John Conrad was not my best Scout. As a matter of fact, he was one of the biggest problems in the troop. Of the 20 boys in the Regina 35th Scout Troop, Saskatchewan, Canada, John was the one who could always be counted on to be where he wasn’t supposed to be, doing what he wasn’t supposed to be doing. But you couldn’t stay mad at the kid. He was just a skinny little 12-year-old with big teeth. He’d look up at you with those big brown eyes and say, “Sorry, Skip, it won’t happen again.”
We both knew that it would.
It was John who whacked himself on the top of the head with the flat of the ax on our first day of camp. It was John who tumbled head over heels from the top of a valley to the bottom, spreading all his camp gear in a trail to be picked up in the dark by others.
It was John who rescued me.
We were on our way to the biggest camp of the year. We had saved and worked for months so we could camp at my granddad’s farm in the mountains. Hiking, swimming, fossil hunting—anything we wanted to do, we could do.
It was a fairly long drive, so we drove during the early-morning hours to save as much daylight as possible for activities. About halfway there, John popped his head over the back of the front seat and said, “Skip, why are you inactive?”
I said, “What do you mean, inactive? I’m your deacons quorum adviser and your Scoutmaster!”
“Well, I never see you at sacrament meeting, so how can you say you’re active?”
Oddly enough, as penetrating as his questions were, I felt as though he really cared. He wasn’t being rude or sarcastic, just direct.
I mumbled something about how my nonmember wife wouldn’t understand about my being away all day Sunday. John said, “Well, you teach us that to be active, we need to go to all our meetings, so how can you say that you’re active when you don’t come to sacrament meeting?”
Before I could form a decent rebuttal, John was on to his next question. “Brother Spencer, do you pay your tithing?” All of a sudden Skip the Scoutmaster was gone and I was “Brother Spencer.” I felt like I was in front of the branch president for one of those personal interviews that I tried to avoid.
I once again tried to shift the blame onto my nonmember wife. “But how can you say that you are active if you don’t pay tithing and don’t come to sacrament meeting, Brother Spencer?”
“I guess I can’t,” I replied.
“Well, are you going to get active?”
What a question! It was four in the morning. I was tired, and this kid was asking me to commit to change my life. But how do you lie to a boy asking a sincere question? I couldn’t say yes and I couldn’t say no.
“I can’t make a commitment to you, John.”
“Well, will you think about it?”
“Yes, John, I will think about it.”
“Good, because I will ask you again.”
That boy ruined a perfectly good camping expedition. I couldn’t put the challenge out of my mind. When he and a friend set fire to Granddad’s pasture, I hardly even exploded. When they took down all the leaders’ tents during our mega-water fight, I didn’t bat an eye. Ten years of semiactivity weighed on my mind. For the first time in many years, I took a long and really hard look at myself.
At the end of the camp, I took John aside. I made a commitment to the Lord, with John as a witness, that I would start going to sacrament meeting the next Sunday. I committed to start paying tithing with my next paycheque. I told John that I could only do it with his help.
“I’ll help you, Skip,” he promised. And he did.
John befriended my wife and children. Each Sunday he would check on my progress. “I’m praying for you,” he told me. He was still a pest, but a loving one.
Four months after I made my commitment, John and I went together to get our patriarchal blessings. Four months after that, my wife was baptized. I performed the baptism and John was there. A year later, my wife and I were sealed in the Alberta Temple.
Whenever I look at myself and the changes in my life since the day John confronted me, I ask what would have happened to me and my family if he had been afraid to ask those questions. Then I thank my Heavenly Father for a 12-year-old Scout who had both courage and love.