Anna slipped through the shadowy entrance of the old abandoned building. The little band of Christians was eagerly waiting for her.
“Amos says we are welcome at his estate, but he asks that we wait until late afternoon. His head steward is not to be trusted. He’s not a believer and may betray us. Amos has been meaning to send him on a business trip, so the man’s leaving as soon as it can be arranged.”
Zacarias nodded. “We shouldn’t venture out this soon anyway. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get to the opening near the estate. But thank you, Anna.”
The girl handed over a large sack. “He sent food.”
The meat, bread, and cheese that the man provided, along with the food that Jacob had bought at the market the day before, was plenty for their noon meal.
They didn’t leave their hiding place until sunset. Jonathan went out frequently, scouting the area. He discovered that many soldiers were on patrol.
“They know we were down there,” he told them. “Our supplies were floating around. They weren’t expecting that flood of water rushing at them though, and they had to run. They’re very angry that we escaped.”
Jacob and Anna couldn’t help wondering if someone had betrayed them. Could it have been Sarah, the sister of the little boy Jacob had rescued? Or perhaps Marcus? It was more likely that it had been the soldier. They hated to believe that Marcus would do such a thing, but you couldn’t trust anybody these days.
It was late by the time all the people, in small groups, had been led by various routes to Amos’ estate. Jacob and Anna knew the way so they helped Zacarias.
Amos welcomed them, gave them a meal, and led them to luxurious rooms where they would sleep on comfortable pallets on the floor. Servants brought blankets and all that they could possibly need. Some of the Christians had never seen such riches. When they prayed together that night, they thanked God for saving their lives, and keeping them from the Romans.
“God’s ways are full of twists and turns sometimes, but in the end He works all things out for the best,” said Jonathan.
Meanwhile, Zacarias and Amos were making plans. Zacarias knew that they couldn’t stay at the estate for long.
“Why don’t you get some sleep,” said Amos. “We’ll think more about it in the morning, and pray about what He wants you to do next. I have an idea and I sent a runner to get the information I need.”
Finally, all was quiet as the refugees and their host slept peacefully.
The Christians enjoyed their day at Amos’ estate. They helped with the work, or just relaxed in the beautiful house and grounds. After their many months in the dark underground tunnels, it was good to be out in the open air. But they were wary. If the servants who were on guard came running to say a visitor had arrived, everyone scattered to their rooms and stayed there until it was safe, keeping the babies as quiet as possible.
Finally, that night, Zacarias met with the group and said, “We have decisions to make. I’m wondering if it’s time for us to leave the city. I know most of us have lived here all our lives. God brought us through the terrible persecution of the Jewish leaders, and protected many of us.”
They all nodded. They remembered those horrible days when Saul of Tarsus and others were dragging them out of their homes, and killing so many of their family members and friends.
“But,” Zacarias continued, “the Romans are tightening their security. Other Christians have left, and made new homes in other cities. It’s not fully safe anywhere, but in some of those places, we would at least be free to live and work and worship.”
“You mean go to the Greek cities?” asked one.
“They worship all kinds of idols. I’ve heard there’s statues everywhere. They do sinful things, and believe all kinds of strange ideas,” said another.
“It’s true that the Greeks live much differently than we do, but think of how much these people need to hear about Jesus. We would have wonderful opportunities to tell them. They like to discuss new ideas,” said Shimone. “I’ve been talking to one of the slaves here. He’s a Greek, and he told me how happy he was to hear the truth from Amos about the true God.”
“They’re still ruled by the Romans. We will never get away from soldiers.”
“That’s true, but there is a bit more freedom in these places. People of all different religions and beliefs live there.”
“How would we get there? We would have to go by caravan. Some of us can’t walk that far. And what about the little children and babies?”
Zacarias held up his hand. “If we choose to do this, Amos will provide wagons to get us to the coast–and pay our passage so that we can go by ship.”
There was a gasp. “For all of us?” asked one man.
That was a lot of money. Amos truly was a generous man.
“How can we ever thank him?” they murmured.
“He wants to do this for us. He wants to do it for the Lord,” said Zacarias, “And he has some friends in one of the cities that’s right on the coast. It’s called Perga. They would help us get settled. Just think, we could work and make our own money again and live like normal people. But if we want to stay in Jerusalem, he will help us find safe places here.”
There was much discussion and prayer. Finally most of them decided to take Amos’ offer. The runner that Amos had sent to Caesarea to check on times and fare had returned with all the information they needed.
“You should start at dawn on your trip to the coast. The ship leaves in two days,” Amos told them.
Jacob and Anna were very excited. They had never been out of Jerusalem. The thought of traveling by ship to a whole new life in a Greek city thrilled them.
Mama was enthusiastic, too. “Everyone needs cloth. We’ll be able to start our business again!”
The plans went on. Amos sent his servants out to buy some new clothes and he provided blankets and bedrolls for them to take on the long trip. Everything was going perfectly—it seemed.
They were all in the big parlor when Jacob and Anna looked toward the door, startled. Remus, the Greek slave, came running in, interrupting his master right in the middle of a discussion with Zacarias and the other men. The women and children on the outskirts of the group, moved closer to hear better.
“Sir! Forgive me!” He tried to catch his breath.
“What is it, Remus?” asked Amos, quickly rising from his seat. The servant girls he had sent to the market came rushing in as well.
“You are betrayed, sir. Sosthenes didn’t go on the business trip. We saw him outside the garrison talking with both Roman soldiers and Jewish leaders. They’re coming! They’re on their way!”
Amos took charge. “Remus, you and the other men go hitch up the wagons!
All of you must leave now. Disguise yourself any way you can and head for Caesarea. The ship I’ve booked passage on will be ready for you to board whenever you arrive.” He shook his head, sadly. “Sosthenes is a good steward but very greedy. He knows he can get a reward for turning you in. Go. I’ll hold the Romans off.”
“Sir,” said Remus. “You must go, too. They’ll arrest you.”
“You must, sir,” the slave insisted. “We heard them talking, didn’t we!”
The servant girls nodded excitedly.
“Yes, I suppose you are right,” Amos gave in sadly, then looked around at them all. “Well, go! There’s no time to lose!”
Everyone scattered and within a very short time, they were squeezed into several wagons and on their way. Most of the servants were coming, too, for they would be arrested and perhaps tortured for information if they stayed.
Jacob and Anna wondered what would happen to the beautiful estate. As they rumbled through the city gates, they also speculated on whether they would ever see Jerusalem again.
They turned onto the road to the coast. They would travel all night, and hide during the day – and trust God to keep them safe.
“The captain is a friend,” said Amos. “If we arrive early, he will let us board and stay below deck.”
Jacob and Anna were glad that Amos had so many helpful friends, but they also knew that it would take more than human friends and human strength. All along the way God had been protecting them, and they were sure that God would continue to keep them safe.
To be continued….
By Carol Bennett
Caravan-A large group of people traveling together for safety–usually by donkey, wagon, or on foot
Garrison- fort, place where the soldiers lived and trained