Monday, January 27, 2014

Cleansing Fire

I’ve been privileged to spend a lot of time in El Callejon these past few weeks, helping Daisy with our first groups of 2014.  As much as I enjoy HR, it’s fun to be back in the Social Work Site, interacting with the community and students. 
Today Daisy and I took the students to visit Tona, one of the women in the community, for a lesson in one of the many tasks the women here perform.

The pan is placed upside down on the flames.
Dominicans love cooking on ‘fogóns’, which are outdoor stoves.  It gives food a smoky flavor, and since it uses wood, they are more cost-effective when gas for the indoor stoves is pricey. 

Of course, cooking on open flames means pans get coated with thick black soot.  So, once every month or two, the women clean them back off.  They take pride in having pans so shiny you can practically see yourself in them - like looking in a mirror, Tona told us.

To get the pans clean, the first step was… putting them back onto the fogón!  It seemed crazy, since, that was the very thing that made them so dirty in the first place!

With a little help from a machete to scrape off the worst of it, the pan transformed before our eyes.  Almost as if unseen hands were wiping away the dirt, the silver color began to appear.  If we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we wouldn’t have believed it!
Tona checking the fire. 
(Note how clean the pan is!)
Using two machetes, Tona carefully put the pan on the ground and poured water into it.  The water immediately began to boil, the heat from the fire turning it into steam. 

When the pan had cooled, special bar soap and a coarse steel scrubber were used to get off the remaining black.  This was followed by steel wool to give it a bright shine.  Both of these steps took lots of elbow grease! 
Tona told us that cleaning the 8 or so pans takes all day.  She also told us that every pan cannot withstand this rigorous process.  Pans made of inferior material melt, destroyed by the heat.  How do you know which are which? Daisy wanted to know.  To our untrained eyes, they all looked the same.  Tona kind of shrugged.  You can just tell.
The students take turns scrubbing with
steel wool and soap.

As I watched the transformation, so many thoughts jumped into my mind!  The first was how much I am like the sooted up pans.  Filthy, seemingly beyond help.  The students and I all commented that if we were in the US, we’d never do this.  The amount of work, the time necessary, well, it is easier to just chuck them out and get shiny new ones.
I’m so thankful that God is willing to invest the time into cleansing us!  That He doesn’t just toss us out, but is committed to seeing us shining and clean.

Of course, the process is not always pleasant!  The fogón was hot.  In fact, Tona told us that the fire must be intensely hot or else the pans will never get clean. 
Likewise, when we go through the refining fire of God, it is not quickly passing our palms over a single candle flame.  It is our entire selves plunged into raging, hot, fire.  There is pain in the process, but it is the only way to be cleansed.

Filthy and 'useless', the pans have been transformed
and now shine brightly!

I also thought about the song that says, “Wash me and I will be whiter than snow”.  To my American mind, washing is something done with a fluffy washcloth and scented soap that leaves my skin feeling smooth and smelling yummy.  It is gentle and enjoyable.  Being washed like that is pleasurable.  But, is that what it takes to be ‘whiter than snow’?
And again, I think of how I often judge others, deciding that they are ‘too far gone’ to be helped.  In a community like El Callejon, where the hopelessness is often palpable, it is easy to feel that the best thing to do is shake the dust off our feet and start again someplace else. 

Oh, Father, forgive me!  I have received cleansing from You.  It has been hard and painful for me, but for You, too.  You had to cope with the heat, with the grime, with sore arms scrubbing away the soot.  You inhaled the smoke, Your eyes watering, lips drying out, as You focused Your attention on the task at hand. 
Holy Spirit, fill me so that I can withstand the cleansing fire, the water, the steel wool.  I don’t want to melt and be destroyed.  Only in Your power can I emerge, renewed, reflecting Jesus. I am nothing in myself, but when I am cleaned, I can reflect Him.  Help me to endure to shine out His love, His power.

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