Editor’s note: missioner Tim Shelgren recounts a divine experience in a Jamaican restaurant in Washington, DC.
Since last winter, when I first applied to participate as an overseas missioner with FMS, I have been asked numerous times to “think about and explain why and where it is I feel called to serve.” This question has posed a challenge for me.
Over the course of my life, I have mostly trusted, and simply followed my intuition, which I believe God gives each person as a guide. However, Formation with FMS has also given me a variety of discernment-related tools to help recognize the will of God. I have appreciated and utilized these tools, but to discern exactly where God is calling me to serve—Bolivia, Guatemala, or Jamaica—God used a third method. Here is the story…
In October, FMS sent my colleagues and me to Ossining, NY for a one-week “Collaborative Formation” experience with a group of Maryknoll missioners-in-training. To pack for that week, I used my Swiss suitcase, which has sentimental value because my son lives in Switzerland with his wife and daughter, and I have used that suitcase on trips to see them. Unfortunately, on the trip to Ossining, I packed my suitcase way too full, and the zipper broke. When I went to throw the suitcase in the dumpster back in DC, I couldn’t do it. My sentiment toward my Swiss family was strong, and I slid the suitcase under my bed. I thought, “maybe later.”
Then, three weeks after, I was out bike riding one evening with a friend and we decided to go out for dinner. During Formation, going out for dinner is extremely rare, so I tried to be creative and make the event special. I said to my friend, “Let’s eat at a Jamaican restaurant.” Part of my inspiration came from a YouTube video that showed a music teacher working in a Jamaican school to which FMS is connected. As a lifetime student of piano and voice, this clip excited me, and I began to think that maybe God wanted me to get excited about the possibility of working alongside this teacher by learning more about Jamaican life and culture.
“A Jamaican restaurant it is, then,” my friend said. With the help of Google, we picked one that showed up within a mile from his house. We parked our bikes and walked to this delightful, bright little eatery called Sandovan Restaurant and Lounge. Upon walking in and sitting down, I immediately felt inspired. I loved the music that was playing, the yellow and red walls, and the beautiful people around me, many of whom might have actually been from Jamaica.
Within two minutes, a very friendly woman, who was sitting two tables down with her dinner companion, started talking to us. Among many of her fun, kind words, she said, “You’re in for a treat; the food here is fantastic!”
“Wow,” I thought, “if everyone in Jamaica is as fun and friendly as that lady, I want to go to Jamaica.”
Then, just before our food arrived, the woman returned to our table. She said, “Here, take my card. I fix suitcases and shoes.”
I replied, “Did you just say you fix suitcases?”
She said, “Yes. Bless you. Goodbye.” Out the door she went with a smile and a wave.
Dead silent, my friend and I looked at each other. I couldn’t believe that a complete stranger just came up to me in a Jamaican restaurant and told me to call her to get my suitcase fixed. She did not know I had a broken suitcase. And I did not know that suitcase-fixers even existed. My friend and I laughed out loud, and then I said, “I think God just handed me a telegram. Look close, I bet it says, ‘You’re going to Jamaica!’”
Now, I can officially say that, yes, I am going to Jamaica, an awesome fact which FMS confirmed four weeks after the encounter in the restaurant, when I received my news from God.
Discernment tools are useful, and intuition is valuable. But, I can also say that, in this case, neither of those methods were ultimately necessary. Instead, via a stranger, God simply walked up to me, handed me a telegram, and gave me an appointment to get my suitcase fixed!
(P.S. Our Jamaican meal was, indeed, fantastic.)
Reflection question: Can you think of a time when God spoke to you through a stranger?