When I was in a Franciscan community for a whole six months some years ago, one of the things that we did was live sometimes in situations without electricity or hot water. That meant that you would need a wood-burning stove to heat the place, and the water, too. So, whether you’re in the main house or the little single-man hermitage house, you need to get a fire started if you want heat or hot water.
So one day I was in the little one-man hermitage house, and it was January. I had plenty of wood, but there was a problem: getting the fire started. I didn’t have anything in the little house to help start the fire, but fortunately when I went outside into the woods and walked for a little while, I found what I was looking for:
I mean, the bark on the birch tree. The birch is the tree that looks really old because its bark is all white. Well, did you know that birch bark is the best fire starter in the whole world? It lights fast and easy, and burns steady, all the way through. It was cold, wet winter, and the birch bark I got was wet through. But it still started like tinder, I was amazed – and saved!
This was the year of El Niño in Ecuador. That means that the people get ready for some heavy rains in the coast that cause a lot of flooding. To prepare, one of the things that the schools do on the coast is they send the kids to school on Saturdays so that they can end the school year early for the rainy season, which is right now. Now, where I am located, where are on the Coastal school plan, but we don’t get the same rains like the coast does. So, the kids here now have a 3-month-long vacation season. When I see the kids and teens in the street as I go by, I ask, “Hey, how’s it going .. What are you doing?” And I always get the same answer, every single time: “Nada.” Nothing. It’s cold in Chontal. It’s time to light a fire.
So, I’ve been working on some plans to try to start a youth group. Groups start just like fires – you need the firestarters who can get it going. You need people who catch fire quickly under any conditions, and stay burning, so the slow-burners can get their exposure and catch fire too. I am looking for a certain type of person.
I am looking for birch bark people.
In Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist says that Jesus is going to come and baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. For Jesus, it’s time to start a fire. Later on in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I came to cast fire on the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” (Lk 12:49-50) Now, let’s stop for a minute here and re-do that last sentence. In the original Greek, “I have a baptism to be baptized with” could also be translated as “I have a baptism for the world to be baptized with”. That makes more sense: Jesus can’t wait until he baptizes the world with the Spirit and fire.
That’s why Jesus sought out the apostles and disciples first. He was looking for people who would catch fire quickly and under any conditions and stay burning, so that when the Holy Spirit came as tongues of fire at Pentecost, the rest that would come along could get their exposure and catch fire too. So that the whole world could catch fire.
Jesus was looking for birch bark people.
There is a need to restart the fire in the church and the world. Jesus is looking again for people who catch fire quickly under any conditions and stay burning so others can catch fire too. He is looking for birch bark people.
Could it be you?