Based on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, Chapter 10.
A fictional story about the spiritual forces behind the current world unrest.
Thirty-seven year old Brad Perone waited patiently in a booth at the Hamburger Hut. Three days ago, he and his preacher friend, Reverend Richard Wells, set this Friday morning meeting for nine A.M. Theirs was an unusual friendship. Rich, who at age thirty-five was the senior pastor of one of the largest congregations in his staid, mainline denomination, was ardent in his faith. Brad, however, was cool on religion, claiming it had been “stuffed down my throat as a kid until I choked on it.”
The two friends never argued about their differences on the topic, nor did Rich ever attempt to convert Brad. Nonetheless, they did have frequent discussions – always initiated by Brad – on the theme of future events. Brad had been severely wounded while deployed to Iraq. A full colonel of military police, he and his senior non-com, Senior First Sergeant Carlos Gonzales, were making an inspection of their on-duty MPs in the city of Baghdad. As they traveled in a three-quarter ton weapons carrier, an improvised explosive device (IED) demolished the vehicle. The driver, an Iraqi police officer, was killed instantly, as were five near-by Iraqi civilians. The blast severed Brad’s right leg below the thigh, requiring an artificial limb and several months of rehabilitation in Walter Reed Army Hospital. After preliminary treatment in Iraq, Sergeant Gonzales, who lost both legs and his right arm, also was flown to the same hospital. Sadly, he died while undergoing multiple surgeries.
The death of Gonzales devastated Brad. They first met when Brad was a spanking new twenty-one year old second lieutenant fresh out of West Point. Gonzalez had been a buck sergeant in his first assigned platoon. They took an instant liking to each other, and their friendship grew until it transcended the difference in their ranks. Perhaps because one of his paternal uncles was a major general at the Pentagon, Brad was selected for the military’s prestigious senior command college. Upon graduation with highest honors, he requested and received further training as an officer of military police and was subsequently deployed to Iraq in command of a large contingent of MPs. He rose quickly through the ranks until he was the army’s youngest full colonel.
Upon learning that his friend was being deployed to Iraq, Gonzales – now a senior first sergeant of military police - asked Brad to pull some strings so that he also would be deployed with him. Brad did so, and both were assigned to Baghdad. A soldier of the old school, Gonzales was of the opinion that a sergeant’s primary duty was to implement his commanding officer’s orders without question, as well as relieve him of the routine tasks of his command. He also believed that among a sergeant’s duty in the field was the protection of his commanding officer. On their final patrol in Baghdad before hitting the IED, as usual, over Brad’s fervent protests, Gonzalez took the most exposed position.
“For the love of mike, Carl, Stand down to a safer position! That’s an order! I can take care of myself!”
“I’ll stand down when I know we’re on safe ground, Brad. And that ain’t now, is . . .” That’s when the IED exploded. Brad had planned on making the military his career, but the blast put an end to it.
“Hi, Brad. Sorry I’m late. I was just leaving when the phone rang. A couple wanted to set an appointment for pre-marital counseling. I’ll try to be earlier the next time we meet.”
Rich was a personable, charismatic individual. Like Brad, he stood close to six feet tall and was clean-shaven. Unlike Brad - whose war experiences had aged him until he appeared older than his years - the minister looked much younger than his age. An informal sort, in contrast to other clergy of his staid denomination, he wore ministerial robes and a clerical collar only on special occasions, preferring instead to conduct his services dressed in an ordinary suit, shirt and tie. Often, he entered the pulpit wearing a sport jacket with matching slacks. His parishioners, who elected him their pastor five years ago, loved it since his informality drew numerous young families, unsatisfied with what they considered the formal rituals of so many other churches.
“Don’t sweat it,” Brad responded, “I didn’t mind the wait. It gave me time to think.”
“You wouldn’t be interested. It’s about the war and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“No problem. Let’s order our food. Treat’s on me.” The two ordered, retuning to their booth carrying coffee and hamburgers.
Between bites, Rich asked, “Well, what should we talk about?”
Brad grimaced guardedly. “Okay, I’ll tell you what I was thinking about. I was thinking about Senior First Sergeant Carl Gonzales, one of the best men to ever serve his country. We served together from the time I was a young second lieutenant. When I became a bird colonel, he served as my senior first sergeant and we were best friends. He looked after me as though I were his younger brother.”
Tears formed in Brad’s eyes, as he concluded, “He died of wounds he suffered in the same explosion that took my leg. I’ll never forget him.”
Having never been in the military, Rich remained silent realizing that, at this moment, anything he said would be inappropriate.
“Well, enough of that melancholy topic,” Brad resolved, “I have a question for you about religion, preacher; since you’re a doctor of theology, you should be able to answer it.”
Relieved about the change in topics, Rich chuckled. “Just because I earned an advanced degree in theology doesn’t mean I know everything about religion. Some people may tell you that the more I study, the less I know. At least that’s what some of my board members think. Anyway, what’s your question?”
“I was listening to the radio in my car the other day. A preacher was speaking about prophecy. He claimed the Iraqis and Iranians are descendents of the Babylonians and the Persians. Is that true?”
“If I recall correctly, centuries ago, Iraq and Iran constituted the area known as Persia. If you’re really interested in this, let’s go to my study; I have writings I can refer to.”
“I’d really like to know. I’ll meet you at your church,” Brad agreed. The two finished their meal and left headed to the church.
“Make yourself comfortable, Brad,” Rich invited, as he scanned the library files to the numerous volumes that lined the walls of his study. “Here’s what I’m looking for, he exclaimed, pulling out a volume titled, ‘An Exhaustive History of Ancient Babylon.’”
Noticing its thickness, Brad quipped, “Looks like we’re going to be here for a long time.”
“It’ll be interesting. Let’s sit at the table instead of the desk. More room and better lighting.”
Both settled in at the long conference table. Nearby, two enormous clear-glass windows looked out on the church’s sizeable, lush rear lawn, where the grounds keeper could be observed some distance away, mounted on a power mower.
Glancing out, Brad observed, “Some place you people have here.”
“God’s been good to us. Our congregation is generous with its giving. But I believe one of the reason God has prospered us is because we contribute twenty-five percent of the church’s income to missions and the poor.”
Brad blinked with incredulity. “This church gives away one quarter of its income! How can you do that? Whenever I come across religious programs, they’re always begging for money, not giving it away.”
“I can’t speak for others, Brad. I only can speak for this congregation. My staff and I never beg for money. The elders and deacons handle the church finances; they take the offerings. Now let’s get back to why we came here.”
“Wait a seconded. Before we get into that, clarify Ishmael for me. Who was he? The preacher mentioned him, too.”
Rich seemed surprised. “I’m very happy you’re so interested in these matters, Brad.”
Brad’s face reddened and he considered his hands for a moment, “Well, I notice that events in the world are shaping up just like my Dad said they would when I was a kid. Way back then he would say that Israel would become a nation again. And that was years before it happened. So there must be something to this prophecy thing.”
“There sure is. And much of it is being fulfilled right now. Let me get two Bibles in modern English and we’ll get into the study of who Ishmael was. And, if you wish, at a later time, we’ll look into Babylon, Iraq and Iran.”