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Lindsay Base is a 16 year-old high school sophomore who lives outside the small prairie town of Coffeyville, Kansas. She lives on six and one-half acres with her mom, dad, and little brother and sister. She’s been writing stories since she was in kindergarten and has a special interest in history. In addition to writing, she enjoys sewing, baking, piano, volleyball, and track.
This is our secret meeting place, a small hollow carved along a wooded hillside. It is enclosed by swaying, naked trees, and its floor is a carpet of snow-dusted leaves. It is two miles deep into the Transylvanian forests, and we meet only at night. To get here, we twist through mazes of beech and pine and oak, cross a stream on a rotten tree trunk, and file through a rocky gulley. The trees creak and moan while we tread beneath their branches, and sometimes we hear wolves.
But I’m never afraid. Papa says angels go with us to protect us.
Now I shiver in my oversized, threadbare coat and step closer to my younger brother to keep him warm. Mama holds little Ana, and eight-year-old Luminita cradles the baby. The smaller girls huddle around our legs. I glance at Papa where he stands in front of our group of gathered believers. He is tall, and in the yellow light from Domnul Emil’s lamp, I see his face joyous and peaceful.
Everyone waits in silence until the crunch of arriving feet stops. Then Papa closes his eyes and starts a hymn, and the worshipful melody of men, women, and children drifts upward toward the star-sprinkled sky. I too close my eyes and feel my heart grow warm within my chest. I forget the cold while I sing to Jesus. I never want to stop.
When the music finally ends, I sense a power has fallen upon us. Domnul Emil brings his lamp closer to Papa when his large hands dig into his coat pockets for scraps of paper torn from forbidden books. Papa looks at us with blazing, excited eyes before he reads about Christ and loving your enemy. My spirit stirs while I listen.
I know about loving your enemy. The secret police have put my uncle and two oldest cousins in prison. At school, the children and teachers ridicule and beat me. Doamna Marcela yells and throws rotten garbage at me when I walk past her house. But I pray for all of them, and I love them even though they hate me. This is what Papa says Christ did for me before I knew Him as my Lord.
Papa carefully tucks the papers back away and lifts his hands and face toward heaven. When he prays, the treetops stir, and the ground’s leafy carpet shivers. He prays for strength and love, for our brethren suffering in prison, for our brothers and sisters in the West, and for the Communists. All our voices join his in quiet, agreeing murmurs.
And God is here, listening.
Suddenly, a distant, invasive rustling carries on the icy breeze. I turn and see spots of light weaving through the forest, coming towards us. Instinctively, I place a hand on my brother’s shoulder. Whispers circulate, and I sense fear.
“Should we run?”
“Jesus wasn’t afraid to meet his accusers.”
“I must think of my children. They will starve if I am taken away.”
The group shifts like nervous cows waiting to bolt. I look at Papa, and I can tell he is asking God what to do.
“No one’s going anywhere.”
I hear the click of a gun. Domnul Emil’s lamp swings around, and its light falls upon the short, stocky body of Domnul Marius. Domnul Marius’ face is contorted with a scowl that looks like madness, and his raised, trembling hand holds a pistol. He points it toward all of us.
My throat constricts.
I have always liked Domnul Marius. Mama sends me to his bakery every week to buy bread. Sometimes he gives me leftover pastry morsels that melt in my mouth. While I eat them, he ruffles my hair and calls me his “little man.” And he has been part of our brethren for as long as I can remember. No one has ever supposed he was a spy.
Papa’s voice is broken, and Domnul Marius quakes.
We stand and wait, a spirit of grief weighting our spirits. Yet the power of Christ still remains. I sense it around us. It reigns in our faces.
Men dressed in dark blue uniforms surround us. Their long rifles glisten in the lamplight. A tall, haughty-looking man steps forward with his hands clasped behind his back. I recognize him as the man who took away my uncle.
“Well done, Comrade.” He nods toward Domnul Marius, and his eyes are black.
Domnul Marius backs away from us with a look of horror, and his pistol is still raised.
The man scans our faces. His dark gaze stops when it reaches Papa. “You are the instigator of this?”
“These are my sheep, ‘the children God has given me.’” Papa’s voice is calm.
The man’s face twists with rage. He pulls his own pistol and aims it at Papa’s chest. “There is no God!”
A member of our brethren steps forward. “‘The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light—’”
“Silence!” The man whips his pistol around and yells at his police. “Arrest these men. Arrest all of them!”
The blue police trample around us and grab each man from behind.
“We shall never deny our Christ, no matter what you do to us.” Papa’s face seems to glow, and his eyes shine gloriously.
The man turns purple. He strikes Papa hard across the face. “There is no Christ! There is no God! Do you hear me, fool?” He punches Papa in the stomach until he can hardly stand.
A wind sweeps the trees. The women sing.
Tears stream down my cheeks. “Be strong, Papa! Be strong!”
The man stops beating Papa and turns to face me. His eyes are wild with evil. I push my brother out of the way when he approaches and steps behind me. His fingers squeeze my shoulder, and I feel something cold on the back of my neck.
“You say you shall never deny your Christ.” He laughs at Papa. “But you will. Or I will kill your son.”
His gun clicks in my ear, and I see Papa falter. Fear squeezes my heart, although I am not afraid for myself. “Do not forsake Him, Papa! I will be safe in the arms of Christ. Hold on. Be strong.”
Papa’s expression is full of pain, and he turns is eyes toward heaven. His voice trembles. “Not my will, O Lord, but Yours be done.”
There is a tremendous bang. Pain explodes in my neck and spears down my spine. I sink to my knees, unable to stand. I fall and somehow land on my back. My vision is a myriad of light and color. My head tilts to the side, and I barely see Papa crying, praying.
“Be strong, Papa.”
Music fills my ears. It is a melody even sweeter than the one sung by our brethren. Amidst the light and color, I see creatures. The creatures are beautiful, and they are dancing. Somehow, I find myself among them, dancing too.
When I look down, I see the brethren. They are surrounded by holy light. I see Papa. His light is the fiercest.
“Be strong, Papa.”
The angels dance, and I am embraced by the arms of Christ.