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TITLE: God Will Preserve His Word
By Elizabeth Baize

I must have been stunned by a fall! With difficulty I opened my eyes to find myself staring at Bartimaus. In the early morning light his face shone peacefully and a gentle smile rested on his lips. Yet the sight of his still form caused anxious thoughts to flood my mind. Unable to move myself, I lay beside the road in dazed confusion. What was I doing here, and what had happened? The last thing I remembered was that Bartimaus and I were fleeing Rome and after that …. My thoughts were interrupted by voices drifting from the underbrush. I heard footfalls and suddenly three men were standing beside me. "We cannot stay out in the open," one whispered. "Any minute the Romans might return." Two of the men wrapped their arms around Bartimaus and carried him into the thicket beside the road. The third man stood staring down at me for a moment before he stooped to lift me up. Walking together, we followed the others through the brush and into a tiny clearing. "Marcus, he's been gone some time," one of the men whispered. I felt Marcus tighten his clasp around me. "Not Bartimaus! Why Paul's letter was committed to him for safekeeping!" The other bowed his head. "Yes, we have searched, but he does not have it with him. We only found a small piece of papyrus which reads, ‘Remove the fish's tail.’ Andrew and I cannot make any sense of it." Marcus shook his head. "Neither can I. I'm afraid all we can do is carry him to the church’s hide-out for burial."

Hours later, I stood beside Marcus as the body of my friend Bartimaus was laid to rest. The Christians were grouped solemnly around the grave singing his favorite psalm. As the crowd began to disperse, Marcus suddenly began striding in the direction of a woman and child. It was all I could do to keep up with him! "Priscilla!" The woman spun around at the sound of her name, allowing me a view of her face. I almost leaped for joy as I recognized Bartimaus's daughter! "I know this must be a difficult time for you," Marcus continued, "but I wanted you to have this." He pulled me out in front of him and began to release his tight grasp about me. "Oh!! Grandfather’s special staff!" Lydia had been hiding behind her mother's skirts, but upon catching sight of me she overcame any fear she had of Marcus. He smiled and gently placed me into her outstretched palms. "This staff is much too large for you, but I am sure you will treasure this possession of your Grandfather’s."
Lydia shyly lifted her eyes to his face, "Thank you. I watched him carve on this one. It was his newest staff." She began running her tiny fingers over the flower designs that Bartimaus had worked around the top of me, but paused to whisper, "I'm so glad to have you." I was so overjoyed to now be a treasure of Bartimaus's granddaughter, that I only caught a fraction of Marcus’s conversation with her mother. “Priscilla, your father was trusted with Paul’s letter to our church. No one but God seems to know where he hid it for safekeeping. Could you tell me anything that you know that might give us a lead?”
Priscilla shook her head. “I have no idea where he could have taken it, but I am willing to relate to you what I know about his last few hours in Rome. My sister is preparing our evening meal. Please, come and join us.”

Lydia left me propped against a rock near the cave’s entrance, and I listened intently as Priscilla began her tale. “Marcus, as you know, my father has been living in my home since the death of my husband. Yesterday evening, he burst into the house. ‘Priscilla,’ he called, ‘you must prepare to take Lydia to the caves tonight! I have arranged for you to travel with Brother Anthony, since I will not be able to follow for several hours. The persecutions are increasing.’ I quickly tried to gather up some of his belongings, but he gently shook his head. ‘No, Priscilla. I only need my staff.’ Immediately I took the one he has used for years and tried to place it into his hands. He thanked me, but picked up that new staff he has been working on. As he walked back into the streets, his last words to me were, ‘Priscilla, remember that God will always preserve His Word.’ I leaned against the doorway and watched him stride away for the last time . . .” Priscilla bowed her head in grief, and I felt disappointment sweep over me. Due to the confrontation with the Roman soldiers, my own story ended with Priscilla’s words. Would those missing hours ever be accounted for? Marcus’s sympathetic voice finally broke the silence. “Bartimaus did write a note that we found with his body. Do the words, ‘Remove the fish's tail,’ mean anything to you?” Priscilla shook her head, but Lydia who had been quietly playing near her mother suddenly paused at the words. She rose to her feet and her deliberate actions caused all eyes to focus on her. I felt her grasp me in her small hands and then turn to walk toward Marcus. When she stood before him, she gently placed me once again into his palms with the simple words, ‘Remove the fish’s tail.’ Priscilla gasped in astonishment, and Marcus’s voice trembled as he spoke, “Lydia, I am afraid I still don’t understand.”
“Would you like me to try?”
Speechless, Marcus nodded his assent. In wonder I watched her hands move toward the flowers that Bartimaus had so carefully carved upon me. As her fingers began to press the intricate detail, a triangle of wood slipped free revealing my hollow interior. In surprise, I myself saw that it was no longer hollow. With trembling fingers, Marcus began to slip page after page of carefully rolled papyrus from the opening. When the last roll had been removed, Marcus turned to Bartimaus’s granddaughter, “Lydia, Paul’s entire letter is accounted for, but how did you know about the fish’s tail?” Lydia raised me as she spoke, “One day I went for a walk with Grandfather, and he told me that he was carving a special staff. He said that he would hide a fish in the flowers and vines, but that this would be our secret. He said that someday he would go to be with Jesus, and if I ever heard someone in the church say, ‘Remove the fish’s tail,’ that I could show them what it meant. When you spoke, I knew the time had come.” Lydia lowered her eyes, and her fingers slid the fish’s tale into place, “Grandfather spoke the truth. God always preserves His Word.”
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