I think of The Spice Man often. I remember him when I reach for my large jar of whole cloves to make an orange pomander. I am reminded of him as I dust a fresh grating of nutmeg on quiche Loraine. I think of him when I see the cinnamon stick tucked in the jar of Pickled Lemons, sitting on my kitchen counter.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Mark navigated a ship that transported liquified natural gas (LNG) from Arun, located on the northern tip of Sumatra Island, Indonesia, to Japan. While the LNG loaded, Mark visited the nearest town, Lhokseumawe, to make telephone calls. One day Mark called to ask if I could use a kilo of cinnamon sticks. While walking down the main street of Lhokseumawe, he had found a store that sold whole spices by the kilo. The price was right—just a few dollars— and I decided that foot-long cinnamon sticks would be useful. Over the years Mark also brought home whole nutmegs, whole cloves, black pepper corns, white pepper corns, and whole, licorice-flavored anise. Each kilo package was neatly wrapped in newspaper.
Dozens of preschoolers have rubbed The Spice Man’s cinnamon quills on sandpaper, and delighted in the pungent fragrance. I have given jars of nutmegs, and nutmeg graters to friends. Andrew and Hannah have studded numerous oranges with cloves. One December, Andrew sold orange pomanders door-to-door in our neighborhood. I could afford to be lavish with the spices that The Spice Man provided at such reasonable prices.
As Mark, once again, prepared for the familiar flight to Japan to join his ship, I reminded him to buy additional packages of spices, and to convey my thanks to The Spice Man.
Several weeks later Mark called from Lhokseumawe. He told me that he had found the spice store closed, and had inquired on the street about The Spice Man’s whereabouts. He learned that the man and his family were Christians from India, and that they had made their home in an apartment behind the spice store. One Sunday morning “a gang of Muslim thugs” had broken into their store, and waited in the apartment for the family to return from the worship service. As The Spice Man and his family entered their home, they were murdered.
Stunned and saddened, I contemplated the violent ending of this precious family. They remain the only people in my life whom I know to have been martyred for following Christ.
My neighbor, The Spice Man, was a blessing to me and my family. I don’t know his name, but Jesus does. It is written in the Book of Life.