Never believe the lie that you aren’t valuable
The quiet on the deck was welcome as I stood by the rail. Always an early riser, it had become more pronounced as my journey took me into time zones behind where I had come from. I supposed most of the other passengers were busy packing their things. It was already after breakfast and we would make port in just a few hours.
It hadn’t taken me long to pack the small travel case I’d brought. When I’d received the notice that I was being called back, I’d given away most of what had served as my wardrobe. There would be no need for the colloquial garb that I’d become accustomed to in the many years I’d spent in the place that had become my home. I had fully expected to live out the full number of my days there but apparently, that wasn’t to be.
There had been no reason given by the powers that be for the recall and no negligence cited. The work was successful and self-sufficient financially. It appeared that there would a replacement for me sent. Perhaps, I considered, they thought me too old and ready to retire. I know there is still plenty to give left in me.
Suddenly chilled, I pulled my overcoat tighter around me. It wasn’t as if there was much of a breeze or that the little brush of one was very chilly but after spending so many years in a humid, sun-drenched climate, I reckoned it would take some time to acclimate to the one I was travelling toward. I gave a silent, grateful acknowledgment to the kindly host who’d met me in London and upon observing the foreign nature of my dress, along with the depth of my tanned, weather-beaten complexion, had graciously provided me with the coat and a couple changes of clothes more appropriate for Western culture.
As I gazed toward the horizon, knowing it was too soon to expect the harbor landscape to come into view, I pondered what lay ahead for me. Just as the ocean skipped and rippled along, stretching as far as the eye could see and ending only at the horizon, I had no clue. There had been no notification of a new post, no indication of what might be in store. I sincerely hoped I was not expected to retire and simply fade away. The future stretched before me, unyielding and unknown. It seemed bumpy and unsure at best.
I exhaled. My nature is not to worry but with one work left behind and none in front, there seemed to be little else to occupy my thoughts.
“Good morning,” came a deep, friendly voice.
“Hello,” I replied, turning toward it and grateful for the distraction. The crossing had been uneventful and pleasant and while I hadn’t met many of my fellow passengers, those I had become acquainted with had been amiable.
Slipping a notebook and fountain pen into the inner pocket of his lapel, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a worn silver lighter. He tapped the pack so one came forward and he extended it toward me.
I shook my head.
With half a shrug, he slipped it out, put it between his lips and after several tries hindered by the breeze, managed to get it lit and took a deep draw. His eyes wandered over me curiously. “What do you do?”
“I beg your pardon?” It had been some time since I’d been confronted by the directness of people from the West.
“Your line? You know, work?” He clarified, his expression bewildered.
“Oh,” I replied with a grin. It was an effect I’d seen on many faces since travelling back. “Missions.”
“Missions?” His interest appeared piqued. “You mean, military work?”
“No.” I gave a small chuckle. “Church work.”
“Oh.” With a little embarrassment, he looked at the cigarette, prepared to toss it overboard. “Sorry.”
With a reassuring grin, I stayed his hand. “Don’t be.”’
Now he looked even more curious. “You don’t look like a preacher.”
I guessed he must have meant my tan. Then I realized, he was one of the journalists on board. There was someone of note travelling with us and I’d seen the lot of them loitering about, trying to appear nonchalant while hovering in unlikely places like empty hallways, hoping for a glimpse, a quote or a tasty tidbit for their respective papers and radio broadcasts. Knowing it was the nature of his work to be inquisitive, I just continued to smile. “Right. I pastored a church and ran a school and benevolence program for the natives.”
“Natives? You mean, like bringing civilization to savages?” He seemed intrigued.
Patiently, I shook my head. “Not exactly. More like bringing to gospel to souls in need. ”
His brow wrinkled with confusion. “What does that mean, exactly?”
“Teaching people about Jesus and their need for a savior.”
Taking a final draw on his cigarette, he flicked it into the water. His face cleared and he shrugged. “Oh well, I don’t know about all that.”
I opened my mouth to respond but before I could, there was a commotion further down the deck.
Immediately diverted, he grabbed his notepad and pen hastily from his pocket and turned toward it. Over his shoulder as he hurried away, he tossed, “Well, good luck, preacher.”
With a sigh, I turned back toward the water; an opportunity lost. I didn’t bother with the source of the commotion. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had. We didn’t receive any Western papers where I’d been, let alone any of the entertainment or news magazines and had only recently acquired a wireless. Television wasn’t even common in affluent Western homes yet, much less in that part of the world. I wouldn’t have recognized a celebrity or public figure if I’d seen them and wasn’t particularly interested. With a sigh, I returned to my reverie, but nothing changed.
Lunch had just finished when the announcement came that we would be docking shortly.
I made my way to the comfortable cabin my denomination had so kindly provided for me and gave the room a once over to be sure I haven’t missed anything. Not that there was much of a chance of that; I wasn’t carrying much more than necessities but neither was I in a hurry to observe the farewells and greetings of other passengers leaving the ship.
When it seemed as if enough time had passed, I made my way from my cabin below to the upper deck to disembark. My timing served me; the hallway and decks were practically empty, except for the remaining crew.
“Good afternoon, sir.” One greeted me as he passed. “Hope you enjoyed your journey.”
My response was a smile and slight nod. Everything had been more than satisfactory; not first class like the famed traveler, whom I understood to have eaten all meals in their cabin, much to the dismay of those who had hoped for a sighting, but pleasant.
It appeared that our illustrious fellow traveler had also waited until the coast was clear to make their exit, or entrance possibly, judging by the crowd gathered. On the pier, the excitement in the air among those anticipating the arrival was nearly tangible. Surrounded by an entourage, including journalists and snapping photographers from onboard, it was impossible for a bystander like me to even catch a glimpse, but I wasn’t exactly trying.
I waited until the group had left the gangplank and the frenzy had moved away before I walked slowly down to the pier, glancing in the direction of the fading hullaballoo. With a sigh and no one in sight, I tried to decide what I should do. It had been many years since I’d been in New York. I’d need to get a cab to the modest hotel booked for me, I supposed. I didn’t know anyone here personally any longer, though I’d grown up in a suburb of the city. Looking around for a cab stand, I muttered. “Lord, I’ve given my life in service to you. Yet there’s no one here to greet me; no fanfare, no band playing for my coming home.”
A hand grabbed my arm.
Startled, I turned to see a curious figure standing beside me. His stylish suit of fine linen, a pristine Fedora atop his head, he answered. “Your reward is with me. There are far more waiting for your arrival than these you can see.”
Craning in anticipation, I attempted to see past him but saw nothing and no one unusual; no crowd, no excitement. “I don’t understand. Where are they?”
“Son,” he said with a knowing smile. “You’re not home yet.”
I bent to pick up my valise but when I stood upright. He was gone.