Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Who Stole The Salsa?

One of my first experiences with a mean deacon as a paid church staff person was at a small church I served while I was in college. An unexpected ice storm made driving the interstates dangerous and many Christmas travelers were stranded in our town overnight. Every hotel, meaning the one by the interstate and the one in town, was full. Our church leaders decided to open the church fellowship hall as a shelter. Weary families were thankful to have a place to spend the night and a chance for a hot meal. Little did they know how hot their meal would actually be.
While the church staff, many of the deacons and other various church leaders prepared beds and tried to make the impromptu guests comfortable, Deacon Dan took it upon himself to take care of the cooking.
“Everybody out of the way!” he declared as he made his way into the kitchen. These people need something hot in their bellies!”
Mrs. Edna, one of my choir members and the president of our Women’s Missions Society, shook her head as she watched Deacon Dan go. “Now there goes a man on a mission!” she declared. “We could all learn something from that man.”
A few minutes later, after an ear piercing interlude of banging pots and pans, Deacon Dan yelled from the kitchen, “Who stole the salsa? What’s the world coming to these days? We work for years to get God’s people to tithe and when they finally do we’re able to save a few pennies to buy salsa and then something like this happens. Why would anyone take the church’s salsa?” The other deacons chose wisely not to respond and continued preparing the makeshift beds. Seeing that no one was going to respond to him, I sighed and made my way to the kitchen to help Deacon Dan find the stolen salsa.
“Ha!” he cried as I entered the room. “There’s the culprit! Where’s that salsa? What did you do with it?”
I tried to answer my accuser. “Deacon Dan, I just…”
“Don’t bore me with your confession, Slick,” he interrupted. “Just fork over the stolen goods. I can’t believe you college kids these days. Just waltzing right into a church’s kitchen and stealing God’s gallon of salsa.”
“Deacon Dan, I…”
“You should be very ashamed of yourself, Sneaky Fingers.”
“Deacon Dan, It’s on the counter behind you,” I pointed out.
“What? Where?” he exclaimed as he spun around and grabbed the large container. “I knew that it was around here somewhere.” Then, with no apology or any acknowledgement of his false accusation, he stared me down and asked, “Now, are you ready to watch and learn?”
“Uh, I guess I could…”
“Good,” he exclaimed as he dumped the entire container of salsa into a pot large enough to bathe a small child.
“Wow!” I said. “That’s a really big…”
“Silence!” he exclaimed. “Never interrupt an artist at work or you get sloppy masterpieces.”
So, I watched in horrified silence as he added water, condensed milk, spaghetti noodles, pork-n-beans, kidney beans, tomato soup, spaghetti sauce, and Beanie Weanies to the concoction. He pulled a long wooden spoon from the drawer and with a sinister laugh began to stir his creation.
“Deacon Dan?” I asked timidly. “I’m not familiar with this recipe. Is it going to be a soup or a spaghetti meal of some kind?”
“Yep,” he said as he stirred heartily. “And they’ll like it, too!”
“Are you sure that people will want to eat that?”
He laughed to himself and shook his head. “Son,” he said. “I know that you are just getting started in church work which means that you really don’t know squat, but I’ve been a deacon for 41 years, 5 months, and 9 days.”
“Wow, that’s very…”
“And do you want to know what I’ve learned about people during all that time? Do you want to hear some practical church advice that they don’t teach in that fancy college of yours?”
“Sure, why don’t…”
“Well, I’ll tell you, boy!” he said as he put his arm around my shoulder and drew me close. “People,” he said dramatically, “will eat anything as long as it’s tomato based.”
“That’s what you’ve learned about…”
“That’s right!” he cried as he turned me around and looked me straight in the eye. “Tomato based. Now you just remember that!”
Somehow, I managed to sneak out of the kitchen and away from Deacon Dan. For a half hour or so, I busied myself greeting our visitors and preparing beds until I heard him yell out, “Soups on, everyone!”
To my surprise, every single guest rose from their beds and lined up to eat the tomato based concoction. I expected to hear a loud uproar of complaints from the weary travelers, but instead I heard a chorus of appreciation. By the end of the night, much to the delight of Deacon Dan, the contents of the massive soup pan had all been consumed.
Many years have come and gone since that night and, to be honest, Deacon Dan and his advice have been the furthest things from my mind. However, I thought of him recently as I perused our church food pantry. I found spaghetti sauce, chili, pork-n-beans, tomato soup, and Beanie Weanies. I laughed when I looked for salsa and found that it was missing.
“Deacon Dan was right!” I smiled to myself. “People will eat anything as long as it’s tomato based!”
The night of the ice storm, all I thought of Deacon Dan was that he was a mean old man who wanted to cook gross food and point out how inexperienced I was. Now, as I reflect upon that evening, I remember a funny eccentric deacon who left his family at home over the Christmas holidays to minister in a way that no one else wanted to do. As odd as it may seem, I am honored that he took the time to pass on a bit of his culinary wisdom to me.

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