was the only leader who knew my secrets, and these secrets are too big for me to bear alone. Who will I turn to if things suddenly get hairy?
I needed a new anchor, someone who could help me fight the spiritual disease I contracted down in Texas. Unfortunately, Carl was my only option. He only knew very vaguely that I had a falling out with W. But he hadn't asked many questions, and I hadn't volunteered much information. Our relationship was still too young and untested to be burdened by so much unpleasant personal baggage. Besides, Carl had done nothing to earn my trust and respect.
To mark the occasion of installing a new commander in our region and of sending Larry to a new one, Mr. Sawamukai took all of us -- both center members and MFT -- to Shoney’s for dinner. More than 40 people were seated at two large banquet tables in a back room. Suzy was the only one who was not there. She was bedridden with one day to go of her week-long fast. It would have been cruel to bring her here to watch us eat.
“I’m going to miss Larry,” I said to Carl.
“I understand you two go back a long ways,” he replied.
“He was my captain down in Houston, before he became commander up here.”
“He seems like a good guy, a good leader. But I don’t know him very well.”
“Larry’s the best. I got very sick down in Texas -- physically and spiritually -- and if it weren’t for him I might have left.”
“Really?” Carl seemed surprised. “You always come across as very strong and together.”
“Trust me, those were the darkest days I could ever imagine. Our MFT center was a little wooden house on stilts in a swamp in a poor Mexican neighborhood. It was really cold and damp in the winter. I wasn’t there in the summer, but I’m told the mosquitoes were unbearable. Right after I got there I came down with the flu. The whole house was freezing all the time. My fever was over a 102 for five days, and my eardrum almost burst from an infection. It was awful," I said. “We only had two rooms, one bath and a kitchenette. I never imagined that Houston could be so cold in the winter. We had a couple electric space heaters, but we stayed bundled up all the time. I was never warm in that house. It was better to be out on a team than to be stuck in that dump, but I was so sick I couldn’t move."
I paused. Carl only seemed to be half-listening. Nothing I was saying was making much of an impression. “Without Larry, I don’t think I would have made it. Spiritually, I mean.”
“What happened with you and Commander?” Carl asked, slicing into a steaming T-bone.
The directness of his question knocked me back a bit. “It’s not easy to talk about.” I stared at my food, wondering what to say next. For the first time, I was actually warming up to Carl a bit, because for the first time he is paying attention to me as a living, breathing person and not just some mindless member.
“Larry was the only person who believed me,” I said finally.
“I don’t understand. Why would anyone not believe you?”
“Because what happened was unbelievable. If it had happened to someone else and they had told me, I would have said no way. It’s impossible.”
“I’m confused,” Carl said, jamming a piece of red meat into his pink face. “What’s impossible?”
I needed to tell him something, but I didn't want to say too much. I was beginning to regret even bringing the subject up. I didn't trust Carl. I stalled for an answer, fluffing my baked potato and piling on butter and sour cream. I stabbed a bit of salad with my fork -- a piece of lettuce, a bit of cucumber, a cherry tomato, a little dressing -- as though trying to spear just the right combination of words to satisfy Carl’s curiosity without getting into really weird territory.
I decided to take the hypothetical route. “If you committed a sin, some sort of chapter two problem, do you think you could keep that hidden from Father?”
“No, of course not. Father would know immediately.”
“That’s what I thought too. It would be impossible to keep that kind of secret. And if you tried, Satan would attack for sure.” Carl nodded. What I was saying was obvious to anyone in the church. “Anyway, the problem I had with W was along those lines.”
Carl stopped eating and stared at me. It’s the exact same reaction I got from Dale Garratt two summers ago. “You had a chapter two problem with Commander?”
“I didn’t have one with him. He had one with me.”
Carl shifted nervously in his chair. I could tell he didn't believe me either. “You shouldn’t talk that way about another brother, especially an MFT commander.”
“See? I told you it was unbelievable. You don’t believe it either.” When faced with the option of believing an esteemed MFT commander and a lowly problem member, who's going to get the benefit of the doubt? I wouldn't have believed me either if I hadn't experienced it myself.
I decided to drop it. There was no point in discussing it any more. Carl had his own emotional problems -- that was clear enough to me -- and he didn't need my horror stories, whether real or imagined, to burden him further. Both of us returned to our meals.
“Suzy and I will be going to next matching,” Carl said. Both he and I were grateful for the change of subject. “You’ll be in charge while we’re gone.”
“Why does Suzy get to go? I’ve been in the church longer than she has.”
“Older sisters get special dispensation. It’s important they not get too old to have children, and she’s nearly 35. She might be almost 40 by the time the blessing rolls around.”
We didn't speak anymore during dessert. I was neutral toward Carl and Suzy getting matched and me staying behind. I didn't feel like I wanted to deal with that yet. I was secretly glad my time had not yet come.
As we left the restaurant, I asked Carl: “Do you think the blessing wipes the slate clean, like starting over with your life, no matter what happened before?”
Carl didn't look directly at me, and it seemed he was talking more to himself than to me. “I hope so. I’m really, really counting on it.”