Greetings, Reading Friends and New Subscribers! We are happy to bring you D.I. Telbat’s Mother’s Day Short Story Adventure, “God’s Ambassador in Syria.” If you are a mother, we wish you a Happy Mother’s Day! Enjoy the story.
God’s Ambassador in Syria
A Mother’s Day Short Story Adventure
by D.I. Telbat
This was the first emergency in Aleppo since ISIS had pulled out, but Greg Nelson was prepared. He’d been living in Northern Syria for two years, always on standby, ready for anything. Officially, he was a water systems “specialist.” For a few dollars, or Syrian pounds, he installed reverse humidifiers for families who needed fresh water in their rebuilt apartments. Unofficially, he was a secret agent for Jesus Christ.
The emergency had come to him over the satellite system he logged onto every twelve hours for updates and alerts. The alert had notified him specifically that a Christian woman had been kidnapped by a Muslim brigade who called themselves Allah’s Red Army. They were only a dozen men, but Greg had seen their handiwork over the months against Westerners, Christians, and pro-government entities. Even knowing about their hideout across town, Greg still hadn’t been able to foil their plans or catch them in the act. Until now.
At sundown, Greg walked briskly down what he called Z Street, since it twisted left and right and left again in the span of ten blocks. It was one of the many streets in Aleppo that was still choked by rubble from Syria’s civil war. But the city was rebuilding. And he was part of that rebuilding as he installed the water systems and shared the love of Jesus Christ in Arabic. More civilians returned to the city each day. Every family needed water, and every soul needed Jesus.
Near a mosque, Greg entered an alley and climbed through a garbage heap. Sanitation services weren’t yet in order, but soon the city would be more functional. As he walked, Greg prayed for the might of Joshua in the Bible, and the courage of David when he’d fought Goliath. And to use his wits against an enemy who would kill him as quickly as they would a dog on the street.
The Allah’s Red Army hideout came into sight, and Greg stepped against the wall across the street. For a moment, he watched the building and studied the street. Over the months, he’d surveyed the structure from various angles, looking for weaknesses, seeking advantages, memorizing the contours of the buildings. It had all led to this night, when he could save a woman’s life—unless he hesitated or drew back from fear.
Was the woman a recent Syrian convert? Or a veteran Christian who’d been discovered accidentally? Maybe she was someone he’d already led to Christ, and now he could recover her! The alert hadn’t said who she was, only that a Red Army operator had been recognized when he’d used a taxi to kidnap a woman. Many women all across the Middle East had been caught listening to Christian radio messages, or reading their hidden Bibles, which led to extremists arranging for their violent demise.
A truck rumbled up the street. Greg withdrew into an empty shop doorway. He didn’t have time to postpone this rescue. Ever since his mother had learned that Aleppo was moderately safe to visit, she’d wanted to come see her son in his “missionary work.” She knew he was using the water system business as a cover to remain in Syria, but Greg had kept his covert work against extremists a secret from her. After all, if his mother knew he was risking his life more than he’d admitted, she’d worry more than she already did.
After checking his watch, Greg considered his time limitations. If his mother arrived on that evening’s flight as scheduled, he needed to be at the airport by midnight. That didn’t leave him much time to recover the kidnapped Christian woman, get her to safety, and hustle to the airport to pretend he’d had a pleasant evening selling water systems. Her visit was even more special since Mother’s Day was three days away, and they hadn’t seen each other for two years!
Another pressing reason Greg wanted to pick up his mother personally from the airport was that she’d often shown disregard for personal concern when she witnessed to strangers. In America, that was okay—though it was more and more frowned upon. But in the broken city of Aleppo, if Greg didn’t pick her up on time, she was liable to begin to talk to people about the gospel message in English. Since she would arrive in all her Western apparel and Christian fervor, she’d be easily spotted by an adverse third party, who often hunted for such targets to boost their cause publicly.
Greg waited until the truck was down the street, then moved into the moonlight to approach the Red Army’s headquarters. The building had once been a thriving cafe before the war, he’d heard, but now it was just a hangout for jihadists—yet with a red and white Coca-Cola sign still out front. Two living apartments sat above the cafe. Judging by the group’s activities in the city, Greg guessed the two apartments above were operation staging rooms, or possibly living quarters for wanted terrorists.
Instead of approaching the front of the building, Greg went around back. The Red Army was so confident of their intimidating influence in Aleppo, they didn’t have a guard stationed outside to watch for aggressors. Greg wasn’t their enemy directly, but he was willing to embarrass them for making a move against one of God’s children.
In the back of the building, Greg knelt in the grime of the alley and peered through one of two basement windows. The two-foot-wide windows were painted black from inside. However, the summer before, one window had been propped ajar for ventilation, and Greg had taken advantage of the situation. He’d quickly scratched a dime-sized section of paint away in the corner of the glass. No one had noticed. The other window remained completely covered, but his one peep hole had been enough to spy on them before. It would be enough now.
Sure enough, there was activity in the basement that night. Professional photograph lighting was illuminating a tapestry backdrop of Mecca. Greg had seen the Red Army’s web videos before, with the same backdrop as he now observed. A man in a t-shirt and jeans adjusted a portable camera on a tripod. The extremists were preparing to shoot a video, and Greg guessed it was about to feature their new Christian captive. All of his surveillance and patience could pay off, if he succeeded.
To the left in the basement, Greg saw a closed door where a man stood guard, a wooden club hanging on a sling over one shoulder. Their captive had to be in the room behind that door. Sometimes in the past, he’d seen the door open, but that evening it was closed. How long had she been their prisoner? Greg had only received the alert that evening, and hour before sundown.
His anticipation to pick up his mother at the airport had to be suppressed for a few more hours to complete his mission. His Christian contacts in Jerusalem were certainly waiting for news of the outcome as well.
Greg stepped away from the window and checked the alley. He was still alone. Though he had the element of surprise that night, he was still trembling. From his jacket pockets, he drew two concussion grenades. They’d been bought months earlier from a retired US Army man who’d been based in Turkey for a year. When Greg had asked for non-lethal weapons, the grenades were all the man had given him. “For personal security,” Greg had said. The soldier had asked no questions as he’d happily given Greg the personal security devices. The non-lethal grenades were weapons used more for a Special Forces incursion rather than a basement invasion, but Greg was okay with a little overwhelming force.
After taking a deep breath, Greg shed his jacket and whispered a final prayer to God. He had no training for this sort of thing; he possessed only a willing, available heart. The Lord had given him a zeal to help the Syrians, and that had been enough to take him around the world. After high school, he’d taken a year of trade school, and applied himself to the water shortage problem in some regions. God had directed him along the way, even helping him to learn enough Arabic to become a business man in Aleppo.
Liberating captives from gunmen wasn’t a normal function for him. His closest experience with Green Beret-type action was having a paint gun battle for a youth group activity as a teenager. Though he was healthy, he wasn’t especially muscled in the athletic sense. But he couldn’t sit idle and comfortable while God’s people—or any people—were executed on camera.
He pulled the pin on each grenade. His hands were shaking. In his mind, he replayed his plan. It was a simple plan—go inside, get the woman, and get out. God would have to do the rest.
Perhaps with more force than necessary, Greg threw the first grenade through the glass window. It shattered. Before the first grenade exploded, he tossed the second more gently through the broken glass. Standing next to the window, Greg placed his back to the wall, covered his ears, and closed his eyes. The noise was louder than he’d expected—first one device, then the other. All of Aleppo must have heard the noise. He had sixty seconds before the extremists’ hearing and vision returned.
Using his jacket, he broke out the remainder of the glass, then laid it upon the window frame. He’d planned to enter feet-first, but he was already facing the basement, so he simply held his breath and dove into darkness. The basement was remarkably quiet, he realized as he landed hard on his hands and rolled onto his shoulder. Though he’d meant to hold his breath, the landing made him exhale. When he inhaled, he choked on the acrid smoke in the air. An electrical fire smoldered where the camera tripod had stood. A man nearby yelled incoherently.
As Greg coughed, he felt his way toward the closed door and stumbled into the guard outside the closed door. He swung his elbow hard, and felt it connect with the man’s jaw, who then fell at Greg’s feet.
He jerked the door open and tried to call out, but he was having trouble just breathing. Again, he chastised himself for not holding his breath.
Small hands from inside the room found his. He prayed this was indeed the Christian woman captive and the only one in the basement. They both coughed at the smoke, and Greg knew they wouldn’t last long without fresh air. She followed after him as he led her to the window through which he’d entered. City lights far away illuminated the sky above.
The woman was heavier than Greg had anticipated as he shoved her upward from behind. She struggled to pull herself through the window, but Greg offered his shoulders and head as a boost. Once she was up and through, Greg leaped for the window frame. He cut his hand, but he wiggled free, the woman pulling on his shoulders to help.
In seconds, he rolled onto the alley dirt and gasped for the pure air. He recovered and jumped to his feet faster than the shadowy form next to him, then pulled her upright. Lastly, he ripped his jacket from the window edge, so he’d leave no evidence behind of his visit.
“Are you injured?” he asked in Arabic. “Can you run?”
She didn’t respond. He grabbed her sleeve and drew her up the alley at a jog. At the cross-street, they didn’t stop. The hard part was over, he figured. Now, he was on streets he knew as well as any civilian.
For two years, he’d been trekking the streets of Aleppo, selling his water systems. As he’d sold them, he’d quietly made contacts—men and women whom he’d led to Christ, who’d also become students in Bible study classes. These were his streets now. He knew all the dead ends, short-cuts, and alleyways.
Two winding streets later, he darted with the woman into a dark and abandoned residence, all but destroyed by an aerial assault. Part of the roof was missing and two walls stood partially crumbled.
“Take a breath,” he instructed in Arabic. “We need to keep moving, but we’re safe for now. You’re a follower of Isa?”
Using the Arabic word for Jesus, Greg tried to get the woman to speak. All the grenade noise, smoke, and danger had surely been terrifying for her, not to mention being kidnapped by a taxi driver! Greg himself was still shaking from the near-death experience.
The woman stepped close, as if to embrace him, which would’ve been fine, though it wasn’t culturally “normal” for an Arabic woman to hug a strange man.
Instead, the woman took his head in her hands and turned it toward the nearest crumbled wall where a little light from the rebuilt section of Aleppo shined on his face.
“Greg? Is that you?” she cried in English. “I’d know my son’s voice anywhere!
Shocked, Greg staggered back as she wrapped her arms around him with a sob.
“Mom? How did—? What are you—?” Greg laughed and hugged her in return. “How did they get you?”
“There was an earlier flight out of Athens. I was witnessing to a taxi driver at the airport, and he started asking me questions. He offered me a ride, then forced me into that building. I thought it was okay to leave the aide workers I’d been traveling with. I just wanted to surprise you!”
“Oh, I’m surprised!” He took her hand. “Come on. We need to get back to my apartment and call some people. And you need to get out of the city. Maybe even the country!”
“How did you find me? Is your water system shop nearby?”
“Mom, I’m a little bit more than a water system installer. It seems I have some explaining to do.”
Greg checked the street, then hustled his mother along. Aleppo was large enough for him to remain in the city and work, if he was careful, but his mother would need to be smuggled through his network into Jerusalem. He’d unexpectedly saved a life that night, and he couldn’t wait to continue as God’s ambassador in Syria. But for one night, God had given him back his mother. Together, they could rejoice in God’s provision and protection. And His timing!
NOTE: May is “Get Caught Reading” month! What will you get caught reading this month? Besides the above list of short stories, you may enjoy David Telbat’s post-apocalyptic novellas listed on this page: The Steadfast Series. He has many more short stories on this page. Enjoy!
*You might enjoy reading Reviews by Peter here to find other Christian books to read. Peter does an excellent job at interviewing authors and reviewing Christian novels in many different Christian genres. Click here to read his guest post he did for us a while back, too.
COMING UP: Join us next time for David Telbat’s Author Reflection titled, “Gospel Metaphor.” And for the following post, he has another unique short story for you, “The Scars were worth it for Jesus.“