Chapter 1

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 Anna watched as her brother stretched his hand as far as he could, trying to reach their mother. The woman strained for him through the bars of her cell, too, but they couldn’t quite touch each other.

Their mother didn’t look well. She had a racking cough and no blanket in this cold, damp dungeon. Well, neither did they, but she had been here much longer, and she was sick.

“Mama,” Jacob’s voice echoed in the dungeon. “Mama, you mustn’t give in. Promise you won’t.”

Anna spoke up then. “We’re willing to die for Jesus, Mama. We’ll be all right. Jesus will take us to heaven.”

“I know, children.” She broke into another coughing spell, and sank back on the straw, exhausted.

Jesus had warned His followers that they would be persecuted, and that persecution had started in a big way. The Jewish leaders hated them. The Romans were throwing the Christians out of their homes, leaving them to live on the streets. To the new band of  believers, it seemed that the whole world was against them. But Jesus had also promised His help and strength.

“Just when I thought the Roman government could stoop no lower!” came a disgusted voice from the cell across the way.

The children hadn’t paid much attention to their fellow prisoners since they’d been dragged down the steps, and thrown into the cell the night before. Now they observed a young prisoner across the aisle. The old man nearby had whispered that he was a Roman soldier, but from the way he was muttering about the government, they understood why he was in prison. Talking like that would get anybody arrested.

“What do you mean, sir?” asked Jacob, curiously.

“Throwing helpless men and women before the lions! Why, it should be the gladiators who fight the lions—at least they’d have some chance. And now their new trick of putting young children out there in order to get parents to turn against Christ. I am no Christian, but you have the right to believe the way you want. You’re not hurting anyone!”  He angrily shook his head. “It’s sickening. I want no part of this government any longer.”

“Looks like you’ve got your wish,” laughed the old man. What with his filthy, ragged clothes, he looked like he had been there for years.

Just then, the upper door opened and a shaft of light appeared.

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A burly jailer stomped down the stairs. “It’s time,” he sneered as he put his key in the lock of the children’s cell.

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Anna trembled in spite of her desire to be very brave and bold for her Lord. They were to be taken to the garrison. Often prisoners were sent to Rome to be killed in the  Coliseum. They would be jeered at by thousands of people in the stands, just because they were followers of Jesus. Then the hungry wild animals would be let loose. But the soldiers here in Jerusalem could be very cruel, too. Could she face whatever the soldiers had in store?  Her knees trembled at the thought of it. Oh, Lord Jesus, give me strength to go through it. Help me to be bold for you. I know You’ll take me to heaven but —

Suddenly the Roman prisoner gave a shout. “Hey you, I’m thirsty!  Give me water!”

“Don’t you order me around!  You’re not worthy to wear a Roman uniform!”  The jailer took his keys, and unlocked the prisoner’s door furiously, flinging it open. “I’ll teach you!”

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But the jailer didn’t know what hit him. The prisoner knocked him against the wall, and down he went, unconscious. The prisoner grabbed the keys, then locked him into the cell. He opened their mother’s door and helped her up, as they all looked on in shock.

He released the children, and urged,“well, come on!  Quiet now. I had jail duty once. I know a way out of here, but we’ll have to be quick.”

“Hey, what about me?” cried the old man.

“Oh, all right.”  The Roman freed him, too, as the children headed for the stairs.

“Not that way!” exclaimed the soldier. “Come with me!”

Together they crept along the passage, and soon he led them up a filthy stairway, filled with cobwebs and broken stones. It led out into the sunlight of an alleyway.

“Quick!  Go!  They’ll know we’ve escaped any minute!  Do you have someplace safe?”

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“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir!” said Mama. She seemed to be in a daze, as if unable to believe their rescue.

“Then go!” he urged, frantically.

The old man had disappeared around a corner, and soon the Roman prisoner was out of sight, too.

“Come on,” said Mama. “The catacombs!  There’s an entrance near here. Other Christians are living there, and it’s our only chance.”

She was so weak that she swayed dangerously, almost falling. Jacob grasped hold of her arm, and Anna took the other. Together, they made their way out of the alleyway to the catacombs, their new home.

To  be continued…

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By Carol Bennett