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The time I had to shower in an outdoor car wash

March 28, 2014

7A dozen teens prepared for a summer mission trip which was to be in Chesapeake, Virginia where the weather was brutally hot.  The church was a storefront ministry, and young pastor Brent McKamey and his wife Kate were happily starting a strong outreach in the community.  The church had written me and asked me to come to hold a week of meetings and help create a children’s ministry and a youth group, all within a week’s time.    It was a tall order but a great challenge for my group of students.  After we arrived in Virginia, I spoke that Sunday from the book of Nehemiah about the opportunity to build and have a prayer time.   We were all excited and rarin’ to go.

The next day was a day of visitation for the Vacation Bible Time, which would start on Tuesday and go through Saturday.   It was brutally hot, as I had said, and the humidity was stifling.  The van we were using had no air conditioning and everyone was dripping sweat and, to put it delicately, emitting peculiar and pungent odors as the day wore on.  We were drenched and grimy from running door-to-door,  but still the youngsters kept pushing on – a dedicated bunch of troopers, every one of ‘em.  As we flopped down in the storefront church’s main room that evening, the young pastor and his wife came in to let us know about housing arrangements.

“Boys,” he said, wiping his face with a handkerchief, “you’ll be staying here at the church for your sleeping quarters.  Girls, my wife Kate has you all parceled out to different families, two to a home.  The girls will have dinners with the host families, and the boys can eat from anything we have in the church refrigerator.”

Piper raised his hand weakly.  “Pastor Brent, where will we get cleaned up?  The church doesn’t have any baths or showers.”

Kate stepped forward.  “I’ve taken care of that, Piper.  Boys, you’ll go three houses down to one of our members’ homes.  You’ll take shifts and use the shower there.”  She smiled.  “Isn’t that nice of them?”

Yes, it was nice, but we were soon going to find out that it wasn’t quite effective.

We shuffled over to the brick homestead one block away and sat looking at each other while, one by one, the boys took a shower.  The house was small and tidy, and parents were a quiet sort, but we discovered that their only child wasn’t.  The folks seemed overjoyed that we could come over to give them company but I soon realized why: they had no control over their child.  While we sat and tried to make pleasant conversation and avoid sweating ever more (the home had no air conditioning), little Ralph was tearing the place to shreds.  He threw pillows, crayons and hot wheels cars in reckless abandon.  He knocked over the lamp and tore the curtains, earning merely a quiet “now, now” from the mother. Our boys were gamely trying to entertain the boy with some lighthearted interaction but lil’ Ralphie was interested in nothing less brutal than a game that involved breaking something in the vicinity.  The father was quietly smiling and looking at a blank television screen, giving me the impression that he couldn’t wait for us to leave so he could watch re-runs of “Gunsmoke.”

As each boy took his turn and came out of the bathroom, I saw a note of grimness on each one’s face.  When it was my turn I discovered why: there was no water pressure whatsoever.  Taking a shower here was like trying to stand under a melting ice cube.  We were sweating more water than the showerhead was delivering.

I realized that the record-breaking humidity was causing us to lose the fight to stay clean, and as well-meaning as the good folks were, the shower pressure was not doing anything for us.  After laying on sleeping bags wiping the unwashed oils off of our faces, I realized that desperate times called for desperate measures.  We still smelled; I had to come up with a plan before we met the girls and the pastor for breakfast.

At five-thirty Monday morning I woke the boys.  “Up, guys – we need to move quickly.  We’re getting washed up.”

“Why are we getting up so early, Doc?  Their shower will still be the same way, no matter what time of day.  And Ralphie will be there, too,” said Tate, standing up and rubbing his head.

Piper rested on one elbow.“I feel all gritty.  Can’t we do something?  We can’t go back there to get another pseudo-shower tonight.”

“Gentlemen, gather close, but not too close,” I said, and the guys obediently huddled up.  “I’ve been thinking about this all night and this is the only solution I can think of.“  I looked around. “You got your swim trunks, right?”

“Sure do, Doc,” said Buck.  Tate also nodded.  “We all do.  Why?”

I looked each one of them in the eye.  “Because in ten minutes, my friends, we’re all going to get the most intensive shower you’ve ever had in your life.  Hurry, we’ve got to beat the traffic.”  The guys shifted and glanced at each other.

“What?” asked Buck.  “What do you mean?”

I continued with as much authority as I could.  “I mean, you don’t want the main street traffic to see you taking a shower, do you? Pull on your swim trunks and head to the van.  We’re going to the car wash. And bring plenty of change in quarters.”

I loaded up the very confused males complete with swim attire, cakes of soap and beach towels.  It was five-forty in the morning.

The boys were groggy, leaning their heads against the windows of the van.  I turned onto the main thoroughfare.  “Does everyone have at least two quarters?” I asked.  “We need quarters.”

“Yessir,” said Tate.  “Just like you said.”

Buck yawned and shivered.  “I had a nightmare about Ralphie.”

In three miles we found a self-serve car wash along the main street.  I pulled the van into the front entrance facing the highway, ahead of the bay of the car wash area.  The van would block us as much as possible from any traffic going by.  I still wasn’t sure if this was legal.

“Okay,”I said as confidently as possible.  “Keep the towels in the van but bring the quarters, boys. Go quickly, now.”

“Uh, that’s gonna sting a bit, won’t it?” asked Piper.

I nodded.  “I guess so.  Pressure from a home shower head is like 60 psi.  This wand is going to be shooting out faster than 800 psi, so yeah, don’t go diving into it.   Here’s what I’ll do. I’m going to be the one who holds the wand steady. You walk in and out of the spray as much as you dare.  Kind of edge into it – it has a wide spray.  If you want to stand on the far end and work up toward the wand to figure out how much pressure you can take, okay.  This is an experiment in industrialized cleanliness, so we’ve got to test different phases.  After the first round of quarters, Piper will take the wand on the second round and hold it still.”

“Gentlemen, this is something we must do. I promise I won’t move the jet spray anywhere other than straight ahead.  You enter and exit and clean as much as you can feel safe. I’m stationary, you’re mobile.”  The boys nodded slowly.

As we pushed the quarters in, I yelled, “And no wise guy punches the ‘wax button’ either!”

And that’s what we did.  The seven of us danced around and took our chances – I can guarantee you, any dirt you have on your body is instantly removed.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that hose can take off a tattoo as well.

After a half an hour of dancing and dodging and watching nervously for passing traffic, we were all virtual gems of cleanliness.  By the next day we had figured out to move in and out of the jet stream without losing too much skin.

The cleansing wash must’ve given the boys extra energy, for the week was an amazing adventure in seeing God’s grace.  The children’s Vacation Bible Time ran each day from ten until noontime and the little ones were learning verses, playing games and winning awards.  As the teens each took turns narrating epic Bible stories that closed out the meetings each day, the parents sat in the back, sipping the RC Colas we supplied and nodded their approval.  They liked what they were seeing and what their children were experiencing.

My cause of concern was the Friday night youth rally.  It was a one-time event, and we weren’t sure if there would be anyone coming, for the response from the area teens was extremely apathetic so far.  Not one had committed to be at the church grounds on Friday.  Still the group kept inviting and informing all teens in the area.  The pastor was very encouraging and optimistic, but I wasn’t so sure.

Friday night came, and it still seemed like this was going to go completely flat.  Nevertheless, we constructed the fairground-like atmosphere with balloons, signs, banners, streamers and tables of food.  It was only one hour before we got underway and nobody in the neighborhood was lurking nearby.  “What’ll we do if only a handful show up, Doc? Like, what if only three people show up?” asked Linda, tying the volleyball net between two trees.

“Let’s just stop right now and pray,” I said.  And we did. The meeting was to start at seven o’clock, to let the evening breezes cool down the church yard.   When six- thirty came and went, I looked around and saw nobody.  We kept blowing up balloons and filling Coke cups.  Lord, I’ll be happy if we have seven show up.  As six forty-five passed by, there wasn’t a visitor anywhere to be seen.  Lord, it’d be great if four showed up.  We kept looking toward the street and didn’t see a car.  Still we hung up streamers and got out the volleyball.

Then at five minutes before seven, it broke loose.

We had been looking toward the street, and not one person came in.  The fact was, they were all coming over the fence and squeezing between the tree branches on the back of the property.

“I count ten so far,” said Linda, stepping back in amazement.

“Look over there!  More are coming down that side alley!” yelled Piper.

Tate made a quick head count as the teens ran over to the volleyball court and started playing.  “Forty-eight, preacher!”

That was the first meeting of what would soon become the church youth group.  We soon found that virtually every teen that came was from a broken home and was looking for stability.  It was the love of Jesus that had the my Tennessee youth group teens befriend and join up with those teens in the space of one evening.  We played three games of sweltering volleyball, ran an arm-wrestling tournament and gobbled down two tables’ full of hot dogs, chips, Cokes and ice cream.

The more cynical side of me figured hat we’d lose a least a third of the visitors once we went inside for the message.  To my surprise and delight (and shame for my lack of belief),  all forty-eight teens squeezed into the church’s main room for my message.

I told the story of John chapter three as simple and straightforward as I could.  I told of Nicodemus’ search and Jesus’ no-nonsense answers.  I shared the truth about the reality of both heaven and hell, and the decision that needed to be made.

“Nobody’s forcing you, friends,” I said in conclusion, “but I’d like to know if there would be anyone who would like to make a decision to take Jesus into their lives.  Would you like to give your life over to Christ and let Him have control?”  The teens held a dead-level stare at me.  “Let’s bow our heads for some privacy,” I said, “and if anyone in here would like to make that decision – the choice to take on Jesus and become a Christian – and you’d like to talk to someone further, would you raise your hand?”

One hand went up.  Two.  Five. Ten.

The hands kept going up and stopped at forty.

I was stunned.  “Uh, put your hands down again,” I said, “but keep your heads bowed.  I want to make sure that you all understand what I am saying.“ I explained it again.  Again, forty hands went up.

“Well, then,” I said.  “If you’re really serious, then look up at me.”

Forty heads raised and looked at me.

“I want to know that you really mean it,” I said.  “if you are serious about this decision for Jesus, stand up.”  Forty teens stood up.

“And if you want to make a decision right now, come forward to the front.”

All forty teens came to the front.

What transpired that night was one of the most amazing events that ever occurred in my ministry.  Forty teens sat patiently along the wall as each of our teen workers, joined by the pastor and his wife, spent careful time with each person in showing both boy and girl the miraculous plan of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It was a moment burned into each teen worker’s memory.  God was working in an awesome way.  After the commitments to salvation, the visitors made promises to come that week for the church’s very first teen meeting ever.

Our ministry was complete.  It was time for us to head back to Tennessee.  The next day, the pastor was holding back tears as he addressed the whole group.   “You’ve made history here,” he said, his voice cracking.  “This ministry will never be the same after this week.  Years from now you can come back here and see the fruits of your labor.”

We were all emotional – it was a special time.

Few things in the Christian walk can surpass the feeling of personally witnessing God’s miraculous kingdom work right before your eyes.


… as we arrived back to Tennessee, happy and victorious with the work that we had witnessed, do you know the first – and may I say the most continuous – comment we heard for the next month?

“You mean you guys actually took showers in a car wash?”


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