Author's Note: In my British Literature class last year, we discussed Foxe's Book of Martyrs. My teacher asked us to write a paper saying what we would do if we had to choose between God and saving our lives. We could write it in any style, so I chose a story format. I hope this makes you think, and if you are wondering how my teacher could give me an assignment like this, I went to a Christian school.

Common Questions of the Troubling Sort

I sat in a small house in a quiet Chinese suburb. The house belonged to Pastor Ming and housed the only Bible for many miles. There were eight of us sitting on the floor in the early morning hours, reading the Bible by candlelight and holding an illegal church service.
Illegal church service; the words left a bitter taste in my mouth, but there was nothing I could do. The government didn't appear to be changing hands any time soon, so we Christians were forced to hide whenever we wished to pray, and we lived in constant fear of being caught. I often complained of this to my friend Ling, who silently heard my complaints and nodded his agreement. Ling and I had been friends for three years, and I had come to regard him as my brother. He was always quiet and thoughtful, but whenever he spoke, it was without any doubt that what he said was the truth.
He sat next to me on the floor holding a little girl on his lap. The girl's name was Jessica, and she was only seven years old. Pastor Ming had objected to her coming for fear of what would happen if we were ever caught, but the little girl could not be kept away. Although we worried about her safety, it was clear she loved Jesus too much to stay away. At last Pastor Ming said, "Let the little children come unto me," and she has been here ever since.
Aside from Jessica, there were no children. There were, however, three teenagers: Ling, a girl named Amy Chung, and myself. Amy and her father had been coming for almost six months now, and already I could see changes in their lives; they were more gentle, more loving, always willing to lend a hand. They were a real pleasure to be around.
Mrs. Wang was one of the oldest members of our 'church'. She had come when it was only Pastor Ming, his wife, and one other woman. Mrs. Ming had passed away a year ago, and the other woman, Mrs. Chen, had moved almost a year and a half ago. There was one other man with us as well who had only been coming a few weeks and I hadn't yet caught his name.
Today we were reading in Matthew, discussing the feeding of the five thousand. Suddenly, we heard an army truck rolling down the street. Immediately we fell silent, our ears pricked to catch every sound. The truck stopped at the end of the street. By the sound of slamming doors we knew the soldiers were getting out to patrol.
I sat on the floor holding my breath, praying that the soldiers would pass by the house. No such luck. A loud knock upon the door told us we were caught. There was nowhere for us to hide, so we quickly put the Bible under the cushions on the floor and hoped the guards wouldn't search the house. A second knock came, louder and more impatient. Pastor Ming got up and answered the door with surprising calm. Without a word, the soldiers poured into the small house. They looked around for a moment, then one of them stepped forward.
"Who owns this house?" the soldier demanded.
"I do, sir," Pastor Ming replied.
"Why are all these people here?" he inquired.
"These are my friends," Ming explained. "They are here for breakfast."
"It is a bit early for breakfast," the soldier said suspiciously.
"We talk before we eat," Ming rebutted.
"What do you talk about?"
"Many things."
"Are there any Bibles in this house?"
I choked back a yelp, shocked at the officer's blunt question. Perhaps 'question' is the wrong word; he said it as though it were a fact, not an inquiry. I glanced at Pastor Ming, wondering what he would do. He said lying is a sin, but would he give in when others' lives depended on it?
My heart fell to my shoes. It had been the right thing to do, the only thing to do, but I had still hoped there was some way around it.
"Where is it?" the soldier snapped.
Ling slowly drew the Bible out from under the cushions, knowing as he did so that he was sealing our fate. The officer snatched the Bible from Ling's hands and looked at it with a smug smile.
"So you were just holding an illegal church service before breakfast, is that it?" he sneered.
We all exchanged nervous looks but remained mute. The soldiers ordered us to march outside and line up. We complied quickly, wondering what our sentence would be. When we were standing shoulder to shoulder in the pale morning light, the officer threw the Bible on the ground and stood in front of us, a cold smile on his face.
"You have two options," he announced. "Recant your faith, and we will have mercy on you. Refuse, and you will never see another sunrise."
We stood staring straight ahead, shivering from fear and the cold air. My heart was ramming against my chest and my mind raced at a thousand miles an hour. I had often wondered what I would do if I was faced with death for my beliefs, but now it was really happening and I still didn't know how I would react.
The officer stepped up to Mrs. Wang. "Do you renounce your faith?"
Mrs. Wang trembled, tears springing to her eyes. I bit my lip and awaited her answer tensely, as did we all. Mrs. Wang had two small children, would she give in to stay with them?
"Well?" the soldier snapped. Mrs. Wang closed her eyes but said nothing. Angered, the officer snatched a pistol and set it to Mrs. Wang's forehead. "I said, do you renounce your faith?"
Mrs. Wang drew a deep, shaky breath. "Yes."
My heart sank to new depths as Mrs. Wang went and stood by the soldiers across from us, her eyes fixed on the ground. She had given in, forsaken Christ. The soldier went next to Mr. Chung, but the bold man refused to close his eyes as the pistol came to rest between them.
"Do you recant as well?" the officer asked mockingly.
Mr. Chung smiled slightly. "No."
Our shocked gasps were quickly silenced by the blast of the gun. I stared in horror as Mr. Chung fell to the ground, never to rise again.
Before we had a chance to recover, the officer moved on to the next person in line - Amy. She was crying and shaking, though no one could blame the poor girl. She tried to kneel by her father, but the soldier yanked her roughly to her feet and set the pistol against her skull.
"Do you wish to join your father?" he sneered.
Poor Amy was sobbing too hard to reply and the soldier slapped her with the back of his hand. This settled her a bit, but she was still shaking as the officer asked her to recant her faith.
"No, I won't," Amy sobbed, her voice edging on hysteria. "Kill me, I'll go to join my father."
"Have it your way," the soldier scoffed, pulling the trigger with no sign of remorse.
A strangled sob escaped from my throat as Amy collapsed beside her father. This cannot be happening... this isn't real... I am not a witness to this senseless slaughter. I watched through tear-filled eyes as the guard came to the next person, the man whose name I didn't know. He chose to renounce Christ as well and joined Mrs. Wang, but he did not hang his head in shame. I wiped my eyes and saw with horror that the soldier now stood in front of Jessica. Certainly he wouldn't subject her to this, even he wouldn't kill a child. I wanted to run to her and take her away, save her from this monster, but my legs wouldn't obey. They remained rooted to the ground and I watched helplessly as he knelt and smiled sweetly at Jessica, his pistol pressed to her temple.
"You're a little young to be causing trouble, aren't you?" the officer said with a fake smile. "Come, you're too young to die. Just say the adults are being silly and go join the two wise ones over there."
Yes, do it Jess, just tell him we're wrong, you can make it right later, you're too young to die. My eyes widened with shock as I realized what I was thinking. Was I actually agreeing with this ogre? My disgust was interrupted by Jess's answer.
"No, the adults aren't being silly," Jess said sweetly, staring at the soldier with her large, innocent eyes. "They believe in Jesus, just like me."
Silence fell; even the birds seemed to be stunned silent. The officer's shock quickly twisted into a sick grin. "They have taught you well," he laughed. Then the blast, and another soul was on its way to heaven.
I felt that I would be sick, but there was not time for that - the officer had come to Ling. I looked at my friend and saw that he was afraid, yet there was a determined light in his eyes. This light did not fade as the gun passed in front of them.
"And what say you, boy?" the soldier asked, his voice thick with scorn.
"'Whoever acknowledges me before men I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven,'" Ling quoted.
"That will do," the soldier shrugged, firing his gun once more.
I watched as my friend slipped to the ground, blood spilling from the wound in his skull. He hadn't wavered, but would I have the same courage? No more time to think, the pistol was now leveled against me.
"Well, girl, do you renounce your 'savior'?" he mocked.
I tried to reply, but my mouth felt as if it were filled with cotton balls, and no matter how I tried no sound would come out. However, when I could speak, what would I say? What was it Ling had just said? Something about acknowledging God before men?... My head swam and I felt dizzy and ill, as though I was falling... but suddenly I realized I was not falling, I was lying.
I opened my eyes and was shocked to find myself safe in my room. Night cradled the world outside my window, and my blanket was pulled securely up to my neck. A dream. It had all been a dream.
I sat up and looked out my window onto the blessed American countryside, shaking from the nightmare. I had never decided, never spoken my choice, and worst of all, I did not know what my decision would have been. I would love to tell you that I would have said, 'I will never forsake my Savior' and taken a bullet for Christ, but I honestly do not know what I would have said. I hope I would have been strong, but when you are staring down the barrel of a gun...
We all talk about standing up for Christ, but we don't really know what would happen if someone did point a gun at us and ordered us to recant or die. We all want to 'acknowledge [the Lord] before men' (Mt. 10:32), but we can never be sure our flesh won't defeat us. We all fear that when we are put on the line we will not have the courage to stand firm in our faith, and we all pray that we will never have to face that decision. But I pray, Lord, if I must face it, give me the strength to stay true to you.

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