Dear Reading Friends, this is David Telbat. My COIL novels would be a little dull without a little Christian romance and courtship included once in a while, right? Of course, COIL agents aren’t only fiercely dedicated to the preservation of other Christians and the delivery of the Gospel. They’re also men and women with families, or single men and women devoted to Christ, awaiting their appointment with a spouse, as God wills.
And where there are COIL operatives, there is Christian fellowship and local congregations to attend. Fort Yukon is no exception. We see God moving in the spread of His truth and in the care for one another amongst His servants. Meet Brandi York and Conrad Malkin…
by D.I. Telbat
Brandi York noticed the new face in their Sunday morning fellowship the instant she walked into the small Alaskan chapel. It had to be Conrad Malkin, the one they’d been praying for, the agent associated with the Commission of International Laborers. COIL field workers weren’t new to their church since the Christian aid organization’s arctic training center was based in Fort Yukon. Even Brandi worked for them. But Conrad was to be its new director, which meant he was in Fort Yukon to stay.
Before the morning service started, Brandi sat to the far left where she always did, and observed the brothers and sisters she’d known for years. As always, they were warm and encouraging, but with Conrad there, the room seemed electrified. Their prayers had been answered for his safe arrival through Canada and his expected appointment. He was shorter than even Brandi was, but his enthusiasm and hearty handshakes made him seem taller. He seemed just the kind of disciple for Jesus Fort Yukon needed to stir up their faith.
As the call for opening prayer neared, Conrad excused himself from a few of the others and darted down a row of chairs over to Brandi.
“You’re Brandi York, aren’t you? I’m Conrad Malkin.” His smile reached his eyes and his handshake was firm. “I’ve heard good things about you, especially your apple pie. COIL agents need their nourishment, too. I’ll wear them down during training, and you’ll revive them with your cooking, huh?”
“I look forward to it.” Brandi smiled back, not used to the attention of strangers, though Fort Yukon didn’t see too many. She watched his smiling eyes closely to see if they flinched with disgust at her scarred face, withered left eye, or missing hair. But his eyes didn’t even stray to where her left arm was supposed to be—now an empty sleeve she kept pinned up. “We’re happy to have you, Conrad.”
“We’ll talk this week.” He pulled away as one of the elders cleared his throat to begin the service. “The first wave of recruits are flying in Friday!”
Brandi normally didn’t have trouble concentrating on the Bible teacher’s words, but that Sunday, she kept adjusting her posture to glance covertly at Conrad sitting in the middle toward the front. He was alone and didn’t wear a ring. Was he really single?
Laughing inwardly at herself, Brandi wondered why his marital status was only a matter of interest now that he’d noticed her. Some COIL agents were married, so she expected he might even have a family since he wasn’t stationed in a volatile foreign country. Whether the local COIL agents were married or not, Brandi was a COIL staffer herself, assigned to cook and bake for anyone in camp.
After services, Brandi chatted with a couple women, but her mind was still distracted by Conrad. He’d parked himself near the front door, and was engaged in a conversation with one of the morning’s teachers as he shook the hands of departing attendees. Brandi felt herself flush at the idea of more attention from the charismatic man. Such silliness! Of course, he gave everyone equal attention and a sincere smile. Why was she in such a fluster?
Having only one arm, Brandi usually turned toward the wall to struggle into her winter parka. She’d been disabled since her teens from a propane accident twenty years earlier, so she’d developed a system for just about everything. Even tugging on a coat took her only a couple seconds longer than a two-armed person. Except this was a new parka, and throwing the empty sleeve over her missing arm felt awkward. Anyone in the congregation would’ve helped in an instant, if she’d offered herself to them; they were all like family. But she preferred to be independent, and an instant later, she triumphed over the bulky coat.
However, she may have achieved a place for the parka over her armless shoulder, but it was still unzipped in the front. Normally, she would’ve pinned part of the coat against the wall, even in her teeth, to zip the zipper. As common as that would’ve been for her, she didn’t want others to feel uncomfortable with her awkward process. Besides, it was a short walk through the brisk weather outside to her apartment at the edge of town. With her Bible in her pocket, she gripped the front of her parka closed and headed for the door.
“It’s about rest for the soul in Christ,” Conrad said to the teacher as she drew nearer, “not a self-maintenance that leaves us exhausted. The way you taught it today was profound!”
“Thank you, Conrad, but it wasn’t my idea.” The teacher laughed with the COIL agent. “It’s the way the Lord designed our dependence on Christ’s finished work.”
Brandi was tempted to stop and listen to their conversation, but she’d already donned her parka. Not wanting to interrupt, she started to slip between the two men. In such a small town, goodbyes were hardly necessary, since they’d see each other in passing throughout the day, and often during the week.
“What if Ezekiel 36 were approached with the doctrine of rest in mind?” Conrad asked the teacher.
Now, Brandi was between them, and Conrad reached toward her. Most people in the fellowship knew that when her only hand was clutching something, she didn’t shake hands. But for Conrad, since he was new, she would oblige. She turned toward him and released the front of her unzipped parka.
“It’s a truth that should improve our view of God’s love,” the teacher said. “The whole Bible and salvation itself should take on a new light for us.”
Instead of taking her hand, Conrad nodded at the teacher’s words while he connected the zipper of Brandi’s parka. Uninterrupted in his focus, he zipped the zipper to her chin, then touched her shoulder as if to signal her readiness.
“Thanks,” Brandi mumbled, and pushed through the door.
Outside, she stopped in the light flurry of snow, the afternoon sure to become more blinding. Normally, she would’ve marched straight ahead, but Conrad’s gesture caused her to pause. His touch had been familiar, with genuine care, rather than the pity of a stranger toward a helpless child. He’d wanted her to be warm, regardless of her disability. There’d been no showmanship to his care, no desire for attention, no grimace at her scars. Rather, his attention had been natural, his mind on the matter in the Bible, his heart on the matters of—
Brandi realized she was crying before she reached her apartment. One-armed or not, she was a tough Alaskan. She even chopped her own firewood! She could fend for herself or ask for help if she needed it. But Conrad’s Christian love, even for her, a stranger—a mere invalid to most visitors—caused her heart to soften.
The winter was long in Alaska, and in the weeks and months that followed their first meeting, whenever Brandi parted from Conrad, she approached him without forethought so he, without fanfare, could zip up her parka. It became a matter that some of the women in church began to notice, Brandi saw, and they in turn told their husbands. But everyone seemed to approve of the simple courtship—of Conrad, a devoted COIL operative, and of Brandi, a faithful COIL cook in the small town of Fort Yukon.
She and Conrad were married in the spring.
You can find other short adventure stories here by D.I. Telbat.
NOTE: Christian Books Today, online newspaper, included David’s short story, “Vacation Operation – Egypt,” in their 10/8/15 issue. You can enjoy it here through the link in their “Leisure” section.
NOTE: Okay! Those awaiting news about Distant Boundary, Prequel to The COIL Legacy, can NOW see the new cover here! 🙂 We are very happy with the work of Streetlight Graphics! What do you think of the cover?