Songs of promise

Markus Gamache serving in Nigeria and  Linda Shank serving in North Korea Photos by Carl Hill and Robert Shank

Markus Gamache serving in Nigeria and
Linda Shank serving in North Korea
Photos by Carl Hill and Robert Shank

A reflection by Kendra Harbeck, manager of Global Mission and Service office

Do you remember when you first heard the birds sing this spring? I, unfortunately, do not. I’ve been so caught up in other things these past two months that I’ve missed the birdsongs of promise.

This is ironic because I have longed deeply for spring this year. I probably have every year, but it seems especially acute after the harsh winter our community has experienced with stings of financial concerns, significant leadership changes, and deaths.

I was more in tune last year with the singing of the birds. On a Sunday morning in February, I stepped outside in the still cold air, and I heard it. The sound was so normal and mundane, but had been absent for several months. The birds were singing the arrival of spring, and yet, it was still quite obviously winter by the calendar, the cold temperature, and the desolate landscape.

Curious, I investigated who those songbirds were and why they were singing in February. According to National Geographic, the chickadee and woodpecker are the first birds to announce spring. These birds survive harsh winters by finding whatever food and comfort is available. Woodpeckers, for example, drill into trees to find insects. As John Hanson Mitchell shares, “They must look at a little pinhole and say, there must be something in there.” These resilient winter birds, prompted by change in daylight, begin their singing.

As humans, we are fooled and encouraged by signs that are obvious but deceiving. We moan and groan until it’s noticeably warmer or trees are in bloom, and yet these signs may be gone soon after they appear. Thanks to instincts and hormones, however, birds are much wiser than us. They welcome spring inspired by a more reliable and trusted source: the light. It is also worth noting that it isn’t the newly returned, light-hearted birds that herald the promise of spring. It’s the same birds that remained all along, battered by winter storms but transformed by the changing light within.

In Global Mission and Service, we encounter many “winter birds” in our work— people who persist through cold, dark times, and are sustained by the light and a song within. I think about Markus Gamache, our liaison with EYN, who persists in showing love despite much violence through sharing his home with up to 50 displaced persons and through bringing Muslims and Christians together in shared community. I think about Linda Shank, who each year, despite significant health challenges, returns to North Korea with her husband, Robert, to teach English and agricultural science at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. We all have winter birds like these in our lives if we stop to think and notice.

We, too, are called to be winter birds. Like the chickadee, we can adapt to the winter by finding strength through community. Like the woodpecker, we can look at something tiny or insignificant, and say “There must be something in there.” Though we are winter birds in a winter world, we have a spring song of promise, energized by the never failing light of Christ that grows in our hearts.

Global Mission and Service is a Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about our international partnerships at or support the work of Global Mission and Service today at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

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