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The Wooden Cross
John Taggart frantically ran through Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest, clutching his seven year-old daughter by the hand.
Sweat poured down his face and his matted hair stuck to his neck.
His daughter’s huffs and grunts filled his ears. He tightened his grip on her small hand.
John looked over his shoulder. The Latisha tribe of Indians was chasing them. What was worse, they were shooting at the two with tranquilizer guns.
Once the tribe was a long way back, John hustled his daughter behind a tree. He stroked the little girl’s red hair as tears welled in his eyes.
“Mary,” He gasped through short breaths. “I radioed Bricka, and told him to come and pick you up in a helicopter. I have to stay here,” he continued to stroke Mary’s hair as his hands trembled.
Mary’s eyes filled with wet tears. “Why can’t you come with us Daddy?” she placed a small hand on his sweaty cheek.
John tried to hold back his tears, but they flowed down his face anyway. “I have to try to talk to the head chief of the tribe. Maybe I can talk some sense into them.”
“But why are they chasing us?”
“Because, sweetheart, we are missionaries. Missionaries tell people about Jesus and how he died for them,” He paused to blink away some tears. “But these people didn’t want to hear about Jesus, so-“
Voices sounded in the distance. Footsteps echoed throughout the canopy of dense trees.
John quickly pulled something from his vest pocket. He handed Mary two items. One was a small, tarnished wooden cross, with a thin thread running through it, making it act as a necklace. The other item was a small New Testament Bible.
He patted Mary’s hands tenderly. “Always keep these with you, and I will always be with you,” He pulled another item out. This one was a picture of a man, a woman, and a small girl standing in front of an oak tree.
“Mommy!” Mary cried out in delight.
“Yep, and there are you and I also.”
The sound of a helicopter’s whining engine sounded through the air. Trees bent back from the wind of the propeller as the helicopter settled a few yards away from John and Mary’s hiding place.
John grasped Mary’s shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. “I will always love you,” he turned her in the direction of the copter. “ Now go! Bricka will take good care of you.”
Mary hesitated for a moment and then wrapped her frail arms around John’s neck. He kissed her lightly on the forehead just before she vaulted toward the helicopter, the wind whipping her “I love you Daddy!” through the rainforest. Bricka stood by the copter and hustled her inside.
A loud male voice rang through the trees. “After that helicopter!” The sound of pounding feet followed his command.
John sprang up out of his hiding place and shook his hands in the air. “NO, NO! STOP! I’m the one you need!”
The chief of the tribe held up a commanding hand, and the mob of Indians halted. “ Forget the helicopter. This is the man we need.”
John slowly lowered his hands as the helicopter flew away. The chief started to circle john, staring at him threateningly.
More sweat rolled down John’s neck and back. He clutched a small wooden cross dangling from his neck, a replica of the one he had given to his daughter.
“Come on Saeba,” John started. “Do you really think that your ‘gods’ can really help you?” He spread out his hands to the tribe. “You worship the gods of wind and rain, gods who don’t even exist.”
He eyed Saeba as the chief slowed his circling. John’s hair dripped with sweat. He swallowed a lump in his throat and continued. “I serve a God that created the Heavens and the Earth. He made me,” He pointed at his chest, “and he made you,” He pointed a finger at Saeba, looking him directly in the eyes.
The chief stopped, looked at the young man, and bellowed a deep-throated laugh. He then continued his circling, faster this time.
John closed his eyes and clenched his cross. He whispered a silent prayer to God and slowly opened his eyes.
Saeba had stopped once again. He stepped closer to John. So close that he could feel the hot and stale breath of the chief as he spoke. “ Do you really think that we would believe your gibberish nonsense?” Saeba asked, his eyebrows rising.
John glanced to his right. A Latisha man stood there, watching the whole scene.
John looked closer. He realized some things about the man that he hadn’t realized before. The man’s skin was pierced from head to toe. He had half of his face tattooed, his ear lobes were full with dozens of earrings and paint was spread across his dark skin.
John took one step back from the bad-breath chief. He looked back at the chief. Saeba showed no signs of fear. Someone could threaten him and beat him up all they wanted, but Chief Saeba was always fearless.
John Taggart had fear. He feared the Lord. So with the courage of God, John stepped back up to Saeba, looking him into his big brown eyes.
“Look at your men,” he began, pointing at the pierced man. “They do useless sacrifices for gods that aren’t even there. What kind of gods would make you do sacrifices on yourself in order to please them? What kind of god would punish its people for the things that they have done, when they have hardly done a thing at all?” John stepped away from the chief and turned towards the tribe.
“I worship a God who was the sacrifice for the wrongs that I did. I worship a God who forgives and forgets the sins that I have done, instead of punishing me. I worship a God that loves and cares about his children,” He stopped, letting his words sink into their minds. He slowly turned back toward the chief, who had his head turned downward.
Saeba lifted his head, and looked at John. His piercing gaze returned. “ You can worship your God, and we will worship ours,” He slowly raised a hand.
John heard a click and then a clank. He spun around to face the tribe. The pierced man stood there holding a tranquilizer gun. It was pointed straight at John’s neck.
No! John’s mind screamed. Why don’t they get what I’m trying to say!
A sudden whine of a helicopter engine flooded John’s ears. The tribe glanced up at the sky, but Saeba still stared at John, his hand ready to give the command to shoot.
John yelled over the noise, “Saeba! You don’t know what you’re doing!”
The chief’s hair billowed in the wind from the helicopter, a sly smile spread across his lips. “Oh yes I do.”
Before john knew it, Saeba’s hand flew down, commanding the shot. The pierced man obeyed, and pulled the trigger. John felt a sudden twang of pain as the dart dug into his neck.
Blurriness enveloped the young missionary’s mind and vision. His legs weakened, and his eyes rolled back into his head.
He heard the sound of laughter, and then the roar of a helicopter’s propeller bending back the trees.
John fell to the ground, fog clouding his mind. He heard the shuffle of booted feet padding the forest floor, and the muffled shouts of men fleeing in terror.
Strong arms grasped John, just seconds before his eyes closed and he fell into blackness…