Our Scoutmaster, Dave, picked up a piece of wood, dropped it on the fire and, as the flames eagerly consumed the wood, began telling us how important we were to him.
Dave talked until that stick had crumbled into a hundred glowing embers. He told all ten or eleven of us, individually, why he loved us. He spoke of his love for his own family and ended by humbly proclaiming his love for God and the Church. Then, as abruptly as he had stood up, he sat down into the glimmering shadows.
In the silence, I peered around the blaze’s circle and saw my friends’ faces in the flickering light. Tears made tracks as they slid through the dust on their cheeks. Everyone stared at the fire, watching almost hypnotically as the wood burned down into incandescent coals. For one of the first times in my life, I didn’t conceal the flow of emotion. It felt good to feel.
There was a rustle of unfolding, and up stood a good friend, a club-sized stick in his hand. Sparks sailed noisily into the pitch sky as his stick dropped into the flame. He followed Dave’s example. Emotional words of love and appreciation, as well as hopes and doubts about the future, came haltingly out between sniffles and tears. When finished, he too stepped back into the shadows.
During the next two hours each one of us did something we had never tried before. We bore our testimonies. They were small seedling testimonies, but undoubtedly they sprouted tremendously that night. The spirit around the campfire seemed to tap each one of us on the shoulder as a cue that it was our turn. Shy, less-outgoing boys revealed more about themselves in a few minutes with a few heartsent words than during the many previous years I had known them. The loudest and roughest boy in the troop exposed a soft inside, a desire to love and be loved for who he really was.
Somewhere in the middle of that unforgettable night, my hand reached for a piece of wood. I found myself standing by the fire, looking down at my buddies. I told them that I cherished their friendship and loved them as brothers. That’s not easy to do for a thirteen-year-old who wants to appear cool, but it was easy that night.
I continued, expressing thoughts about my brothers and parents, how and why I was so proud of them and glad to be a member of my family. My doubts and hopes about God and the Church flowed out from under a thick blanket of inner fears and anxieties. I expressed a desire to always feel this close to my family, friends, and especially my Creator. There, on a knoll in the Utah desert, I felt like one of His children for the first time in my life.
Other campouts came and went with the same reckless exuberance and energy, but also with a new troop tradition. Upon finding a campsite, while the tents were popping up, a pile of sticks was always gathered and set aside near the fire pit. That pile of wood would turn into yellow embers that night as our troop held a now anticipated “stick on the fire meeting.”
It was a simple tradition that Dave started, but for me it had eternal consequences. I felt touched for the first time by a warm, spiritual feeling and became interested in life’s real questions. I studied and found answers in the gospel. These answers later led me to serve a mission.
When I think about those campfires of my youth, I imagine another fire burning down to glowing embers on a barren beach in Galilee long ago. I see a teacher, the greatest of all, standing at the fire and stirring to life the embers of testimony in the hearts of eleven eager, yet unsure students. “If thou lovest me, feed my sheep,” he told them. Dave’s words changed the course of my life; the Savior’s changed the course of all time.