It’s just a bowl.
It’s just a souvenir.
It’s just another knick-knack to dust.
But it’s authentic. Made in Honduras (not China), it sits on my mantle in a place of honor. I call it my modern-day stone of remembrance.
Filled with names and prayer requests, it reminds me of a morning my life was changed. A mission trip cut short. A two-day hospital stay in a developing country. A puddle of dried blood (not my own) in my room. A nightmare of pain and disability. A week of uncertainty. And a leer jet lifting me high above the clouds back to the states for hip replacement surgery.
It also reminds me of a hundred children applauding as we entered their project the morning of June 11. Little dark faces aglow with anticipation, excited to spend some time with their American friends. The songs and dances they performed after months of preparation warmed our hearts.
One look at my souvenir bowl brings to mind the beautiful face and voice of Nolvia, the woman who sang and prayed over me as I waited for an ambulance. It conjures up images of Dr. Mejia in his gleaming white coat coming to my rescue.
The bowl also represents tears little ones shed as we talked to God about their problems. It prompts me to keep praying now that I’m back home. And it reassures me that God hears our prayers for the children.
I love how God works. Days before the trip, I noticed a verse in the Bible describing bowls of incense. I discovered that in ancient times, it was the high priest’s responsibility to keep incense burning in the temple. It was never allowed to go out. Perpetual incense symbolizing daily prayers. So that’s why the Bible says to pray continually! These golden bowls filled with incense represented the prayers of God’s people. Prayers stored in bowls just waiting to be answered according to God’s timetable. You gotta love this imagery.
Imagine the fragrance of prayers reaching God’s nostrils in heaven. His eyes closed as He breathes in the words of those who take the time to talk to Him. This picture of God and the bowls intrigued me, so it seemed a natural introduction to our prayer time with the kids that morning.
After listening to my short story on bowls, the chicos wrote out their requests and placed them in the best make-shift bowl I could find. They shared their deepest secrets. Their greatest fears. A mom whose beatings fractured a bone in her little girl’s face. A dad who promised to return but never did. A family who needed work to survive. A child’s desire that his family believe in Jesus.
I hoped our bowl would give them a visual image of how important they were to God. That He cared about their fears. That He would keep their requests in golden bowls in heaven. That some day they would experience God’s answers to their problems. We promised to take our bowl of requests back to Indianapolis. We would not forget. Of course, God wouldn’t either.
But I did forget. In all of the confusion of my fall, the bowl was left lying unattended on the table. It was the last thing on my mind when the pain hit. It was the last thing on my mind when they lifted me in my plastic chair on to the back of Dr. Mejia’s pick up truck. It was the last thing I thought of over the half-mile painful ride to the village clinic. And it was the last thing I remembered during a $12 ambulance ride to the closest hospital.
But God didn’t forget our bowl. It was a good thing our team didn’t either. They gathered it up, and later transferred the contents to the wooden bowl presented to me when they returned home. I will never forget lifting the lid to peek inside. Never suspecting it contained anything at all, I saw Spanish words on little egg-shaped papers. I shut my eyes overwhelmed with emotion. “Oh, God, You preserved the bowl for me. You kept the names and requests. It was important to You.” It was important to me.
Two months later, I still love to open my bowl and leaf through the prayers. I can’t read the Spanish words but as I hold them up to God, I imagine Him remembering each child by name. I picture the incense flowing upward to the Throne of God. It assures me God cares. And He is at work in the lives of those kids.
With all of these memories, I expect victory. Prayers in a bowl erasing poverty from a community. Prayers in a bowl releasing a village from gang control. Prayers in a bowl transforming little children into Kingdom builders.
All because we prayed. All because prayers are held in golden bowls in heaven. All because the fragrance of perpetual prayers rise before God like incense. All because He answers in His time and according to His will.