by D.I. Telbat
Ben Sylva fell to the frozen earth. His knees and palms were cut by jagged rock and ice crystals. The thin, elderly woman on his back forced him flat on his belly.
He panted against the snowy ground. Smuggling Bibles into North Korea in the middle of Winter—what was I thinking?
Biting down on the collar of his wool sweater, Ben pushed himself to his knees. China’s river border was just over the ridge. The Bibles had been delivered to the mountain village. Now, back to Nebraska to warm up!
The old woman still clung to his neck. Had she died, frozen to his shoulders like a winter pack? The long cloth tied around his middle seemed to be doing the job of holding her lower body securely.
Crawling up the ridge, Ben’s hands were too numb to feel the torn flesh. The old rags wrapped around his hands didn’t offer much protection. Ben had given his gloves and coat to the villagers.
His head crested the ridge. The border lights faced the river. However, two high pole lamps were no longer shining. Two nights ago, he had shot them out with a silenced .22 rifle. Between border posts, Ben had crawled with fifty pounds of Bibles. Now, he had to crawl back.
Ben turned his gaze behind him and down the slope. The darkness was too thick, but he knew the rest of the group were there—North Korean Christians seeking refuge in China.
In the mountain village where he had left the Bibles, he hadn’t been able to convince a family to stay behind. The risk was great, but they had insisted on returning with him.
Checking his watch, Ben then squinted to see across the river. There! The signal from his brother, Jake. A blink of a flashlight. It meant the way was clear.
The way wasn’t exactly clear, Ben thought, as he slithered like a beaver toward the river.
The guards in their posts would shoot him if they stepped from their tiny shelters and checked the riverbank. Fortunately, the lamps hadn’t been fixed.
It took some coaxing by Ben for the old woman to loosen her grip on his neck so they could squeeze under a barbed wire fence. She didn’t protest, though, as he roughly dragged her under the wire. Seconds later, her family scrambled up to the fence to join them.
The frigid river took more negotiating. Ben was swept down river two hundred yards before he reached the other side. Shivering, he rolled onto the snowy bank, with the woman still clinging to his back. He knew she was alive, evidenced by her nails digging into his skin.
One at a time, her relatives scurried from the river. They thanked him as they collected the old woman, and then they slipped into the night, leaving Ben in his hypothermic shock.
Jake scrambled down to the bank.
“Are you injured?” Jake ripped Ben’s sweater off him and gave him a coat. “Why aren’t you getting up?”
“Why again did we do this in winter time?” Ben asked with chattering teeth.
Pulling his brother upright, Jake supported Ben as they moved inland.
“Winter, summer—the need for Christ knows no season.”
“Yeah, I-I know.” As Ben’s legs gave way, Jake held him up. “But n-next time, why d-don’t you d-do the winter r-run.”
Jake chuckled as he guided them toward a distant light. Even though their bodies were cold, their hearts were warmed by knowing they had delivered God’s Word and helped persecuted believers to safety this night.
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