Long ago, in a world different from ours, there was a large village called by the name of Hudea. This village was like nothing you or I could imagine living in. There was no electricity or running water. There were no cars or trains. There were no big stores with flashing signs and no fancy restaurants. The houses that the villagers lived in were small, but built well to withstand the harsh winters that seemed to last for most of the year. Large and heavy fences contained strong horses with thick winter coats. Other places such as that housed large herds of cattle. Each family owned a large piece of land where they grazed their animals in the short summer and where they planted the crops that would keep them from starving during the long harsh winters.
The village of Hudea was fairly large. There were one-hundred-and-fifty families that lived their lives out there. The entire village – with the exception of one small family – was deeply devoted to their religion. They believed that there were many gods who controlled each of the elements that made up their survival. They also believed that if they offended their gods in any way, the gods would become very angry and send a winter, or a terrible sickness, to them that would not end until they had all been destroyed. They lived in constant fear of making any mistakes that would offend the gods and, in turn, lead to their deaths.
In the village, there were only four people – one little family – who chose to break free from the old superstitions and fear. This is their story.
“Stay away from the windows, children.” Ecrea stood by the only two windows in the front of his home. His wife, Hanewal, stood against the wall, with their two teenage daughters wrapped in her long arms. Beside them there stood five small bags of hastily packed provisions.
“Mama, are they going to make us leave the village?” the younger of the girl, who was thirteen, looked up at the woman, her auburn eyes filling with tears. Her lips quivered slightly. Her brown hair fell nearly to her waist.
Hanewal stroked her daughter’s hair gently. “Tuskanah, my daughter…” she sighed. “I don’t know what will happen to us.”
“We must trust Jesus.” Sabelet, a strong girl of fifteen said. She turned to her sister. “If these people make us leave the village or even if they kill us, we will never give up our faith!” Sabelet’s black eyes flashed. Her deep red lips were pressed tightly together and a look of determination was written across her flushed face.
Tuskanah, taking courage from her sister, stood a little straighter and said, “You’re right, Sabelet. We have to remember our faith.”
Hanewal kissed both of her daughters tenderly. She strove to hide her own tears as she said, “I hope that we won’t have to choose between our faith and our lives…” she lowered her head. “…But if we must die, I am ready to go to my savior.”
A slight smile crossed Ecrea’s face. “It is good to know that my family has such a strong faith.”
“Papa, how could we not be willing to give up our lives for the sake of the Gospel?” Sabelet looked at her father earnestly. “Jesus gave up his life to save us from the power of sin. I am willing to die for that belief.”
Hanewal opened her mouth to speak, but a sudden pounding on the door silenced everyone. Tuskanah buried her face in Hanewal’s arms. Sabelet stepped towards Ecrea with her face determined and brave.
“Open this door!” Someone outside the house shouted. Shouts of an angry mob were heard. “Open this door in the name of the gods!”
Ecrea stepped to the door calmly and opened it. “Sirs, we do not open our door to you because we believe in the power of your gods. We open this door to you because we are not afraid to be witnesses to our faith in Jesus Christ!”
A burly man from the crowd, who appeared to be the leader of the mob, stepped forward and slapped Ecrea across the face. “Traitor! You and your family have forsaken the gods! You will bring evil upon us all!”
Ecrea winced in pain from the blow. “We have done no harm to you. We have only accepted Jesus as our Lord.”
Anger flamed in the man’s eyes. “You listened to those cursed missionaries! The ones who we killed!” He added emphasis to the last words. “Ecrea, before you were led astray by those missionaries, you were a good man! You were always ready to give to the gods. And that is why we have decided to spare your lives.” He stuck his head inches away from Ecrea’s face. “You and your family have the rest of the day to leave the village. If you are here tomorrow, we will kill you. Make no mistake, Ecrea, we will kill you, your wife and your daughters.”
The man, followed by the crowd, turned abruptly away and returned to their homes. Ecrea turned slowly to his family.
Hanewal burst into tears. “Ecrea, where will we go? Where will we live? Winter is approaching and we will have no shelter! We will starve to death – if we don’t freeze first!”
Ecrea tenderly took his wife in his arms. “Hanewal, we will just have to trust God.”
“And we should thank Him for sparing our lives.” Sabelet said reverently.
Ecrea nodded. “We only have a few hours to pack our things. We need to find a place to spend the night before it is dark, so that we can avoid robbers.” He turned to his oldest daughter. “Sabelet, come with me. We will start gathering some of the livestock. Hanewal, you and Tuskanah put all of the food we have into boxes. Pack anything that you want to keep.” He started towards the door, followed by Sabelet. “And hurry.”
The sun was almost set upon the tiny village of Elipion. There were only five small shacks that were scattered in a small clearing. Surrounding them for miles, were tall trees that swayed back and forth in the cruel wind. If you looked down from above, you would have seen a long, winding river running through the edge of Elipion. Its strong waters rushed furiously down and swept anything in its path away with it.
Looking to the left of the river, you would see a small herd of sickly cattle, grazing on the rough grass a little ways from the houses and tended by two boys who were barely teenagers.
The older of the two, a boy named Wahati, glanced at the darkening sky. He sighed and turned to his companion. “Winter will be coming soon, Aganan.”
Aganan echoed his friend’s sigh. “That is too true, Wahati.” He shook his head. “So many of the cattle have already died and our crops didn’t grow well this year. I’m afraid that we may starve to death this year.”
There was silence for a few moments, as the boys regarded the few cattle before them with an air of remorse.
“Well, we better get the cattle into their pens before it gets dark.” Wahati said, glancing again at the sky.
Aganan nodded. Quickly they made their way to the village. Just after the sun had set, Aganan and Wahati wished each other a goodnight and walked to their separate homes.
Aganan opened the door of his home. The rusty hinges creaked as he pushed it back enough to creep inside. What met his eyes was what he had seen so many times before in the last thirteen years of his life.
The one room shack was dimly lit by a lantern that hung from the ceiling. On the floor there were two piles of hay, covered with thin blankets, which served as beds. At a rough table, with his eyes half covered with his hand, sat Aganan’s older brother, Kawaenea. He didn’t look up when Aganan entered.
“I’m home, Kawaenea.” Aganan said softly.
Kawaenea raised his head and looked at his brother with sad eyes. “How are the cattle?”
Aganan sat down opposite his brother. “Another one died today.”
“No!” Kawaenea cried and pounded his fist down on the table. “If we keep losing them at this rate, they will all be dead before the winter ends! And if they all die, we will have no herd this spring!” Kawaenea shook his head in disbelief.
Silence filled the shack. The light from the lantern danced across the faces of the brothers. They sat this way for a long time.
Finally Kawaenea raised his eyes and said softly, “Do you still hope, Aganan?”
Aganan laughed shortly. His eyes matched those of his brother’s. They were both empty and sad. “What is there to hope in? That we won’t have many deaths this winter? That maybe our gods will listen to our prayers and send spring to us quickly?”
“Do you still hope that…?” Kawaenea stopped and stared off into the distance. “…Do you still hope that we will one day find our family?”
Aganan shook his head violently. “They are dead, Kawaenea, and I don’t know why you have any hope at all that they are alive. It’s been over ten years since they were kidnapped.”
“They could still be alive!” Kawaenea said. Determination filled his eyes. “And one day, Aganan, one day I am going to leave this miserable place we call home and I will search for our family.”
Aganan sighed. He and Kawaenea had had many conversations like this in the past.
“One day I plan to leave this village, too.” Aganan said. “And I will become famous and rich.”
Kawaenea looked at Aganan and shook his head. “There is no fame for people like us, brother.”
“And there is no hope of finding our family!” Aganan retorted angrily.
Kawaenea stood up and walked over to a little cupboard. He opened it and took out a loaf of bread. Returning to the table, he set it down in front of his brother.
“Here, Aganan, you can eat. I have to take the weekly sacrifice to Coae.” He turned and walked to the door.
Aganan took a bite of the bread. “I don’t know why we give the gods so much of our precious food. They don’t seem to help us much.”
Kawaenea turned fiercely to his brother. “Don’t taunt the gods, Aganan, or they will send a plague to kill us all.”
A moment later, Aganan was left alone in the house.
Kawaenea, with a small basket of grain, made his way quickly to the house of the village leader and the priest, Coae.
Coae was a middle aged man who lived with his wife Oanea and his nephew Wahati. Coae and Oanea had never been able to have children of their own. When Wahati’s whole family died in an epidemic of sickness, Coae had taken his orphaned nephew into his home and raised his as his son. Wahati was now fourteen years old. He was a strong boy and he was determined to win the gods favor and to one day become the leader of the village, just like his uncle.
As was the custom in Elipion, Kawaenea announced his presence at Coae’s home by whistling loudly at the door. Coae appeared a moment later and Kawaenea stepped inside. Coae’s shoulders were wide and ripped with muscles. His face wore a look that spoke of hardship and pain in the past.
“I have brought the grain for the sacrifice.” Kawaenea said quietly.
Coae nodded. “You are faithful to our gods, Kawaenea. They will bless you.”
Kawaenea sighed and looked away from the strong man.
“Is there something wrong?” Coae asked, looking at the young man in front of him.
Kawaenea raised his eyes and looked into the dark ones that belonged to Coae. “My brother said something to me before I came here, that’s all.”
“Is that what is troubling you, my son? What did Aganan say?”
Kawaenea sighed again. “He wondered why we sacrifice to the gods and give them so much, when they seem to give nothing in return. I told him that he was foolish and shouldn’t say such things, but I can’t get his words out of my mind.”
Coae motioned to a rough seat. “Sit down, Kawaenea, and I will put your mind to rest.” He settled himself into a chair beside the young man. “You see, your brother is young and foolish. He cannot see all the ways that the gods work to help us.”
“Maybe I am foolish, Coae.” Kawaenea said, running his hand through his black hair. “I cannot see how the gods have helped us. My parents and sister were kidnapped when my brother was three years old. At eight, I was forced to care for my baby brother and provide sufficient food to keep us from starving during the winter. Where were the gods?”
“They helped you live.”
Kawaenea glanced towards the door. “I just don’t understand why the gods seem to be bent on destroying us.” He stood up and left without another word.
Coae watched him go and shook his head. “This is not good for us.” Stepping to the door, he looked out across the dark landscape. “I hope that Kawaenea and Aganan will stop their doubts before it destroys our whole village.”
A cold gust of wind forced Coae to return inside. Winter seemed to be coming sooner than normal. Coae feared that the fierce cold would destroy his village. Little did he know what change would come to his village that winter.
Tuskanah sighed as she picked up the small bag of her belongings. Tears clouded her eyes as she, with her family, slowly stepped away from the only home that they had even known.
“Let’s go.” Ecrea said. “We have to find a good place to stay the night.” He led the way, driving his small herd of cattle in front of him.
Hanewal nodded. She led their strong horse, which pulled a wagon that was filled mainly with food and farming tools. Tuskanah carried her bag of belongings, as well as some other more delicate things that would be damaged in the wagon. She led two sheep. Sabelet carried a bundle of blankets, clothes and medicine that would be useful during the long journey. She also led a large, black dog and a goat.
Sabelet took one last look at the village she was leaving. Then she turned her head forward into the vast wilderness, ready to face the adventure and hardships that were sure to follow.
When the sun had set, the little family had not found another village to stay the night in. In those days, the villages were often small scattered around the country in no particular order.
“We’ll spend the night here.” Ecrea said, stopping at a relatively flat piece of ground. Ecrea let the cattle roam a little. Hanewal tied the horse to a sapling and then lit a small fire. Taking some flour out of the wagon, she made a loaf of bread and cooked it carefully, along with some meat. When the meal was ready, everyone gathered around the fire.
“Let us thank the Lord.” Ecrea said. He and his family bowed their heads and he prayed. “Lord, thank you so much that you allowed us to live and to escape the village. Please protect us from bandits and robbers. Help us to find a new place to live before winter becomes strong. Protect us from the weather, Lord, please. Give us strength for the journey ahead of us. Thank you for your never ending love. Amen.”
Sabelet ate heartily but Tuskanah just picked at her food.
“Are you okay, Tuskanah?” Hanewal asked, looking at her daughter.
Tuskanah’s eyes filled again with tears. “I’m just not very hungry right now.” She tried to smile. “I think I’ll just go lay down for a while.”
She stood up and walked to the tent that Ecrea had set up. Curling up inside, with an animal skin blanket over her body, she sobbed quietly.
Sabelet hastily finished her meal and went to comfort her sister. Poking her head inside of the tent, she saw that Tuskanah was still crying. She entered softly and sat down beside her sister.
She gently stroked her Tuskanah’s hair and said, “Are you okay?”
Tuskanah sniffled. “No, I’m not.” She finally admitted. “I’m scared and sad and I don’t know what’s going to happen to us. I already miss my village and my friends. We didn’t get to say goodbye! I’m so…afraid of the future.”
Sabelet nodded. “I’m afraid, too, Tuskanah.”
Tuskanah looked up in surprise. “I didn’t think you were afraid of anything, Sabelet!”
Sabelet laughed softly. “I’m afraid of a lot of things. Before I came to Jesus, I feared everything. I would try to overcome all of my fears, but I was never able to overcome our gods. But then Jesus came into our lives and he took away my old fears. And now when I am afraid, I remember that he is in charge of everything. Trust him, Tuskanah, he is in control of our life and he has a plan for us in this.”
Sabelet stood up and walked quietly out of the tent, leaving Tuskanah with a slight smile on her tearstained face.
The next two weeks were hard on the family. They traveled through empty wastelands for about a week. Then they entered the large forest, where several villages were located. They came upon three villages. As soon as anyone heard that they were Christians, they were thrown out of the village. Snow began to fall thickly and the family began to despair.
Ecrea, Hanewal, Sabelet and Tuskanah sat around a fire, vainly trying to keep warm. They’re faces were all furrowed with worry.
Ecrea ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “I don’t know what we can do. They won’t allow us in the village if we are Christians!”
Tuskanah stared sadly at the fire as she said, “What if…what if we don’t say that we are Christians? They would allow us into the village and we could have shelter. No one needs to know that we worship Jesus. We can do it in secret.”
Sabelet looked in surprise at her sister. “But there are always the sacrifices to the false gods. If we didn’t do them, the people would be very suspicious.”
“Then we should just do them.” Tuskanah said quietly. “We don’t really have to believe in it.”
Sabelet opened her mouth to rebuke her sister, but Ecrea shook his head at her.
“Tuskanah,” he said looking at the downcast face of his daughter, “we can’t do that. It would be denying who we really are. We can’t ever go back to worshiping the old gods!”
“It isn’t really worshiping them, Papa, if we don’t mean it!” Tuskanah cried. “Would Jesus care if we gave some stuff to the false gods? We won’t be able to live if we don’t find a place to live!” Tears flooded her face.
“We will not even go through the motions of worshiping anyone other than Jesus.” Ecrea said. “We will just have to trust God to bring us to somewhere safe.”
“I’m sorry, Papa.” Tuskanah whispered. “I know it’s wrong to say all of that. I’m just really scared.”
Ecrea and Hanewal hugged their daughter.
“Don’t worry, Tuskanah.” Sabelet said with a slight smile. “I believe that whatever happens in this time, Jesus is with us.”
Sabelet and her family again sat around their fire. They had finished a warm meal and now they sat contemplating what was ahead of them.
“I believe that there is another village about a day’s walk from here.” Ecrea said wearily. “We will be able to get there by tomorrow night.”
“But will they accept us?” Hanewal asked wearily. “I’m tired of being turned away and hated for our faith. Will God let us die because we love him?”
Silence filled the air. It was broken only when Tuskanah coughed violently.
“Are you okay, Tuskanah?” Hanewal looked with concern at her young daughter. “You hardly ate anything and you look sick.”
Tuskanah tried to smile. “I’m fine.” She coughed again. “I’m just very tired.”
“We all are.” Sabelet sighed.
“Let’s get some rest now, children.” Ecrea said.
The next evening, the weary family walked into another small village.
“Halt!” A stern voice said. “Who are you and where are you going.” A man, with several weapons, stood in front of them with a grim face.
Ecrea bowed, as was custom, and said, “We are travelers in search of a place to live. Will you accept us and allow us to live with you?”
The man looked at them suspiciously. “Why are you traveling so late in the season?”
For a moment Ecrea thought of making up some excuse. He realized, however, that it would be wrong. Straightening his shoulders he said, “Sir, we were sent away from our village because we worship Jesus Christ.”
“I have never heard of that God.” The man said. “But we do not take kindly to people who do not worship like we do. I will take you to our leader, but I do not expect that he will be pleased with you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The family was taken to a well-built, small house. The man who escorted them opened the door and spoke a few words to the people inside. Then he turned to Ecrea.
“You and your family may go in now.”
Leaving their things with the man, Ecrea, Hanewal, Sabelet and Tuskanah entered the house. On a large pile of animal skins, sat a middle-aged man. The scars on his face and arms told clearly that he had been in many fights. He glanced at the family with destine.
“Anneawane tells me that you wish to live here with us.”
“Yes sir.” Ecrea bowed. “We desire to spend the winter here. We have brought supplies of our own. All we ask for is a place to live.”
The man’s lips curled into a cruel smile. “Anneawane also tells me that you worship strange gods.”
“We worship the one true God.” Sabelet said bravely. “Your gods are false! They have not helped you at all!”
The man spat towards Sabelet, who stood facing him with unflinching eyes. “Who are you, girl, to speak to me in such a manner?” He demanded angrily. “You are a mere child – a girl nonetheless – and you dare to tell me that my gods are false?”
“Yes I do.” Sabelet said. Tuskanah whimper and held her mother’s hand tightly.
The man turned to Ecrea, “Your daughter is very disrespectful and will be punished for it.”
“Please sir –” Ecrea began.
The man laughed. “Don’t begin begging. Your daughter will only receive ten strokes with a whip.” He clapped his hands loudly and a young man appeared. “Take this girl out and whip her ten times.”
The young man nodded and pulled Sabelet after him. Once Sabelet was gone, the leader looked Ecrea in the eye and said, “I will let you stay in this village if you deny your faith and worship our gods.” He laughed. “I will tell you, you and your family won’t have much of a chance without shelter. You would be wise to heed my advice and forsake your God.”
Ecrea paused for a moment. Then determination filled his face and he said, “No. We cannot forsake of God.”
The man raised his eyebrow. “Even if it means death.”
“Yes.” Ecrea said soberly. “Even if it means death.”
The man flung his hand towards them. “You may think yourself very brave. But bravery and stubbornness will not help you now. Get out of my sight before I have you all whipped!”
Slowly and with sorrow, Ecrea, Hanewal and Tuskanah left the house. They were met at the door by Sabelet. The back of her shirt was covered in blood from her whipping. Hanewal kissed her tenderly. The family left the village, their hearts heavy and discouraged. They set up a camp a little ways from the village.
Ecrea lit a fire and cooked some food on it. He handed these to his wife and children.
“I’m not hungry.” Tuskanah said weakly.
Hanewal put her hand on her daughter’s forehead. “You have a fever! Go lie down and get some rest.”
Tuskanah nodded and quickly obeyed her mother. Sabelet said, “I think I’ll go lay down, too. My back is hurting.”
When the girls were gone, Hanewal burst into tears. “Ecrea, we can’t go on like this! We have to find somewhere to stay!”
Tears filled Ecrea’s eyes. “I know, Hanewal. We have to trust God. He knows where we are right now.”
“What if we die on this journey?” Hanewal sobbed. “What if our children die?”
Tears slipped down Ecrea’s cheeks as he said, “Then we will all be in a place of no more sorrow and no more weeping.”