Welcome to Telbat’s Tablet, Reading Friends! Enjoy David Telbat’s Christian adventure story, “Better Than Gold,” about a Chinese Olympian.
BETTER THAN GOLD
by D.I. Telbat
Fong Lu felt the bullet slam into his side. He missed a step and spun sideways. Without looking for his attacker, he dove behind a rock and huddled there, panting. He touched his side to check his wound, but his hand came away dry. Just a bruise.
Suddenly, he realized why he had only a bruise and not a gaping wound. His eyes traced the ground behind him. A gentle breeze blew loose pages across the desert ravine. His small Bible had taken the impact of the bullet. The pocket over his ribs was torn, but he was still alive.
Lu considered crawling from his hiding place to recover his Bible—his most prized possession—but decided against it. The Chinese Party soldiers were still searching for him, probably on the rim of the ravine above.
Watching more of the pages float away on the wind, Lu tried to take advantage of this brief rest before he continued north. He tugged one of the three water bottles off his waist belt and took a long drink. After replacing the bottle, he checked his watch. He had been running for two hours since leaving Xining, a city in Northern China. Already he had run 50 kilometers, more than an Olympic marathon. There were still 200 kilometers to cover before he reached his home north of the Chinese border near the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.
Hearing a trickle of rocks above, Lu knew the soldiers were coming for him. Their vehicles were at a disadvantage in this terrain. He knew every gully and ancient riverbed within 1000 kilometers. Lu had been running them for a dozen years, and before that, his father had run them. Normally, when he ran from town to town across the rugged expanse, he wasn’t hunted like a criminal, but the government had only recently discovered that Lu was a Christian. As if the empty wilderness wasn’t deadly enough, Lu had to now dodge the Party’s bullets, as well.
Without waiting to be surrounded, Lu rose to his feet and darted from behind the rock. He sprinted 40 meters until he reached a dry creek bed where he could run north without being seen from above. It wouldn’t take the trackers long to realize that he hadn’t been seriously wounded, but they would still have trouble catching up to him. Their all-terrain personnel carriers couldn’t handle this rocky terrain and no one on foot would catch him.
Lu mentally tallied his remaining water. Two and a half bottles left. In the past, he had run the entire distance with four bottles, but never with only three. Somewhere, somehow, he had to find more water. He trusted that God would provide for his needs, even in this dry region. But it wasn’t water he yearned for most. Lu wanted his Bible. They weren’t easy to find in China.
Sergeant Zhang Cho bounced along in the back of the personnel carrier as it rocked over a dune. Cho was familiar with manhunts, but this one was working his last nerve. No one was worth all of this time and manpower.
The brakes squealed as the vehicle halted. The soldiers next to Cho knew the routine, so Cho didn’t bother giving them orders. They piled out of the belly of the carrier to search for Fong Lu’s footprints in the sand.
Cho took a swig of water from his canteen. As soon as his men were out of sight, Cho pulled the tattered pages of Lu’s Bible from his uniform breast pocket. With his finger, he traced the book’s cover where a bullet hole had grazed and torn at the first 100 pages. Though the book was contraband and certain evidence against Lu, Cho hadn’t reported his findings from the last ravine to the colonel in the lead vehicle. Cho had found the Bible and gathered its loose pages while the others had searched for traces of blood in the ravine. Somehow, Lu continued to evade them. Naturally superstitious, Cho couldn’t help but credit Lu’s good fortune to Lu’s Christian God.
Cho heard the men returning, so he quickly hid the Bible in his pocket.
“I found his tracks,” another sergeant boasted as he sat down across from Cho. His name was Sung Ji, an ambitious soldier who had risen in rank by reporting on his fellow soldiers. “I don’t know how I missed last time. I won’t miss again.”
The vehicle crawled forward once again.
“I’m sure you won’t,” Cho agreed, since Ji was the finest marksman among them. “He might be fast, but he’s not faster than a bullet, right?”
Ji didn’t laugh; he never did.
“We wouldn’t even be here if you had done your job in Beijing,” Ji accused. He shifted his rifle across his knees so that the muzzle pointed at Cho. “All you had to do was force him to compete.”
Though Cho had failed his superiors at the Olympic Games, he wasn’t afraid of Ji or his muzzle, and he was still a decorated soldier. His father had once been a bodyguard for the President.
“How do you force an athlete to run a marathon?” Cho questioned. “A marathon runner cannot run if you break his legs, Ji.”
“You shamed China, Cho! He would have won gold for us all! Instead, he used his trip to Beijing to continue his illegal religious activities.”
A whistle blew and the vehicle halted. The whistle meant that their target had been spotted. Cho piled out of the back with the other men. The soldiers stepped up to the edge of a cliff and shouldered their rifles. Far below, in a narrow canyon, Fong Lu ran for his life.
“Fire!” Ji ordered the men as he pulled his trigger first.
Several volleys pelted the dust around Lu 300 meters away. Lu was in the open. Silently, Cho urged the distance runner to make it to the shade of the ridge only a few paces further…
The men cheered as their target fell and rolled out of sight into the shade. Cho looked away, disappointment in his heart.
“Someone climb down and check the body!” Ji shouted to anyone brave enough to scale the rock.
The men edged up to the precipice. The rock face had few handholds, and it was a long fall. No one was quick to volunteer.
“I’ll go.” Cho shoved his rifle into Ji’s arms. “I see a way down.”
The men praised Cho as he unbuttoned his collar and eased himself over the ledge. He felt with his boot toe for a tiny shelf he had seen from above. He stood on it, and then moved lower. Carefully, he descended the face, hoping he would not find a wounded man. Dead or unscathed was okay, but not wounded. Ji would insist that Cho finish Lu off if that was the case.
Cho hopped down the last two meters and waved up at the men to let them know he was safe. He walked to the left into the shade. Instantly, he saw a blood trail. Kneeling down, Cho peered into a cleft in a boulder. Lu flinched away from the figure at the mouth of his hiding place.
“Don’t be afraid, Lu. It is Zhang Cho.” Cho looked over his shoulder to be sure no other soldiers had followed him. “How badly are you wounded?”
“It’s just a scratch on my arm.”
“You are still far from home. Can you make it?”
“If you let me.”
“I have something for you.” Cho took off his canteen and set it on the sand. He reached into his pocket and drew out the worn, loose Bible. “Take the water, but this is yours as well.”
“It’s in pieces, but hopefully your God won’t be angry.”
Lu reached for the Bible, then drew his hand back.
“Perhaps God wants you to have it, Cho,” Lu voiced. He pulled the water canteen to himself instead. “Keep it. I will run to another town and find another Bible.”
Cho paused, considering if he should dare to keep the valuable gift.
“Thank you,” Cho said finally, holding the pages close to him. “I must go. Don’t let them find you. I will say you are dead.”
“I will stay here until night. Thank you, Cho. I will pray for you.”
“If you would have run in the Olympics, Lu, would you have won? It is said you can run the marathon in under two hours.”
“Perhaps.” Lu shrugged. “But there is something greater than the honor of winning Olympic gold medals for China.”
“You hold it in your hands.”
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