One of the highlights of my young life was Boys’ Brigade. It was like Boy Scouts, but put on by our church. Our company leader, Chuck Howell, was about as nervous a man as I ever had the joy of popping a paper bag near. He was bald, and his high tenor voice got higher the madder he became. “The Boys’ Brigade,” he would remind us, “was founded to develop Christian character through discipline and order. You are out of order. Sit down. Stop talking. Or I will…” By this time his voice was too high for us to understand what he said he was going to do.
At Boy’s Brigade we learned how to build a fire, stack wood like a log cabin and light it with one match. We learned how to send distress signals, and tie an Alpine Butterfly Knot. These skills would have been useful had I chosen scouting as a career. And it was this thought that helped drive Mr. Howell out of his mind the weekend our entire troupe and half a dozen leaders went camping on Baldy Mountain. At campfire, Steve Porr pointed out that he failed to see the value of much of what we were learning.
“How will smoke signals help if one of us is injured?” he pondered. “Can’t we just climb in your station wagon and drive to a hospital?”
That was the last straw. Mr. Howell turned around and kicked a tree, and sent us to bed early. By morning, his station wagon was gone. Mr. Wittman lined us up that morning. “I know your parents well,” he said. And we were quieter after that. Camp inspection came each morning after breakfast. We decided to hide our dirty dishes in the woods. It was much easier than heating up water. And we won the prize that weekend for cleanest campsite. Mr. Wittman was amazed.
On a hike up Mount Baldy, some of us reached the top first and began to pry boulders from their resting places. Around campfires that night, tales were told of rocks smashing through the forest, taking down small trees in their path. When I think of childhood, I am amazed that all of us survived. The Bible talks about angels watching over us. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways,” says Psalm 91:11.
I have no doubt angels exist and that we kept some of them very busy, and I’m grateful for God’s amazing grace. I’m also thankful for Boys’ Brigade and Mr. Howell. He was right about some things. From an Alpine Butterfly Knot you can make a chair to lift a child up. And the North Star can be found by lining up the two stars off the end of the Big Dipper. Next time I’m lost, I shall know that.
And speaking of grace, when Mr. Wittman talked to my parents, all he said was, “The boys in your son’s tent won the prize for cleanest campsite.”