Chapter 22.    Memories

With Roger's acceptance into the community completed, Juan reeled in Sean and Anna from the duck pond, and Dave suggested that they celebrate with a meal at McDonald's before returning to Leichhardt. The motion carried without dissent, and with strong support from Sean, who cheered:

"McDonald's! Yeah! McDonald's!"

He was a properly brainwashed product of the fast food culture!

Cherry whispered to Dave that they should guard against spoiling Sean just because he was likely to leave them soon, and she asked Dave to pass the message on to the others.

Dave dutifully passed it on, but it was virtually impossible for any of them to act as though nothing had happened.

Although they usually took it in turns to supervise Sean in the tunnel maze next to the restaurant, this time everyone volunteered to go out into the play area with him, and Greg got into trouble for climbing into the tunnel after Sean. He would have gotten away with it, except that he tried to turn around, got a cramp in his leg, and then had to be helped out. He made such a fuss over the cramp that it brought one of the staff out to see what was going on. Sean thoroughly enjoyed the entire spectacle.

When they were back at the canal, they made a small campfire and sat around it telling stories. Anna started it off by commenting on how Greg's experience at McDonald's had made her think of a story that she had heard from the early days of the Sydney bin raiders, when it was just Dave and Cherry working on their own.

The two of them would often sneak into churches on a Saturday night and put tracts in the church hymnals. One church had been locked up tight, except for a small window high up on the side wall of the main auditorium. Dave had managed to squeeze his bottom through the hole, with the intention of holding on to the window frame while his feet dropped through. However, he got stuck halfway. His legs would not come through, and he was afraid to call out to Cherry, for fear of alerting the neighbours. Cherry walked several times around the building looking for Dave before she spotted him. He was too high up for her to reach him, and he looked like being stuck in the window until the congregation arrived the next morning. Eventually she managed to get a door open and to climb up on a pew inside to give Dave a hand in getting down from his embarrassing perch.

Sean said that his funniest memory was the time when the men all dressed up like babies and they passed out pamphlets about becoming like little children. "Daddy was wearing a nappy!" he shouted gleefully, "And a old lady pinched his bottom!"

Juan recounted the time when they wrote Christian messages on thousands of dollar bills. They had just sold a vehicle, and asked the bank for $3,000 in one-dollar notes. What they received were 3,000 freshly printed notes. Their plan to distribute the notes was to go from shop to shop asking if they could have a tenner in exchange for ten ones. If they pulled out ten mint condition notes, the shops would suspect that they were counterfeit, and a close examination would have revealed the messages written on each of them. It could have made the whole project fail. So they decided to make the money look 'used', by wadding up each note, putting it through the wash, and then hanging it out to dry before writing their message on it.

"It gave a whole new meaning to the term 'laundered money'," laughed Juan. "There were about twenty clothes lines strung across one bedroom, with hundreds of notes pegged up on them."

Cherry told her favorite story about her "angel". A man suffering from Down Syndrome (whom she had never seen before) walked up to her on one of the main streets of a northern suburb of Sydney one day, shook her hand, and then kissed her on the cheek before walking off. "It's not so much a funny story as one of the nicest things that has happened to me when I was out on the streets," she said.

Dave's funniest memory was when he had been witnessing to a couple of young churchgoers in Sydney. He had been telling them that God would feed them if they would just use their time to help others. Both of the men had been arguing against such a doctrine, on the grounds that it was not workable.
"You can't just expect food to come falling out of the sky," one of them had said.
"At that very instant," recalled Dave, "a couple who were apparently involved in a heavy argument, walked past us. The woman took off running across George Street, and the man, who was carrying a piping hot pizza in a cardboard box, threw the pizza at my feet and ran off after her. I picked up the box, opened it, and said, 'How's this? Home delivery from God!' I then offered some to the two young men, and the three of us ate our fill of pizza while I shared more about God's miraculous provision."

Greg's favorite story was about Wally, a former member who had, a few winters earlier, gone on a "survival outreach" with him and Juan between Bendigo and Ballarat, in Victoria.

On survival outreaches, the participants decide for themselves what the rules will be. Basically, they try to survive on fewer provisions than they would normally take with them. Wally, who had worked as a camel safari tour guide in the Northern Territory, believed that he could get by with just about nothing.

"The rules we made were that we couldn't take lifts from no one," said Greg. "We were gonna walk the whole way from Ballarat to Bendigo. For some reason I can't remember, Wally wanted to do it in sandals. Well, the straps broke straight away, and Wally walked most of the way barefoot in the cold. We come across a foam cushion and he wrapped some of that 'round his feet. He stretched his socks over the foam, to hold it on too. But the bottoms wore out of his socks in no time. I gotta hand it to him, but; he never complained. Just kept soldiering on with his feet blue from the cold.

"It started rainin' too, and we was all soaking wet with no place to sleep. We found a public toilet and it had a hand dryer in it. Wally stayed up most of the night pushing the button every time it turned off, so's he could re-start it and keep himself warm."

They all laughed as they remembered some of Wally's bush tales.

"Can I tell a story from the same walk?" asked Juan. "Remember how Wally found a pocket knife right at the start of the trip? We hadn't even walked a hundred metres when he found it. Wally showed us a lot of grasses and flowers that we could eat, but it was hardly enough to make us feel full. In the middle of the day, I whinged about wishing we had some meat to eat.

"That's when Wally said, 'How does koala meat sound?' Sure enough, there was a dead koala lying right at his feet. It had been killed by a car, and from the look of things, it had been quite a while since the accident had happened. The poor thing was stiff as a board. But that didn't bother Wally. He skinned it, and cut up the meat while Greg and I lit a fire. You shoulda' seen it. It was green as could be! Wally made out that it tasted really great, and he ate his fill; but Greg and I had one bite before we gave up. It was as tough as leather, and it tasted like eucalyptus leaves!"

When they had finished with their stories, Juan gave a little talk, mostly for Sean's benefit.

"I want to say something about being strong," he said. "We have a lot of good memories about things we've done together, don't we? It's easy to be strong when you're part of a strong group. But you know what God does when he thinks you're really really strong? He gives you a chance to stand all alone for him. Only the toughest, strongest Christians can do that."

"Boy, that would be hard to do," said Dave. "Do you think any of us is strong enough to live for Jesus all by ourselves, with no one else to help us?"

"What would you do if God asked you to go away from the group and stand alone for him?" Juan asked of everyone in general.

"We'd have to pray a lot," said Greg. "I wonder if we're praying enough now."

"I pray every night," said Sean, and everyone went suddenly quiet, as they waited to hear what else he had to say. "When I'm sleeping, Jesus talks to me. I don't have any bad dreams now, but when I was little, I had bad dreams, and then Mummy said to pray for dreams from Jesus when I go to bed. Now I only have good dreams.

"When is Mummy coming home?" he finished up, turning toward Juan.

"Not for a long time, Sean." Juan was fighting to control his emotions. "God must think that Mummy is one of those special strong people, because she's all alone, isn't she? And you've been a big, strong soldier for Jesus too. You've hardly complained at all with Mummy in jail. Maybe God thinks that you're one of his special people."

"Does Mummy cry for us?"

"Yes, I think she does. But she talks to Jesus too. And she has other friends in the jail that she can talk to, so that she won't feel so sad."

"If I was by myself," said Dave, "I'd try to think about what God wants, and not do things that I know are bad - not even if other people do bad things."

Anna joined in. "Yes, a strong Christian won't do bad things when other people do bad things.

Like when that girl was being naughty at McDonald's today… Remember that, Sean?" Anna was referring to a girl who had crowded in front of Sean, pushing him to the ground. He had not complained or tried to hit back.

"That's right. Sean was very strong then, wasn't he?" said Juan. "He didn't hit back or anything. I think you must be one of the strong people that God can make stronger by putting you on your own."

"But I don't want to be away from you," he said emphatically.

"No, I'm sure you don't. None of us wants to be alone. But if you were, God could still help you to be good and to be strong. Do you believe that?"

Sean just frowned and hung his head.

"I don't want to be alone," he said, with his lips pushed out in a pout.

"Don't you worry about it just yet," said Dave. "God won't give you more than you can take."

And he ruffled Sean's hair. "How about if we sing a song, and then you can be off to bed?"

"Can I sleep in the tent tonight?"

"I think we can manage that," said Juan. "But it'll be crowded."

Arrangements were quickly made for Juan, Greg, and Sean to squeeze into one of the little two-man tents, and for Dave and Cherry to sleep in the van.

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