The water was rough. Five of us, including my baby brother and younger sister, huddled together on the small boat. Had she not been so exhausted, Mother would have been frantic with fear. As it was, my sister and I were enjoying the ride. We weren’t aware of the danger crossing the Aegean Sea. We only knew it was one more long journey as my parents tried to get us to safety.
We weren’t like other refugees. Most were fleeing the Civil War in Syria. Instead, our journey had begun in Central Asia three years earlier after a terrifying visit from my uncle. As the small boat bounced through the rough water, my mind flashed back to that dreadful night.
Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. The angry voices and loud knocking startled us all. My father stuffed the worn Bible we’d been reading aloud beneath his cushion just as Uncle and his friends burst into the room.
“Where is it?” Uncle screamed, the veins in his neck bulging. “Where is that filthy book?”
“My family is enjoying a quiet night,” my father said. “We are only talking.”
“Talking about that God you worship and reading His book!” Uncle screamed.
Calmly, my father looked at Mother and said simply, “Children.”
Mother stood from her cushion on the floor and gathered the three of us in a corner of the room. Uncle’s friends began ransacking our small home. Peeking from behind her, I saw Uncle grab my father by his arm and pull him to his feet.
“Where is it? Where is it?” he screamed.
Father said nothing, but Uncle spotted the Bible beneath Father’s cushion. He shoved Father away and reached to pick it up.
“Here it is!” Uncle spat. “Infidel!”
He opened the Bible, read a few words, and then glared at Father. Slowly, he began tearing pages from the book.
“No!” I screamed and stepped from behind my mother.
“Shuja! Stop!” Father admonished. “It is OK.”
“See, you have polluted the young ones with your heresy as well!” Uncle screamed. To me he said, “You, Shuja, take these pages and burn them in the fire.”
My heart sank. I knew how much the book meant to our family. It had taken us so long to get one in our language. We had only been Christians a short time — Father, Mother and I — but we recognized the truth in God’s Word. When the copy came to us, we were thrilled. We loved reading the Bible for ourselves.
“It’s OK, Shuja.” Father said. “Do as he says.” Then he poked himself twice in the chest with his index finger, a secret reminder to me that we had God’s Spirit and His Word within us.
I took the few pages from Uncle and walked to the small cooking stove a few feet away. I opened the door and laid the pages on the ashes.
“Burn them!” Uncle said. His voice was calmer now but still fierce.
I reached above the stove, pulled down a long match, struck it and touched it to the precious paper.
“You!” Uncle gestured to my younger sister, Uzma. “Finish this! Tear out the pages of this filthy book and give them to your brother to burn.”
“Do as he says,” Mother instructed Uzma.
Uzma took the book and began tearing out the pages. She said nothing, but tears filled her eyes. Even as a 10-year-old, she knew the importance of the book, too. God’s Word had changed our lives.
After the last pages caught fire, Uncle summoned his men and stepped close to Father.
“You have four hours until I return,” Uncle said. “When I come back, if you do not recant, I will cut off your heads one by one, beginning with the children.”
As soon as Uncle and his men left, Father gathered us together for prayer, asking God, pleading with Him, to show him how best to lead his family. He talked openly with God about wanting to honor Him, but he was honest about the fear he felt for his wife and children – for us.
I prayed, too, as did Mother. As we prayed, the peace we often felt in these times together descended on us all. Father stopped his prayer in mid-sentence and said, “We must go.” Mother felt it, too. “Yes,” she said. “This is the Lord’s will.”
Quickly, we gathered a few things together. “You may only take what you can carry on your back,” Mother said. “We will be walking a long way.”
As the crashing waves brought me back to the present, I shuddered at the memory of that night. Now, three years later, we were running again.
Mother had been right about the long journey. We walked more than 1,800 miles in those early days to find asylum in a nearby country. We had built a good life for ourselves there.
Two things caused us to flee now, Father explained. First, the United Nations denied our petition for permanent asylum, saying it was safe for us to return to our home country. Then, a neighbor from our village showed up at our apartment. He told us Uncle was threatening our lives again.
So, here we were — cold and wet, but unafraid. During our time in our new country, Father had met other Christians who studied the Bible with him. He spent a lot of time reading stories from the book of Acts and asking many, many questions. I knew he felt some guilt about running.
“Who will tell our family about Jesus now?” he wondered aloud to Mother and me. “We will never see them again.”
“We must pray,” Mother said simply.
So, we studied the New Testament with our new friends and learned that Joseph and Mary also fled with Jesus to Egypt when Herod wanted to take the boy’s life. We read the book of Acts many times, marveling at how God spread His gospel through those early believers in the face of persecution. Through our studies, Father realized God might have a purpose in our running.
“I don’t know what that purpose is,” he told me as we packed our backpacks for our trip to Europe. “But I trust Him. I know He will be with us.”
I knew He was with us, too, no matter what.
By Ann Lovell
This story is fictional. Any similarity to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.