You've of course heard the story — the three wise men brought baby Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Whatever star you're following, if you're in the market for frankincense or myrrh, there's a merchant in Wanatah that can hook you up with the best stuff.
Ryan Bambrick runs Northwest Indiana Trading Co., an international business based in LaPorte County that trades in frankincense, myrrh, resins, essential oils and ginseng. The company imports resins that are used in church, for prayer, as an anti-inflammatory palliative and in cologne.
"It's an international company, but we're based right here in Indiana," Bambrick told The (Munster) Times. "We're proud to have Northwest Indiana right in the name."
In 2012, Bambrick started a company that does retail, bulk and wholesale sales online. Northwest Indiana Trading Co. imports all-natural frankincense from the Al Hajar Mountains in Oman, and Myrrh from Somaliland in Somali. The product is often shipped directly from the source to the customer.
"Both myrrh and frankincense is on trees just growing in the wild," he said. "It's as close as it can be to organic without being certified organic. There are no pesticides being used."
Northwest Indiana Trading Co. imports the same hojari frankincense the Sultan of Oman burns in his palace. Bambrick says the frankincense harvested on that mountain is the best in the world because of the soil conditions and weather conditions, and the Omani government's policies that the trees cannot be over-harvested.
"It is relaxing," he said. "It has a unique smell with citrus notes to it. It's a type of smoke that's generally healthy for you to breathe in. It's a good option for burning incense when you have parishioners with asthma."
Orthodox and Catholic churches across the world use frankincense in religious ceremonies. Orthodox churches burn it during prayer, while Catholics mix it with olive oil to make annointing oil, Bambrick said.
He does business with countries all over the world, including Australia, Spain, France, Ireland and Norway, often through Amazon and a variety of commercial websites, including frankincense.net and nwitco.com.
Business picks up around Christmastime, and some parishioners use their tithes to buy resins for their churches. But the biggest boost happens during the Holy Week after Easter when Orthodox churches want to stock up on the best-quality frankincense, he said.
"I grew up in a more traditional religious background," he said. "It's stated in the Bible incenses are burning when prayers are going before the Lord. It's nice to know how it adds symbolism, and adds to the intimacy of prayer and worship."
The resins are additionally used for a wide array of secular purposes. Frankincense has been used as an anti-inflammatory for health purposes for thousands of years. Bambrick doesn't market it for that purpose, but realizes some customers use it that way. It's also edible, sometimes mixed into tea, and chewed like gum in Saudi Arabia.
Bambrick deals with buyers and sellers around the world, and speaks German, Spanish and Gaelic. Though his customers often speak English, he's trying to learn Bulgarian, Arabic and Cantonese so he can exchange pleasantries and forge better business relationships.
He's working to build an online retail outlet in Canada, which is his top goal for 2016. Eventually, he hopes to employ more than a few full-time employees in Northwest Indiana, most likely in warehouse operations.
"One of the reasons we do well is we buy the best of everything," he said. "We buy the oils and resins directly from the people who are sorting, harvesting and distilling it."
Bambrick mostly fills small retail orders to churches and monasteries, but also brokers sales of several tons.
"It is a Christian product, and I am a believer," he said. "It's exciting to be part of something, of people's intimate relationship with God."