I remembered the split when Taylor called to organize a tract blitz. He’d convinced me to join Peterborough Bible College’s witnessing team last year, even though I was still in high school. He said I had the gift of evangelism. I mostly thought it was because my dad had given me an old Corolla over the summer. Taylor spoke excitedly over the phone about driving to Markham for the Christmas street festival on Friday.
“Sorry,” he said. “Holiday festival. You and me. Philip Meestra for sure. I’ll try to find a few more.”
“There’s only seatbelts for five.”
“Make sure the trunk is empty.” Taylor laughed. “I’m expecting a lot of interest. Ash McClelland will probably come, you know her, right? Tom McClelland’s daughter.”
“McClelland,” I repeated. It sounded familiar.
“Missionary to Pakistan. He’s so into incarnational ministry that he married a native. Been planting churches in Hindu villages since the eighties, man. The guy has led hundreds of people to the Lord. Tom McClelland is a modern missionary hero. His kid’s at the college.”
I said I didn’t know her, and I was distracted for the rest of the conversation. I was remembering the split, for some reason. I must have been ten years old when it happened.
My family had always gone to St Catherine Bible Chapel behind the memorial park. Then there was a fight. Mostly I remember old men in suits yelling in the sanctuary. And my father; his face was red as if he were yelling, but his mouth was squeezed shut. We started going to a different assembly after that.
I went to bed thinking about it. The next morning, at Glendale Bible Chapel, I looked at the great world map on the missionary prayer wall. The Americas stood rigidly in the centre. Europe and Africa were to the right, Australia to the left, and Asia, split in half like an ox on the altar, lay on both sides. Dozens of photos of missionary families surrounded the map. Each was pierced by a tack, and each tack anchored a thick thread that connected the missionaries, across land and sea, to their countries of service.
The McClelland’s photo looked new. Tom McClelland, arm around his wife, Ajoti, was pale amid his family. Their son stood taller than his father. Their daughter looked about my age, and smirked as if she had a secret. I remembered her name was Aishwarya without having to read the card. I couldn’t remember why I remembered.
After the service, I went to the chapel library and found a copy of Tom McClelland’s book, The Foolishness of Preaching. It was about his first decade of ministry. There was a glossy cluster of black and white photos in the centre; Tom McClelland preaching to a seated crowd; Tom McClelland opening a clinic; Tom McClelland in a turban, laughing. I lingered over a photo of Ajoti McClelland standing seriously in a field with a baby on her hip and fat white bangles on her arms. The caption didn’t say which of their children it was.
On Friday I drove to the Bible college to pick up Taylor and his recruits. I still hadn’t gotten sick of Five Iron Frenzy’s new album, so I took the long way and sang with the windows down despite the cold.
“It’s kinda catchy,
kind of a virus,
cuttin’ your hair like Billy Ray Cyrus!”
I tried to keep it under the limit because speeding’s a sin, but the song was pumping me up. I crested Clonsilla, and my guts rose as I sped down the hill to Lansdowne.
“Feel the power of the Phantom Mullet!
Tremble and cower before the Phantom Mullet!”
Peterborough Bible College was a tiny school on the edge of town sitting in a wide cleft of trees beside an open field. Across the road was empty farmland. I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes early. Outside by the main doors, two of the professors were taking their coffee break outside as if it wasn’t grey November.
“Taylor’s chauffeur arrives,” thinly bearded Professor Jordan said as I got out. “Sharing the Gospel in Markham tonight, I hear?”