Chapter Nineteen




“How’s my bride today?” The light-hearted way in which Henry’s question was delivered did nothing to calm Janet’s depression.  She poked a finger through the chain-link fence, careful to avoid the hot metal.  Henry wrapped it with two of his and squeezed tightly.


“All I can say is that I’m one day closer to checking out.  At least they haven’t withheld the pain pills, but I can tell that I’m getting more tired every day.  I’ll be happy to have it end.”


“Don’t talk like that,” Henry pleaded.


“Why not?  Surely you don’t think that you and I will ever be together again.  Not in this life.  I can understand why they took me – they’re saving a fortune in medical bills.  But I can’t believe that they took you too.”  The aid vehicle had come promptly in response to Janet’s call to 9-1-1.  All she had wanted was some help in managing the increasing pain associated with her cancer.  Instead, the first responders had belted her into a gurney, placed handcuffs on Henry, and dragged them off into the night.


“That’s a no-brainer, honey.  I suspect that a lot of Americans have some idea of what the real healthcare plan is all about, but without being directly confronted with it they’ve been able to ignore the implications.  There’s a good chance that if witnesses were out and about, there’d be some form of public anger.  Ergo, I’m here.  It would have been nice if they’d kept us together, or at least gave us visiting privileges.”  Henry sighed in frustration.  “But no.” The relocation camp maintained a strict segregation of the sexes, which was why so many of the inmates were arrayed along the fence that separated the men from the women despite the intense heat of the Arizona sun.


“Henry, I’m getting weaker.  I’m going to have to go back inside.  I’m so sorry.”  A tear leaked down her cheek as Henry released her finger.


“See you tomorrow?” Henry asked plaintively.  The sight of his distress made the tears flow faster.  “Yes, of course.  Take care of yourself.  I love you.”


It was marginally cooler inside the hastily-constructed cinderblock building, no doubt to keep the guards from rioting.  The idea of guards was ridiculous.  As if the sick grannies inside were capable of mounting a revolution.  She shuffled over to her ‘home’ – a five-by-ten space occupied by a cot and a footlocker – and lay on the bed.  A doctor went about his rounds several hours later and stopped at the ‘home’ next door.  He applied his stethoscope to the feeble lady’s chest and listened intently.  He moved on.  Within a couple of minutes two burly guards came to her bedside and lifted her up onto a gurney.  She was still alive because Janet could see her eyelids flutter.  Nevertheless, when they carted her away she never saw the woman again.  Within an hour another elderly lady was calling the place home.


“Will I ever see her again?” Joyce asked Her.  Wisdom had broken the news to her about her mother’s circumstance, and remained at her bedside to comfort her.


“Yes, darling, eventually.  But not here.  Not in this life.”


“It’s such a waste,” Joyce cried.  “How could they do that?”  The awful reality of the cruel, heartless treatment of her mother had thrust her courageous attitude into a very distant background.


“It’s a very natural process, unfortunately.”  Wisdom extended her arms toward Joyce and drew her to her breast. “Remember how very much we love you,” She murmured in Joyce’s ear as she gently rocked her.  Joyce eventually relaxed, and Wisdom continued.  “Once a society has rid itself of the encumbrances associated with a relationship with God, it’s just one more step to its ridding itself of God altogether.  When that happens, the degeneration of the society becomes inevitable and all sorts of atrocities spring up as the people sink into self-absorbed chaos.  It doesn’t take long, either.  But it’s not a waste, Joyce.  Even now, at this very moment, your mother is sharing the Gospel with her neighbor.  If she hadn’t been carted away, that wouldn’t have happened.  Not because there wasn’t an opportunity – there’s always an opportunity for that – but because she wouldn’t have stepped up to the plate under normal circumstances.  So even there, dear, she’s having an opportunity to serve God and, incidentally, to lay up treasures for herself in heaven without even realizing it.


“Oh!  Then it’s not all bad.”


“Of course not.  Remember the promise that Paul gave you in Romans 8:28?”


“I do: ‘All things work together for good for those who love God.”


“. . . , to them who are the called according to his purpose,” Wisdom finished for her.  “You’ve spoken of it to others.  It most certainly applies to you also.  Don’t take that lightly, Joyce.  Comfort yourself with the truth of that, as in all Scripture.”


“Oh, Wisdom, thank you so much.  It really is a much bigger world out there than we know, isn’t it?”


“For sure, honey.  And you’ll be a part of it.  You and Earl and your mother.  And Henry too.”


“Oh!  I didn’t even think of him,” she said with contrition.


“Just to make you feel worse about it,” Wisdom said with a laugh, “he’s been praying for you and Earl.  It may be a good idea to start praying back for him.”


“I’ll do that,” Joyce said.  “Is there anything special that I should pray for?”


“He’s a real warrior for God, Joyce.  You should be very proud of him, and for your mother’s taste in men.  He preaches the Gospel like a real trooper.  He’s been kicked around for it, too, but he won’t stop for anything.  He has over forty souls to his credit so far, and there’ll be many more to come.”


“Should I pray for his life?  And that of mom?”


“If you did it wouldn’t do any good.  The cancer will take your mother, but not before she brings in more souls.  As for Henry, I’m afraid that he won’t last much longer with all the abuse he’s taking.  But he’ll take his end like a man.  His attitude reminds me of one of your dear brothers in Christ, the Apostolic Father Polycarp whom we strengthened when he was being carried off to the stake to be burned during the fourth of ten Roman persecutions. ‘Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man’, We told him.  He did, too.  Although pity was shown toward him as an elderly man, he refused to deny Christ, which would have resulted in his release.  His reply is famous: ‘Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never once wronged me.  How can I blaspheme my King, who saved me?’  When the fire was lit beneath him, it left him unburned.  A soldier eventually stuck a sword into him, but the blood put out the fire.  Finally another fire was started, which consumed him.  He endured an agonizing end, but never wavered in his testimony for Jesus.  He’s going to have a happy eternity with Us.  Henry will do the same, and save many souls by the manner in which he meets his death.”  


“Poor Henry,” Joyce said.  “He really loves mom.  You said they’ve been forced apart.  He really must be in agony over that.”


“Yes, he is.  But he’s using it constructively.  Like you and Earl, your mom and Henry and George have been picked to help with the final ingathering of the souls that belong to Us.”


“Final?  Does that mean that we’re already in the Tribulation?”


“Yes, it does,” Wisdom said with a smile.  What you’ve been seeing happening in America actually is a worldwide event.  You’re in the last stages of the formation of the new world order foretold in Scripture by Daniel and John, one government over the entire world.”


“I remember Pastor George talking about Polycarp.  And Perpetua.  Now that things are really happening, it’s scary.  Will Earl and I have the courage to maintain our faith in the midst of this coming persecution?  Like them?”


“Tomorrow morning go over to Church and borrow George’s copy of John Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World. It’s on the north bookshelf of his study, twelfth book from the left.  Your pastor already touched on a few basics, but go beyond that and read the details.  Store them up in your heart.  As you read, you might also think about how those who suffered received help from heaven and courage through Me to get them through the rough spots.  It will help you to know how splendidly other Christians held up under persecution, and give you something to shoot for.  If you think you’re adventure’s over, think again.”  She gave Joyce a tender hug and whispered an endearment in her ear.  “Bye for now,” She said, and vanished.  Joyce turned back to her sleeping husband and gave him a hug of her own. Thank you, Lord, for giving me this wonderful man, she prayed, and fell back to sleep.          


“Get away from there!” the guard growled, poking Henry with a nightstick.  As Henry turned away, the guard pushed the club into his gut with a vicious thrust.  As he doubled over, the guard swung the baton into his face, laying bare his cheekbone.  “You’re a troublemaker,” the guard intoned with indifference.  “That’ll quiet you down some.  Won’t be too long before you’ll be silent for good.  Maybe I’ll be the one who pulls the duty.  I’d like that real good.”


The fence had cooled enough in the evening that Henry could cling to the wire without burning his hands.  He had been gazing over at his wife’s barracks, one of a huge number that had been erected in the desert.  The rules included a prohibition of standing near the fence after six in the evening.  Henry already had figured out why: during the early nighttime hours that the dead or near-dead were carted away to their more permanent relocation center, which was a monstrous facility with a smokestack that had the size and appearance of the cooling tower of a nuclear power plant.  The smoke from it wasn’t obvious at night, but sometimes the moving air brought the acrid stench over his own barracks.


The guard had left him there, but was watching at a distance to make sure he left the area of the fence.  Holding his aching gut, Henry rose and staggered back to his building.


As Wisdom had instructed, Joyce visited George at the Church and returned with the copy of Foxe.  “You might recall a sermon on Revelation that I’d delivered some time ago,” he told Joyce as he handed the book to her.  “In there,” he said, pointing to the book, “Foxe had listed ten persecutions between A.D. 64 and 303.  In choosing to categorize them that way, Foxe was referring to a prophecy by Jesus regarding the Church at Smyrna, the second of seven Churches that He addressed in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3.  Wait one.”  


George left to go into his den and returned with his Bible  “As a reminder I’ll read to you His message to the Church at Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11:


          “’And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things saith the first and the last, who was dead, and is alive. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich); and I know the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.’


“The Church at Smyrna was the second of the seven Churches addressed by Jesus in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3,” George continued.  “Of these Churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia were the only two for which Jesus had nothing negative to say.  It has been broadly recognized as the persecuted Church.  As I had told you in one of my sermons, according to Foxe and other theologians the ten ‘days’ spoken of by Jesus were ten periods of overt, usually intense persecution.”  He put his hand over his eyes, rubbing them for comfort.  “Oh, my, Joyce, that seems like a lifetime ago, when we were just starting to wake up to the disasters awaiting us.”


Back home, Joyce opened the book and soon was absorbed in its contents.  She was particularly moved by the account of Perpetua, who suffered under the persecution which began in A.D. 200.  According to Foxe, this was the fifth of the ten persecutions foretold by Jesus that would be inflicted on the Church at Smyrna.  Born around 181 A.D., Perpetua lived in Carthage in the Roman province of Africa.  As Joyce read Foxe’s entry regarding this lovely woman, her eyes watered and tears of emotion dripped down her cheeks:


“During the reign of Severus, the Christians had several years of rest and could worship God without fear of punishment.  But after a time, the hatred of the ignorant mob again prevailed, and the old laws were remembered and put in force against them.  Fire, sword, wild beasts, and imprisonment were resorted to again, and even the dead bodies of Christians were stolen from their graves and mutilated.  Yet the faithful continued to multiply.  Tertullian, who lived at this time, said that if the Christians had all gone away from the Roman territories, the empire would have been greatly weakened.


“By now, the persecutions had extended to northern Africa, which was a Roman province, and many were murdered in that area.  One of these was Perpetua, a married lady twenty-six years old with a baby at her breast.  On being taken before the proconsul Minutius, Perpetua was commanded to sacrifice to the idols.  Refusing to do so, she was put in a dark dungeon and deprived of her child, but two of her keepers, Tertius and Pomponius, allowed her out in the fresh air several hours a day, during which time she was allowed to nurse her child.


“Finally the Christians were summoned to appear before the judge and urged to deny their Lord, but all remained firm.  When Perpetua’s turn came, her father suddenly appeared, carrying her infant in his arms, and begged her to save her own life for the sake of her child.  Even the judge seemed to be moved.  ‘Spare the gray hairs of your father,’ he said.  ‘Spare your child.  Offer sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor.’


“Perpetua answered, ‘I will not sacrifice.’


“’Are you a Christian?’ demanded Hilarianus, the judge.


“’I am a Christian,’ was her answer.


“Perpetua and all the other Christians tried with her that day were ordered killed by wild beasts as a show for the crowd on the next holiday.  They entered the place of execution clad in the simplest of robes, Perpetua singing a hymn of triumph.  The men were to be torn to pieces by leopards and bears.  Perpetua and a young woman named Felicitas were hung up in nets, at first naked, but the crowd demanded that they should be allowed their clothing.


“When they were again returned to the arena, a bull was let loose on them.  Felicitas fell, seriously wounded.  Perpetua was tossed, her loose robe torn and her hair falling loose, but she hastened to the side of the dying Felicitas and gently raised her from the ground.  When the bull refused to attack them again, they were dragged out of the arena, to the disappointment of the crowd, which wanted to see their deaths.  Finally brought back in to be killed by gladiators, Perpetua was assigned to a trembling young man who stabbed her weakly several times, not being used to such scenes of violence.  When she saw how upset the young man was, Perpetua guided his sword to a vital area and died.”


Joyce was so taken by the story that she decided to seek more information regarding Perpetua on the Internet.  She Googled “Perpetua” and read the Wikipedia entry.  This entry differed in some minor details from Foxe’s, but also added some useful information.  Perpetua, for example, was identified there as of noble heritage.  Felicitas (Felicity), was supposedly her slave.  The Catholic Church has canonized her, along with Felicity, as a saint.  Her feast day is March 7, the date of her execution.


The perceived nobility of her name has a factual basis in the circumstance of her birth, Joyce noted.  But she also reckoned that Perpetua’s high birth was of little consequence compared to the nobility of her faith and the beautiful manner in which she chose to exercise it.


When Earl came home she sat him down and had him read the same story.  She was satisfied to see that before he had finished the account a tear was dribbling down his cheek.



















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