I parked at the aquatic center, gathered up my swim suit, towel, and goggles, turned up my collar, pulled tight my took, and was immediately swept away from the below-zero, bone-chilling, snow-gently-falling January morning. I was swept away to one hundred degrees Telica, Nicaragua not by anything I saw. Rather, my mind was captured and taken away by something I heard.
It was the sound of bells.
Actually, it was the sound of a light pole next to my car. In the howling wind, the pole swayed back and forth in a perfect rhythm that caused the interior cables to beat against the exterior aluminum skin. It sounded exactly like the sound of the church bells on January 6th 2014 at 5:00 a.m. emanating from the Roman Catholic church in the center of Telica, Nicaragua. Telica a terribly poor remote village where I’ve twice visited on mission trips from my local church.
It wasn’t the distinctive sound of ringing that I’d grown accustomed to in upstate New York, serving in a lifetime of ministry and growing up as a preacher’s kid. It wasn’t a sweet, well tuned ding-a-ding-a-ling. The sound was more like dong-dong-dong-dong, repeated over and over until everyone in the village was woken from their slumber.
Telica’s church bells don’t exactly peal.
The occasion, of course, was the Epiphany of our Lord, the presentation of Jesus. The church was rousing parishioners to gather for a pre-dawn celebration, a Mass to mark the occasion of the travelers from the East following the star to find the newborn baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
The wise men from the East traveled a long way, obediently following the star, heeding the the call of our Heavenly Father, to seek out and find the new King of Creation, to present him with royal gifts … gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The Biblical narrative of the Epiphany of our Lord brought me spiritual insight on a cold January day, three years later and half a world away. I too had responded to the urging of God. I too had traveled a great distance. I too had brought gifts worthy of my King. My gifts may have been clothing, medical supplies, and my talents to teach Bible school, … not quite as grand as gold, frankincense, and myrrh … but my most important gift was the gift of friendship. I showed up. I made friends. I loved, and received love in return. That love comes from God, and my life would never be the same.
That’s what international missions has done for me, and continues to do for me. How about you? Are you ready to answer God’s urging?