Subscriber friend, Ann B, was a winner in our Celebration 2016 Giveaway. She won a custom short story by David Telbat, “Take Charge, Wisconsin!” in which Ann chose to have her daughter as the protagonist in the story. We thank Ann for her permission to include the story here so others can also enjoy this chronicle where Emily makes a stand for Christ.
Take Charge, Wisconsin!
by D.I. Telbat
Emily Sterbanni clutched two heavy bags as she was jostled in the back of a helicopter deep inside Colombia. She prayed for safety as the chopper flew over the Plains Region that had been struck the hardest by a 7.8 earthquake. Hundreds were reported dead and injured in the cities, but reports were sketchy in the bush where communication was scarce.
The copilot turned and gave her a thumbs-up signal, then held up five fingers. Did that mean five minutes or five hours? It was hard to believe her lengthy trip could actually be coming to an end. The pilot and copilot were French, and the humanitarian aid station leader back in Bogota had been British. Emily was from a suburb of Milwaukee, one of many aid workers representing the United States in the compassionate response to the tragedy.
The chopper lurched upward, then dove down into a mountain valley. Emily leaned against her safety harness to peer at the jungle below. The village of Mucho Cabrio sprawled between two mountains. The name meant Billy goat, which was verified by dozens of goats that scattered from the meadow as the chopper settled onto the ground covered with tropical vines.
Emily released her safety strap and hopped out of the bay door with her heavy bags—one full of medical supplies, and the other her personal gear. Kneeling, she closed her eyes as the chopper blades whipped vegetation and twigs around her. In seconds, the thumping of the blades disappeared over a mountain ridge.
For the first time in twenty-four hours, Emily was finally stationary, and she hesitated to climb to her feet. The connecting flights from Wisconsin to Mexico City, then to Colombia, had been a whirlwind of sleeplessness. Now, when she desperately needed to sleep, she was most needed to perform at her peak.
The goats drifted back into the meadow, nibbling on leaves, and Emily was reminded of her own rural life growing up on a horse farm with meadows not much different than these. Even as an active youth—rock climbing and equestrian showjumping—she never imagined she’d someday be in the jungles east of Bogota, using her paramedic skills to save lives. With all the upheaval occurring in the States, there seemed plenty to concern herself with back home. But God’s tug on her heart to respond to this disaster had been unmistakable, and her parents’ support had been unwavering. “Go where God is calling you,” they’d said, then prayed for her.
“God,” she said to the Colombian sky, “the whole world seems to be falling apart. Please give me the strength to—”
“Sterbanni? Emily Sterbanni!” a man called. “I’m Rudy Caspertein.”
She rose to her feet as a St. Bernard dog trotted up to her. She’d seen ponies smaller than this canine! And behind the dog walked a man also of giant proportions: well over six feet and bearded, with a grim look on his face.
“Yes, I’m Emily.” She offered her hand. “I was told an American COIL contact would be here on the ground.”
“The Commission of International Laborers has an office in Guatemala. I came in last night.” His giant palm enveloped her hand. He was a full twelve inches taller than her, and she had to take a step back to look up at him comfortably. The St. Bernard sniffed at her boots, maybe smelling the remnants of the farm still on the soles. “COIL’s priority is to share the love of Jesus Christ with folks wherever we go, and you won’t find this operation lacking in that opportunity right now. When my office told me we had a Christian volunteer on her way, I called Bogota and requested you come here immediately. I’m a seismologist, and I’ve been all around the world, but your experience is what we need right now. This is your medical stuff? Here, let me take these.”
Emily didn’t object as he picked up both bags with one hand and started toward Mucho Cabrio. She’d barely been able to carry the bags with two hands!
“So, you’re here to assess the quake damage?” she asked.
“You don’t need to be a seismologist to assess this place. The epicenter was only a few miles northeast of us, toward Venezuela. We’re in the outback here. The houses just disintegrated. The walls they build have no reinforcement steel in them. The concrete just turns to crumbled debris with the vibrations. The quake struck after midnight, so everyone was in bed. It’s bad. But we have another situation first.”
The St. Bernard fell in step beside the big man.
“I see you picked up a friend since arriving.” She patted the dog on the head. “What is she, a goat herder or something for the people? We’ve got a couple of dogs back home.”
“This is Kobuk. She’s a Search and Rescue dog from Alaska. Sort of my shadow the last couple of years. We pulled some survivors out of a few structures overnight, but now it’s time for medical personnel to do their work.”
They reached the edge of the town and paused. Emily wasn’t used to seeing such devastation. Not a single house remained standing. Civilians walked aimlessly through the rubble; some of them were bandaged, others were bleeding openly.
“How many aid workers are on site?”
“About ten.” Rudy pointed the way through what may have been a hard-packed dirt street once. “But that’s what I was saying. We have a local situation. None of the aid workers can do a thing until the guerrilla faction is dealt with.”
“Militants?” Emily stopped suddenly, and Rudy looked back at her.
“You know where you are, right?” Rudy frowned. “Didn’t you wonder why no one else wanted to come to Mucho Cabrio with you? This town is home to the families of many communist rebel factions all over this mountain range.”
“Do they have guns?”
“Yes, but we’re here to take care of the wounded, right?”
“Shouldn’t we wait until the military makes it safe for us first?”
“The military can’t do anything about this place. What we need is for you to resolve this situation so the rest of the aid workers can start treating these people.”
“Me?” Emily started walking again. “You may be mistaking me for someone with more experience, Mr. Caspertein. I’m just a paramedic from Wisconsin.”
“Call me Rudy, and as far as experience goes, my people looked you up and they said you’re a Christian, and that means you’re the person we need. When others fall apart, a Christian trusts God to hold it together. That’s why you’re here.”
Together, they climbed over a debris pile of metal and concrete, and angled down into a courtyard in front of what Emily guessed had been a school building. Regardless of Rudy’s explanation regarding militants, Emily wasn’t quite prepared for the number of gunmen they came upon.
Four soldiers with rifles stood over injured fellow soldiers laying on blankets, cots, and the bare ground. To the left, the ten disaster response team members huddled together under the guard of three more gunmen.
One soldier, his head bandaged with a torn sheet, walked toward Rudy and Emily.
“What’s happening?” Emily asked Rudy.
“It’s a standoff. The aid workers are Colombian sent by the government. Here comes the rebel commander. He’s like the mayor of the town. He won’t let the government medics treat the injured. He thinks they’ll poison or injure them more, since they’re sent from their enemy.”
“This is the medical expert?” the leader asked Rudy in accented English. He appeared to be in his forties, his skin scarred from acne. “You are so young. Are you the Christian medic?”
Emily stepped a little closer to Rudy, tempted to hide behind his bulk.
“Yes, I’m a paramedic from America.”
“This man says as a Christian, you can be trusted to love my people. You’ll even care for my soldiers. Is this true?”
Emily felt Rudy’s hand on her shoulder to steady her.
“Yes.” She raised her chin. Her childhood in a Christian home seemed suddenly more significant than ever. “My loyalties are to Jesus Christ. I have no government affiliation here.”
“Good!” The leader moved aside. “See to my men first!”
“Yes, sir.” Emily reached for her medical bag and realized how badly her hands were shaking.
Rudy offered her the bag, but didn’t release it until she looked up into his face. His eyes were calm and reassuring, his warm smile completely foreign to the situation.
“Take charge for Jesus,” Rudy whispered to her. “Take charge, and save lives!”
Emily nodded and knelt next to the first litter, a man with a broken leg, but no exposed bones. She braced his leg using two pieces of wood as Rudy helped tape the leg stationary. Take charge? What did that mean? She was only in her early twenties. She had volunteered to help earthquake victims, not reconcile restless political factions with guns! How could she take charge?
The next injured man was unconscious. She cut away his shirt to look for injuries. Glancing up, she saw the militants and the ten aid workers watching her.
“What’s the matter?” Rudy asked. “Go ahead. Tell me what to do.”
“There are a dozen injured here.” Her voice was low so only Rudy could hear her. “And there are hundreds more across town, far too many for me to tend alone. These other medics have to get to work.”
“So, take charge.” Rudy raised his eyebrows. “This is your show. He trusts you.”
Take charge, Rudy kept saying. Emily tried to understand how she could possibly take charge. Reaching for God’s help, she suddenly realized that Rudy saw this disaster as much more than a medical disaster. And now, she needed to see herself as much more than just a paramedic from the suburbs of Milwaukee. Using a stethoscope, she listened to the unconscious man’s chest. He was gurgling internally. Probably a punctured lung—far too complex for her to treat.
Emily stood abruptly and faced the leader of the militants. God was with her, she believed, and Rudy’s massive frame stood next to her.
“I need help here!” She pointed at the other aid workers, none of whom were as young as she was. “I’ll supervise, but they must help!”
“No! They’re from the government!”
“I’m not the government!” Emily shouted, hardly believing she was yelling at a man with a gun. “I’m here for God to help you. Under my authority and medical supervision, they will do what I say. Otherwise, many of these people will die! Half your families will be dead—unless you make the aid workers follow my orders!”
The leader glared at her, then at the workers. He shook his gun at them, speaking in Spanish what sounded like a threat, then they walked forward, approaching Emily, their supplies in their hands.
Emily didn’t hesitate and snapped orders at medical personnel who certainly had more experience than her, but she had to keep up the appearance of supervisor now, or no one would get treated.
“You, in the blue shirt, examine this man. You—are you a nurse? Examine this one with the bandana on his arm.”
One of the soldiers stepped forward and translated in Spanish for her, moving with Emily as she stepped through the injured.
“This man needs surgery,” reported an aid worker in his fifties. He knelt over the second man Emily had already assessed. “It’s a punctured lung.”
“Are you a doctor?” Emily asked.
“Yes, and I can save him, if you can convince that guy.”
“We need to set up a field surgical tent. Can you do that?”
“No!” The militant leader stepped between them. “No surgery by these people! I don’t trust them. They will kill my men!”
Emily set her hand on the leader’s arm. She prayed that the Spirit of God would reach this man’s hard heart.
“It’s okay. I’ll supervise. Remember, I’m a Christian.”
“Remember!” He waved a rigid finger in her face. “I’m a communist. I kill Christians!”
“Then after I help you and your men, you can kill me!”
They stared at each other for a moment, then he waved his hand dismissively and turned away. Emily sighed heavily and nodded at the doctor. They would set up a field tent.
The day dragged on without rest. Supervising every aid worker was tedious and exhausting, but those were the rules. Around noon, Emily was taking the blood pressure of a pregnant woman, since all the soldiers had been treated, when someone offered her a bottle of water. She looked up at Rudy’s bearded face as Kobuk wagged her tail against Emily’s pant leg.
“How’re you doing, Wisconsin?”
“Like you said, taking charge.” She gulped several swallows of water. “So, is this the sort of stuff you COIL people do all the time? Triage at gunpoint?”
“I’ve been with COIL for two years now, and yeah, we move where few others dare to move. Why, you thinking about joining up?”
“It’s one thing to be a paramedic in Wisconsin. It’s another thing to be a paramedic for Jesus Christ.”
“You don’t have to leave Wisconsin to be a paramedic for Jesus.” He winked at her. “You just have to be willing to take charge for Him wherever you happen to be.”
“That guy really kills Christians?”
“Oh, definitely. He’s a notorious persecutor of Christians across this whole region. He fights the government and kills Christians. I guess today they gambled and took the side of who he saw as the lesser of two evils.”
“Do you think he’ll ever change?”
“After all this?” Rudy turned to watch more wounded hobble into the triage area. “I think you left a lasting impression on him. No Christian has probably ever talked to him like you did this morning, and lived. And someone said the first guy you treated was his brother.”
“You just keep trusting God, Wisconsin.” Rudy turned away, Kobuk with him. “Let God worry about changing hearts. But yes, COIL would love to have someone like you who takes charge!”
The End of “Take Charge, Wisconsin!”
Rudy Caspertein and Kobuk were introduced in Distant Contact,
Book One in The COIL Legacy.
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