Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mission Impossible

It was never said out loud, never really discussed, but there was always this feeling that Baptists were this weird Christian cult when I was younger. I think it was the way that the Catholic clergy would sort of acknowledge their existence as if, "Well, they have fallen. We would welcome them back, but they have a long way to go. Their message is mostly right, but they get some stuff wrong."

And the Lutherans were almost treated as the halfway mark between being Catholic and being one of those weird cultist. "Well, they technically left the church, but most of our traditions and teachings are in tact. Really, they just lack sanctioned leadership."

I never actively thought much about Baptists. North County was a Catholic stronghold. I never really had to consider Baptists. In fact, I was unsure if they actually existed outside of the south.

So in high-school, we started seeing flyers for these war games called Mission Impossible. You met at  First Baptist Church - Harvester on a specific day, paid $5 for the bus ride and crew that set things up, and were whisked away to a farm out in Lake St. Louis.

I had a pretty close-knit group of about five guys at the time. Eric and I debated for roughly a week as to whether or not do this. We didn't know how closely affiliated with the church it was, both of us growing up Catholic, didn't want to be put in a weird situation.

Turns out, two of the other guys in our group actually went to that church. It was sort of one of those punch you in the stomach, "Oh yeah, the world is much larger than your views and lifestyle" sort of moments. They had assumed we were Baptists, we had assumed they were Catholics, turns out, you can totally hang out if your beliefs don't line up as long as you're not a jerk face.

So they talked us into going.

I was 16 at the time. I remember being able to drive Eric, Ben, and me. We showed up at the church, gave our five dollars, got out team assignment, and then were shuffled into the church while we waited.

Inside they handed us cards and asked us to fill out our contact information. For the first time in probably a decade, I thought, "I should really call my mommy and find out if this is OK."

I think I gave our old North County phone number and address. Either way, I know that I didn't end up getting any calls or mailings, but Eric did.

Anyway, we bused off to this farm and the set up was beyond anything I imagined.

The game involved you getting a mission (a piece of paper) from your base, sneak to the center of this huge field where a tent was set up, get the mission stamped, and then get back to your base.

They had rented a cherry picker and had it extended as far as it would go and set up two spot lights on it. The spot lights were hooked up to sound systems. So if the spotlight caught you, you would hear gun fire and have to give up your mission.

They had the Army ROTC crew in camouflage chasing us around. If they caught you, you went to jail and had to stay there until you heard a buzzer signifying your jail time was up.

They had dug tunnels out of certain parts of the terrain where you could crawl to the center base.

It was an incredible set up.

My team ended up having a lot of non-church goers from my high-school on it. We were doing pretty well. Every quarter they would tally up points and we were typically in the top 2.

Then, our team leader suggested everything is fair in war and we needed an edge. The team leader started handing us 3-5 missions at a time. That way, one or two could get torn up on the way to the base, but we would still have 3 points we could get stamped.

Now, as a side note, our team leaders were all part of the church. There's a part of me that thinks they were told to do this as a sort of morality test. And we failed terribly.

The last quarter of the game, we tripled our score, leaving all the other teams in the dust. We thought for sure, we were going to win this.

Then the game ended. We were sat around a big bonfire and told to wait until the bus arrived. This is when Eric and I felt really uncomfortable. One of the youth pastors asked for everyone to hold hands and pray. And then when done praying, he asked everyone to hug as a sign of brotherhood.

Eric and I went to two Catholic churches with a very hands off philosophy. The worst part of the Catholic service is when you had to shake hands with the people that had been coughing and sneezing all around you.

In a sort of homoerotic but survival mode, Eric and I just sort of put our arms around each other like true brothers for a long embrace, not giving a chance for any of these sweaty strangers to touch us. If they approached we sort of stared them down a little.

After the hug session, they announced that my team won, but were disqualified because we cheated. They gave the win to the second team, which I believe was $10 Wal Mart gift cards to each person.

So I guess this comes to the, "What is the point of this? What did you learn?"

Well, I learned that Baptists aren't cult members. In fact, I married one and now have many swell Baptists in my life. 

I learned that either cheating doesn't pay off or that I'm just terrible at cheating. 

I learned that when faced with hugging sweaty strangers, I would rather have a long bro-tastic embrace with a buddy of mine.