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Ocean to original owner

20-year journey of missionary’s class ring is told

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — About 20 years ago, an American missionary in Honduras was snorkeling off the Caribbean island of Roat’n about 40 miles off the mainland. He spotted something glittering on the sea floor and swam down to investigate…

Not long before that, Dwight Cenac had boarded a flight out of Jacksonville headed for Los Angeles, where he had a role as the villain in a Christian-themed film set in the world of street racing. “Jesus vs. drag racing,” he says, chuckling.

When he woke up on the plane, he immediately noticed something missing: His class ring from Seacoast Christian Academy. It was a little too large, and he had always worried about it slipping off his finger.

He looked around his seat and up and down the aisle, growing increasingly frantic. No sign of it. It was gone.

Cenac felt terrible. His mother had bought it for him, and was decorated with his graduation year (class of 2000) and the name of his school — which his parents had founded. His name, Dwight Cenac II, was engraved inside in tiny letters. There was no replacing it.

Cenac, who was then pursuing a career in acting, went on to Los Angeles to make the movie, but the loss of the ring bothered him for years, he said, like a pebble stuck in his shoe.

Jump ahead to Dec. 21, 2020, just before Christmas. That’s when Cenac, who’s now 38, got a message on Facebook from a woman he didn’t know, Christina Estrada.

Was he Dwight from Seacoast Christian Academy? she asked. Had he ever been to Roat’n or perhaps one of the nearby islands, perhaps 20 years ago? Had he lost something valuable to him there?

He was mystified. He’d never been to Honduras. What could she be talking about?

Then he thought: His parents had been on mission trips, including Honduras. Perhaps his father, who’s also named Dwight, had bought something for himself with his name inscribed on it and lost it.

He thought some more: Estrada had asked if he was Dwight from Seacoast. Does it say Seacoast on it, he asked her. Yes, she replied.

“At that point it just triggered in me — there’s only one thing that would have my name and Seacoast on it. That’s when I said, ‘Is this a graduation ring?'”

It was, and after a couple more questions — Estrada wanted to be absolutely sure the ring was going to the right person — it was on its way to Cenac in Jacksonville. He wanted to pay her for it, but she refused. That wouldn’t be right, she told him.

Cenac recently wrote about the experience on his Facebook page, telling how he never expected to see the ring again and how fortunate he was that it had ended up with the Estrada family.

“We had a wonderful cry session,” he wrote.

Quite a Journey

Estrada’s husband, Matthew, was a missionary who had built churches in Honduras. After he found the ring in the water, he put it aside thinking he’d never find the owner. That was years before Facebook, years before Twitter.

The couple met in April 2018 and were married shortly after. They live in Fayette County, Ga., south of Atlanta.

As Christmas approached, the Estradas thought about selling the ring to get more presents for their children. But then she got out her magnifying jewelry loupe — she had one because she likes antique jewelry — and got a good look at the inscription, which included the name Dwight Cenac II.

She knew she couldn’t sell it, at least not without first looking for Cenac. “I’m a believer, so I just felt the Lord urging me to find the rightful owner, that there may be a story behind it,” she said in a telephone interview last week.

She turned to Facebook, but it took her some time and effort to find Cenac. His account, he said, had been eliminated by the company in the runup to the election as it cracked down on any sites it thought might be fake.

He had only just managed to get a new account reactivated when Estrada’s message came through.

“Making Dwight’s Christmas made my Christmas far more important than any presents I could have put under the tree,” Estrada said. “It was just a lot of fun to be part of that.”

Cenac ponders all it took for the ring to get back to him, all the unlikely steps the ring took on its journey, how it ended up in the ocean in the Caribbean, getting found to getting home.

He’ll never know for sure why all that happened the way it did, and he’s OK with that.

“Me, personally, I think this was a message from God,” he said.

‘There’s A Story’

After Cenac got the package containing the ring, he let it sit unopened for months. He couldn’t quite get himself to look inside. Was it too good to be true, he thought?

“There’s a crazy part of my brain that’s saying, maybe it’s a big joke, a prank,” he said. “But who would know to make that prank?”

He knew that wasn’t likely, so he thought about perhaps opening it before the congregation at the church his mother, Connie, pastors.

“There’s a story here,” he said. “There’s a message here. There may be somebody out there whose at that point in their life where they need to hear this.”

Still, he left the envelope sealed, week after week. Until last Monday.

That’s when he finally opened it and saw the old class ring, looking like new. Wow, he said to himself — I never thought I’d see you again.

“I put it on,” Cenac said. “It’s snug, but it fits.”

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