Meet Me at the Sauna

I know some guys who get together once a week to play golf. Or to watch sports on TV. I know some guys, myself included, who meet with other men once a week for coffee and conversation, in an effort to help each other grow in the Lord and be faithful to our wives and families. Until two weeks ago, I didn’t know there were guys who met at the sauna every week. If you go to Moldova, a little country in eastern Europe, you can find these guys. You may even be fortunate enough, as my oldest son and I were, to be invited to join them. It will be for you as it was for us, one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. It would have been even more unforgettable had the men experienced sauna like they normally do, without clothing. I thank God that they chose instead to wear at least a speedo, for our sake. As Micah said to me later, “Dad, there’s some things you just can’t un-see.”

Words cannot describe the experience; you have to be there. We baked in the dry sauna, in temperatures that continued to climb through the evening until they maxed out at 110 Celsius. Do the conversion. After 15 minutes in the oven — my mind flooded with praise to God that I will never experience hell — we leaped into a pool where the water temperature was 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I asked the men before I jumped if my heart would survive the shock, and they all shrugged and said, “Probably.”

We went from sauna to pool over and over, and then we sat in a room and sipped bitter tea. “This will cleanse your liver,” they told us as we made a face with the first sip. I told them I felt like my liver was pretty clean, and they offered another tea I could drink if I didn’t want the bitter libation. “This is women’s tea,” they said, and smiled as they pointed to a much milder drink. I screwed up my courage and proceeded to cleanse my vital organs, helped by a teaspoon of honey with each sip.

The three hours of male bonding ended with the most muscular of the men taking turns beating each of us with an oak branch. I am not making this up. The branch had been soaked in a bucket over night, so the leaves were hydrated. He methodically struck us on our chest, back, legs, and the bottoms of our feet. The idea, they said, is that the moisture and the heat is pressed into the deep tissue and even into your organs by the hot, wet branch. Umm, OK, I’ll have to take their word for it. I just know that my whole body was on fire for that final plunge into the pool, a leap that I had grown to look forward to.

Lest you think we lounged around in our bathing suits all week, let me explain. Antioch Community Church sent us to Moldova to meet with men, and to teach them how to be spiritual leaders in their homes, and how to love their wives and children. Everywhere we went, we met men who were hungry to hear what the Bible says about this. We spoke in one village where the power had been out for two days, and it was 45 degrees in the church building. Sixty men sat in their winter coats and gloves and listened for two hours, and then stayed longer to ask questions and to fellowship together. They thanked us and asked us to come back and teach them more. Micah and I were humbled by the response everywhere we taught. We heard older men say, “We wish we had heard this 30 years ago.” We heard younger men say, “We have not been leading and loving our families the way we should; may God help us to change.”

We came back with encouraged spirits, full hearts, and tired bodies. I probably need to go to the sauna. Meet me there; I’ll bring the oak branch.