A lone figure trudged cautiously through the trees, senses alert, toward a secret destination. Soon, other figures followed but always alone, with a minimum of sound. This was no ordinary rendezvous. It was Sabbath morning in communist Romania. The secret meeting place--a farmhouse far from the town--meant that an early start was needed. So committed were the Adventist believers that the sacrifice to leave before dawn was counted as nothing. Hidden in the folds of their heavy overcoats were treasured Bibles and hymnbooks.
In the town, a different scenario was being enacted. Because religious meetings were banned, any known religious leaders had to register at the police station at a certain time each day. The law stated that any person discovered holding a group meeting could be shot on sight. The risks of meeting for worship could not be taken lightly.
Nevertheless, after registering, the pastor began his lonely trek into the forest to rendezvous with his beloved believers. But there had to be precautions. Standing silently and inconspicuously by certain trees were young boys who acted as scouts. A certain whistle, similar to that of a bird call, was the signal that either the pastor was coming or the "gendarmes" had infiltrated the forest. So they waited in anticipation to signal the arrival of their leader.
What rejoicing when all were together and could share their mutual love for God. No sacrifice was too great to give God their loyalty and their worship. The young boys took turns remaining on duty. Little did they realise that this day was to prove both frightening and unforgettable.
In the middle of their worship came the signal they all feared. They had been discovered. There was no time to flee but in desperation, the pastor was pushed under a bed. Pointing his gun, the police sergeant barged into the house. "Outside, all of you!" he yelled. He prodded and poked both old and young until they huddled together in the yard. "Where is your leader?" No-one spoke. "Men, search the house." Suddenly, a young officer pointed to a hat. "The leader must be here somewhere." The sergeant pushed past. Flinging furniture aside he finally up-ended the bed where the pastor crouched. With an oath, the sergeant pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. Silence! Another oath and another click but nothing happened. In desperation, he pulled the trigger again but the gun refused to fire. In a fury, the sergeant pulled the pastor to his feet and dragged him outside. Grabbing a blanket, he then ordered the huddled group of believers to throw their Bibles and hymnbooks into a pile on the blanket. Turning to the pastor, he barked, "Here you, Judas! Carry the cross!" And so began the silent march through the forest back to the town. At the police station, the chief of police was enraged. "What is this man doing here alive? You had orders to shoot and kill!" "My gun wouldn't go off. Three times I tried but it was useless." "Hand me the gun!" In one swift movement, he grabbed the gun, pointed it out the window and pulled the trigger. A loud explosion and the sound of shattering glass filled the air. A stunned sergeant stood mute. In a fury, the chief once more pointed the gun, this time at the calm face of the pastor. He pulled the trigger. Silence! "Take him to the cell!" As the chief peered into the gathering dusk, he saw the building ringed with people. He ordered them to go home but they only pressed together, their lips moving in prayer. The hours dragged by. In the cell, the pastor was kicked, beaten and then hung upside down. Through the pain and torture, he could hear his people praying for him, keeping a vigil to await God's will. As did the disciples of old, when morning came, the pastor walked from his cell. He knew he would have to leave but he also knew that God's people would be faithful. I heard my father tell this story many times as I was growing up--a migrant child in Australia. The fact that he shared this personal testimony of his escape from death is proof that nothing can thwart God's plans and purposes for our lives--if we are willing to trust Him and give those lives to Him as a living sacrifice. And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice-- the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Romans 12:1. Veronika Chester teaches at Pacific Adventist University, near Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.