The Christmas Bell (page 5)
The Christmas Bell
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5
The word spreads
A couple of old ladies rode by on their bicycles and stopped to see what we where doing and what was the former village pastor doing kneeling next to a hole in the ground. They walked up, took one look at the bell, and were off like a shot towards the village. I have never seen anybody, much less a couple of old ladies, pedal a bicycle so fast.
     Soon others from the village came. Even the director of the island’s museum showed up. There was quite a crowd standing around and four of five of us tried to pull the bell out of the hole. It wouldn’t budge and finally somebody brought a front-end loader and the bell was lifted up and carried about a quarter mile to the church There it was placed on the floor inside and the pastor held a short service to bless it and welcome it back to its home. When the day finally became dark and I asked the old man to give me a ride home, there were still people standing around talking and pointing at the bell and at the old man and me.

Home for the holidays
A few days later I went home on Christmas leave and the flight out of Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, took me right over Hiiumaa. I looked down at the cross-shaped island, and said “Merry Christmas” softly to myself as I thought about the beautiful sound the bell would make, ringing in its first Christmas service in 50 years. With the cold crisp nights, the sound of the bell would reach to neighboring villages, beckoning people to come and see the Christmas miracle in Emmaste. I felt a surge of Christmas spirit like I hadn’t felt since I was a kid.

Back on Hiiumaa
The holidays in the U.S. passed quickly and soon I was on a plane back to Estonia and then, by bus and ferry, I made my way to Hiiumaa Island. The first Sunday I was back, I went to the church to talk to the current pastor. He greeted me warmly, and asked me if I had heard about all the fuss.
     I nodded. “But was the bell in the tower for Christmas?”
     The young pastor gave me a strange look.

Back in the tower
  “Of course it was in the tower for Christmas. Five men from the village put it back up.
     How perfect, I thought — five guys had taken the bell down, five friends who had never been able to return and complete their plan, and now five others had done it for them.
     We went inside the church and walked to where a thick rope was hanging down through a hole in the ceiling. I reached out to touch it and then turned to look at the pastor. He read my thoughts and, with a smile, nodded his head. I turned back, grabbed the rope with both hands and pulled as hard as I could.

    From the Office of the President of Estonia, Lennart Meri
    December 24, 1994

    On Christmas Eve morning the President decreed that his salary for this month should be given to Emmaste Church on Hiiumaa so that their church bell, which was found in a miraculous fashion, could be restored to the bell tower.
         The President has turned to the United States Peace Corps and asked that his personal thanks be given to Volunteer Douglas Wells from Omaha, Nebraska, who found the bell with a metal detector.
         The President added: “As a result of the occupation of Estonia, the Emmaste congregation took down their bell and hid it in the bosom of the earth, that it would survive until the restoration of the Estonian Republic. Months and years turned into decades. The hidden one's exact location faded from memory, but the memory of the bell waiting for its time to come burned bright. The national memory of the Estonians was only made stronger by the iron grip of the occupiers.”
         “Let the wondrous return of the Emmaste Bell to its tower be a present-day Christmas present to all Estonian people. Let the peals of the bell bring peace, loyalty, and love throughout Estonia, bringing news of the Christmas miracle that has been born among us.”

Merry Christmas Everyone.

A film production company — Critical Mass Films LLC — has been established to make this story into a film. You can visit their web site at Joel Waters (Lithuania 1993–95) is the producer.
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