“Sh-sh-sh” Tom crouched in the shadows, pressing me against the cold bricks. Footsteps echoed in the empty street. I held my breath as the soldier passed, his AK-47 reflecting the street light.
My wrist device beeped the hour and new day, 24:00:00…09/17/23..; its LCD glowing in the darkness.
“Shut it up!” Tom hissed.
I fingered the tiny buttons; PHONE OFF, INTERNET OFF, POWER OFF.
I followed Tom around the dumpsters and abandoned cars, trying to keep his dark form in sight. I also wore a black shirt, pants, and hat; our faces smeared with grease. We slipped between a pizza shop and bar. A neon light flickered in the window. Tom glanced back, behind me, before tapping on a steel door, camouflaged in graffiti scribbles.
A crack appeared, and a deep voice whispered, “Identify yourselves.”
The crack widened, and a whiskered face eyed me. I could feel the doubt in his gaze. A siren screamed down Washington Avenue, and Tom glanced about nervously.
“He’s safe; trust me,” he whispered to the eye at the door.
We entered a damp passageway and climbed some narrow stairs. At the third apartment, Tom knocked and repeated the password.
We entered a crowded room, darkened with black curtains and one dim lamp. I counted ten or twelve others, also dressed in dark clothes. A mumble of voices greeted us, and I fidgeted under their stares.
After we squeezed along the back wall, a man continued reading from his tattered book, illuminating the pages with a flashlight. “And ye shall be hated…”(Mark 13:13 KJV)
Tom whispered to the one beside him, “How long has Pastor Smith been here?”
“Since five o’clock yesterday. There have been dozens of believers, coming and going, all day long.”
I leaned closer to catch the holy words of prophecy. “…nation shall rise against nation…”
Suddenly, the door banged open. Four soldiers burst in, thrusting the door guards into the center of the room. One slammed the door shut, and the captain growled, “No one move!”
After the initial gasp, then silence, I began to hear soft whisperings of prayer. Mingling with the fear, there also was a sense of peace and trust.
“There will be no assemblies under the laws of Histanidama! You must disperse! Show your ID chips!” He pulled a portable scanner from his belt.
I fingered the hard lump in my palm, the chip that everyone received at birth. A young girl sobbed. I could feel my pulse pounding in my ears.
“Show your chips!”
He grabbed the wrist of the closest believer and turned the palm upward, sliding the machine over it. Hearing a negative beep, he tried again. With a frown, he shined a light at her palm. A red scar marked her skin.
Palm after scarred palm he twisted and searched, his curses growing louder. He stepped closer and closer to me, and I slowly slipped my hand behind my back. In desperation, he slapped Tom across the cheek. “Where is the teacher of Jesus? I know he is here!”
No one spoke; no one moved. Whispered prayers floated about the dark corners of the room.
Swinging his rifle in their faces, he roared, “Tell me, or you die!”
In awe, I watched them, even old women and young children, face its barrel with confidence. How can they be so calm? Will I be as brave to defend this new-found Redeemer?
One young man, Jonah, shaking and sweating, broke under the pressure. “It’s him!” he said, pointing to Pastor Smith. “He’s the teacher.”
The soldier swung around to face Pastor Smith, his comrades quickly handcuffing the preacher.
“Take him away,” commanded the captain.
“What about the others?” one asked.
“With their leader gone, they’ll run like scared mice!”
Cries and pleas for mercy filled the air, some to the unrelenting captain, some to their Almighty Lord.
Pastor Smith turned tearful eyes to his flock, and looking at the bowed head of Jonah, he gently said, “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord….”
Then they were gone.
The remaining ones clasped each other in comforting embraces, and tears flowed down many cheeks. Philip, an older man, wrapped his arms about my shoulders. I heard him whisper, “Sunday… 27 Hudson Street.”
What kind of faith is this, that evokes such dedication, such strength, such love?
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