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An Other Christmas

November 26

It has been exactly one year since my husband, Jamben, now James Caphtor and I, Admah, now Adelaide celebrated the feast of Thanksgiving with our Amish friends in the rural north of the state of Wisconsin. We arrived on this planet, refugees from the Imperium, nearly two years ago. It has been nearly two years of discovery, adaptation, joy and pain.

Enroute to this, our sanctuary, we had no idea the planet was populated. Our prophet only gave us the coordinates he had received in a vision when we fled the deadly persecution the Imperium unleashed upon the followers of Jothavah, the Herdsman and Pneumos. Upon finding this world inhabited, we decided that it would be best to separate into small family clans and disperse among the various nations and people groups rather than remain as a group of 137 souls. Well, now 149 souls…22 infants have been born among us. In this way, we have assimilated into the surrounding peoples. Our homes are now in places with names like Russia, India, Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Australia, here in the United States of America and China.

James and I, along with my brother Abraham and his wife Polly, have found a fulfilling, if sometimes puzzling life here on our farms. Following the example of our neighbors, they are  homeschooling their five children. It turns out Wisconsin is friendly to such endeavors.  Our son, Jesse has just begun to walk. He is the greatest joy we have experienced. We have grown close to our Amish neighbors, but some of their community are uncomfortable with us worshiping with them. So, we have found a small church in the closest town that has embraced us as family. Unlike our immediate neighbors, the members of this congregation are curious about us and ask many questions. We cannot tell them we come from another world, so as much as I hate falsehoods, we say we are from a large city by the name of Los Angeles in the state they call California. Upon hearing that news, the church members offered us much sympathy. When pressed further as to the conditions there, we merely shake our heads and they say they understand. They congratulate us for “getting out.”

I cannot begin to express the joy of being able to worship our Creator without fear of death. Unfortunately, not all our family groups have found such freedom. We have heard nothing from the nine spies who were settled in China, so do not know whether they are alive or not. But the clan in Russia reports many restrictions. They have encountered an established church that indeed worships Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as do our Amish and Mennonite neighbors and the congregation we attend, but they have many highly formalized rituals and its officiants do not take kindly to questions. Our shipmates near Bathhurst, Australia also face many restrictions upon their movements due to the pandemic, as well as an insistence they receive vaccinations against it. As far as we can tell, the virus does not seem to affect us and we have no idea if the vaccine will cause us damage. While the clan in Uganda are quite happy with their surrounding communities, they are concerned about political unrest. Others, have grave reservations about their ability to maintain their faith, and more importantly, the faith of their children among so many strangers. Although James has compiled a theological comparison of this Earth’s Christianity and our beliefs and has declared them to be compatible, there are those who call it syncretism and whisper the word, “heresy.”

And so, several groups have voiced a desire to return to our ship, the Archon, and search for a different sanctuary. Since I am the pilot of the ship, they wish for me to join them. We haven’t much time for a decision. The Archon, which is now shielded by the planet’s moon, is scheduled to launch into this solar system’s sun in just eight weeks. James, Abraham, Polly, and especially our children are so happy here, as am I. To leave it all behind for uncertain prospects of finding another habitable planet seems foolish to me. I have suggested relocation to these groups since the United States seems large enough for us to maintain disparate settlements without arousing undue suspicion. Some seem amenable, but others are insistent upon leaving.

To that end, we have invited representatives to visit us and discuss the matter in person. For those who face this world’s travel restrictions, they will arrive in their life slips, which fortunately still have fuel and can fly shielded from the various governments’ detection devices.

November 29

I have written that we have experienced much joy in this new world. Today, I weep with the pain of it. One would think that a planet which saw the actual birth, death, and resurrection of the Herdsman, Jesus, would be a place of limitless joy and perfection. Sadly, it is not so. While I was hanging out washing to dry (Mondays seem the traditional time to do laundry, here) I heard a vehicle roar past our land at a high rate of speed. Moments later, I heard a terrible crash and the terrified whinnying of horses. The car had crashed into the rear of the Yoder’s carriage. Their eldest son was taking his younger siblings and cousins to school. I called for James and Abraham and we rushed to the scene.

The wooden carriage lay splintered in the road. One horse lying on its side in the ditch, neighing piteously. The other had broken free and was running down the road. But what pierced my heart were the children. Oh, the children! Abner Yoder was crawling from one small body to another, though he was obviously wounded himself. James called emergency services as we did whatever we could to help. Besides being a teacher, Abraham is a healer. Three of the little bodies were silent and still. Seven were still breathing. Abraham’s skill allowed him to sense the degree in damage in each, but though the Terrans and us are very much alike in many ways, also in many ways, we are different, and he could not use his skills to mend them. Polly had taken it upon herself to contact the Yoders, and soon they and their extended families joined us at the scene. Abraham directed the new arrivals as to how best to aid Abner and the smaller children. Then the ambulances arrived. Again, Abraham gave a description of each child’s injuries, both external and internal, to the first responders. Some were skeptical, but others, from our church acted upon his advice. Then the helicopters arrived to take the most grievously wounded to the nearest hospital.

All the while, the man who had driven the car into the buggy stood alongside his vehicle that was now in the opposite ditch alternately speaking to someone on his mobile phone and cursing loudly. He appeared to be uninjured, but had made no move to assist the children. Instead, as more Amish and Mennonite families arrived, he shouted at them. “Filthy foreigners! You use our roads and don’t pay taxes! You bleed us dry! You’re un-American leeches!” The barrage of abuse continued until the police arrived and an officer bluntly told him to shut up before handcuffing him and seating him in the back seat of police cruiser. The other officer unholstered his gun and did what was necessary for the injured horse. The Yoders climbed into one of the ambulances with their son Abner. After the last ambulance departed and the officers had taken pictures of the scene, friends of the Yoders cleared away the broken carriage and the dead horse. Besides Abner and the children, I was the closest witness of the event. I related how I noticed the sleek black car speed past my yard and then heard the crash. When asked how fast the vehicle was travelling, I needed to do some rather complicated math in my mind. I am an experienced pilot…of both space and land vehicles, but the system of measurement used in this country takes some getting used to. I was able to place the speed at least 70 miles per hour. Our road is rated for 45.

It was nearing the noon hour before we were finally able to return to our homes. James and I held Jesse close for a long, long time. And then I lay down on my bed and wept. If there could be such hatred for little children by a man’s, no, a creature’s (he does not deserve to be called a man) own species, then what would this world’s reaction be to us, who truly are aliens. Perhaps, just perhaps, the dissenters are correct in desiring to leave this planet.

It was what happened next that cemented my commitment, as well as James’, Abraham’s and Polly’s commitments to remain. Two more of the children perished on their way to the hospital. Abner would live, but his injuries would cripple him the rest of his life. The remaining five children would also recover but to varying degrees of health. The two oldest children who died were Abner’s brother and sister. The other three were each from a different family. All told, four families had lost at least one child.

By early afternoon, the Yoder’s yard was filled with both carriages and automobiles. Men went to the barn to see to all the chores. Women carried in baskets of food. Several even brought baskets of food to James and I and Abraham and Polly. They thanked us profusely for coming to the aid of their friends and then told Abraham and James to not worry about evening milking. The love poured out on us was a balm to my grieving heart.

Two days later, funerals were held for the five children. We all were invited. We rode to the cemetery with cousins of the Yoders. To my amazement, there was little weeping. Their preacher spoke of Jesus calling the children to Himself and blessing them, and of the angels of the children who are ever present before the face of God. He spoke of the joys the children now experienced and urged his congregation to live such lives that they may one day join them. And then he spoke of forgiveness. The driver of the car would face this State’s justice, but the preacher urged his people to pray for the man and for his salvation. I was thunderstruck. Yes. I know that the Lifebuch and our prophets commanded us to forgive and pray for the forces of the Imperium which persecuted us and drove us from our homes, but I had never seen such a concrete example of it. Through the pain, joy once again bloomed in my heart and I knew my family and I would not leave this world.

December 5

Fourteen delegates from the clans who wish to relocate or leave have descended upon us. Since we still have access to the Archon’s data systems, we will be able to create new documentation for those who will come to America. That left nine who were insistent upon leaving. They said they simply could not remain on such a fallen world. When James reminded them that our own worlds, our own people were fallen as well, they closed their ears. When their anger against me, upon learning my family would not leave Earth, erupted, James and Abraham stepped between us. They wanted to leave. Without a pilot, they could not leave. I was the pilot and would not leave. Impasse. Even those who wished merely to relocate called me selfish. That night, as we retired, I wept in James’ arms.

December 6

They celebrate a day here called the Feast of St. Nicholas. We woke this morning to find stockings filled with nuts, candies and oranges hanging on our doors. (It is a good thing the delegates’ life slips are heavily shielded. I cannot imagine the fright our benefactors would have experienced seeing ten “flying saucers” in our cow pasture) The gifts were a welcome bright spot in what I feared would be another fractious day. However, it was Abraham’s eldest son Asher who delivered a solution to the stalemate. “Why not teach someone from the dissenters how to pilot the Archon? Then they can leave and you don’t have to”

Poor lad. I scooped him up, kissed him soundly and thoroughly embarrassed him. James and Abraham thought it a brilliant solution. As soon as the delegates reassembled, I told them. “Send me two of your most mathematically and mechanically adept members by the day after tomorrow. I will spend the next two weeks teaching them to pilot the Archon. If at the end of that time, you are still resolute in your desire to depart, the ship is yours.” To my surprise, they agreed and very shortly after, the cows had free run of their pasture once more.

December 8

Parvaden Bestre and Chandrell Marphael arrived at dawn. Within the hour we were on our way to the Earth’s moon and the Archon hiding behind I, 4t. Scarcely underway, my arms ached for Jesse, but my husband, brother, and sister-in-law would take good care of him.

December 9

I never expected to set foot upon the Archon’s bridge ever again. The air felt stale and a thin film of dust coated the consoles, but they sprang to life at my touch. Parvaden and Chandrell were eager students, but there was so much to teach them. Not just the mechanics of the star drive, but the star maps themselves. We were far beyond the reach of the Imperium (may it ever be so!) and the charts from that time were of no use. Of course we recorded every system we encountered on our journey, but we also had no prophet to give the travelers coordinates to aim for. I tried to drive this point home to my students, but Parvaden said, “Even if we die in space, better to perish among the stars than for our souls to fester in that place called Minsk.”

We spent long days as I both taught the pair and created reference manuals for them. Nights, sleep fled as I racked my brains trying to imagine and anticipate every possible hazard the travelers might face. And all the while, I ached to hold my husband and my little boy.

December 22

Today, I depart for Earth alone. Parvaden and Chandrell will remain with the Archon and tomorrow, the dissenters, 47 in all, will begin to arrive. They anticipate leaving this world’s orbit in two day’s time, and may Johatvah, may Jehovah, be with them.

December 23

I arrived home to find it completely prepared for the holiday. James had let it be known at church that I was visiting relatives and the ladies took it upon themselves to see to it that I would have nothing to do when I returned home. Garlands of greenery hung from both porches. A decorated tree was in the common room…with wrapped presents underneath! The kitchen gleamed and a large turkey held pride of place in the cooler. Shortly after my arrival, the Yoders, all seven of them came by for a visit. I could see the ache in Martha Yoder’s eyes, but they spoke nothing but kindness and cheer. Abner was making his way around the room on crutches. My heart burned for their loss…and for their courage. I assured Martha that I had everything under control and that together with Polly, we would be able to prepare our own feast. After all, it was our second Christmas on Earth.

December 24

James, Abraham, Polly and I were eager to attend the children’s evening service at church. My nieces and nephews would be portraying shepherds and angels in the production, and even though Jesse was a toddler, being the youngest available, would be the infant Jesus. Pine, beeswax, coffee, chocolate, and peppermint scented the air of the church as we entered. I could not help but shed a tear as the ancient story was retold in halting words and off-key song. To think these events had occurred on this very world. My mind went back to childhood and my parents telling me the story of how the stars above our homeworld changed their courses and all the prophets of Jothavah, on the same night, received the same dream…of a deliverer who had been born into the Universe, the Herdsman taking on mortal flesh to atone for our unrighteousness. What our people saw written in the stars, happened right here. After the service we returned home and put our respective, very excited children to bed. Miriam Yoder had walked over to supervise the children while we adults returned to church for the midnight service. Lit only by candles, we rejoiced in the fellowship of believers as we celebrated anew the most amazing mystery of the Universe. Then we hurried back home so James could drive Miriam back to her farm.

Jesse was a warm, sleeping weight in my arms when James came in. He told me to put Jesse in his crib and come with him. I wrapped my shawl tightly around me as the chill wind shivered my bones. James carried a lantern and led me to the barn. At first all I heard was the snuffling and snorting of the cows and goats. But then. But then, I heard a baby’s cry. My eyes widened, but James signaled me to silence. The last stall in the barn was supposed to be empty, but it was not. My breath caught as I saw the young man and even younger woman settled on a straw bale cradling an infant. Her skirts and the straw around were blood stained and I knew she had just given birth. The pair turned to us, and I recognized them…Marya and Joe Marphel…Chandrell’s son and daughter-in-law.

Fear filled their eyes. James hurried to reassure them that they were in no trouble. I wrapped my shawl about Marya while James took the baby and we led them into the house. Settling them in front of the fire, I pulled out a clean gown and robe for Marya and one of Jesse’s old onesies and blanket. Then I poured them mugs of hot cider and sliced sausage and cheese for sandwiches. Clean, fed, and warm, Joe told us their story.

“Life wasn’t that bad in Australia,” Joe began. “I couldn’t see why my parents were so keen on leaving. Marya and I had pledged ourselves to each other on the ship, but my father thought we were too young. We renewed our betrothal once we settled near Bathhurst. James, we read your commentary and right away saw the parallels between our faith and Christianity. But my father called it heresy. I know we are supposed to honor our parents, but both Marya and I had reached our majority. We found a church. We found friends in the church. So then, on the same day, we were baptized and married. We told our parents about the marriage, but not the baptism.

So father was in communication with others of our people who also wanted to leave this planet. And when the possibility became a reality, he insisted we come with. Marya was about to give birth and I didn’t want our child to be born, and most likely die in space. Marya’s parents locked her in her room right up until departure time. I told my father I wanted to be in the same lifeslip with her, and he agreed. So then I told Marya’s parents that my father wished for Marya to travel with me since I was her husband. Then the two of us departed with the other life slips, but once in orbit, we changed course and came here and hid in your barn. We delayed reentry as long as we could so there would be no chance of either of our parents coming after us. They won’t, will they?”

James said, “No, they won’t. The Archon left orbit this morning. The ship is big enough that, Joe, if your parents think you are with Marya’s people, and Marya, your parents think you are with Joe’s people, it will be at least a few hours before they know you are missing. By then it will be too late to return.”

I said, “It’s Christmas morning, and it appears we have our very own Christmas miracle. Just look at that darling baby boy. It’s also very late and our family will be gathering here for a feast in just a few hours. So why don’t we find the two of you a nice bed. James, would you mind getting Jesse’s bassinet out of the attic?”

So he did, and set it up in the spare room. In just moments all three of our guests were asleep. James said, “You know, in this world’s Bible, the King James Version says there was no room in the inn. But in my studies, I found that the original language says there was no room in the guest room. I’m so glad we have room in our guest room for our own Christmas miracle.”

By kathykexel

I've been writing from close to the time I learned to read. Fortunately, almost nothing exists from those days. Throughout my working life, I've jotted down bits and pieces here and there. But now that we m retired, I've run out of excuses not to write.

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