Elsie turned the corner and stared down yet another mansion lined avenue. Golden pavements were all very well, she mused, but one looked much the same as any other. Admittedly the houses varied in size and style of construction, but she still had great difficulty in finding her way around. Of course, all she had to do was click her fingers and a customer services angel would instantly appear. But Elsie preferred to work things out the old fashioned way. After all, she had all of eternity to discover who lived where and the best route to take!
Truth be told, Elsie’s biggest problem was that she was lonely. Sure, there were hundreds of millions of very friendly people that she could chat to. But she hadn’t come across a single soul whom she had known during her life on earth. Her pastor had been the biggest surprise: within an hour of arriving, she had rushed to an information booth to ascertain his whereabouts, only to be told that he had been denied entry. Apparently, explained the ever so sympathetic angel, her former pastor had undergone a turbulent mid-life crisis, abandoned the ministry, and run off with some exotic pole dancer. After hearing this, Elsie couldn’t bring herself to ask about the other members of her church.
What hurt most of all was that her family would be in the ‘other place’. They had shown no interest whatsoever in her faith, refusing every invitation to church, and giggling to themselves whenever she insisted on saying grace. Her son’s family had dabbled in Buddhism while her daughters had made a fuss about calling themselves atheists. Elsie had begged God to have mercy on them but death had overtaken her with those prayers still unanswered.
“Excuse me,” said a familiar voice.
Elsie spun around and stared at the middle-aged man before her. “Ralph? Is it really you?” she asked. “But it can’t be. You’re lost.”
The man laughed, a voice that was deep and vibrant. “If you ask me, mother,” he said, “you’re the one who’s looking lost. Why didn’t you ask for a map?”
“But you can’t be here. Only the redeemed were admitted. I... I don’t understand.”
“Calm down, mother,” said Ralph, gathering up Elsie in an affectionate embrace. “It’s true that none of us took much notice of your tracts or Bible verses or special church events. Indeed, looking back, I think we were pretty heartless in the way we acted. But what really impressed us was the dignified way you approached death. After the funeral, I dug out your old Bible and started to read it with fresh eyes. Within three months I had been baptised in my local church and had started working away on my sisters.”
“You mean that they are here too?”
“Come and see for yourself,” said Ralph, dragging his mother by the hand into a nearby mansion. “We’ve, er, borrowed this house for a family get-together.”
Elsie’s litany of questions was drowned out by a sudden cry of “Surprise!” She looked around in astonishment at a room filled to bursting with sons and daughters and grandchildren and nephews and nieces.
“But... I still don’t understand. Why didn’t anyone tell me that you were all here?”
“It was Jo’s idea,” explained Ralph. “We knew how disappointed you were that none of us showed any interest in the faith while you were alive.”
“I just thought,” said Jo, jumping in ahead of her older brother, “that it would be a fun idea to have a surprise party for you. I mentioned it to an angel who bumped it up the line and we heard later that it had been approved.”
“I didn’t think you would mind,” said another, placing his nail-pierced arm around Elsie’s shoulders. “I want you to know that I heard every one of your prayers. It just took your testimony unto death to bring your children to the place of repentance. They are all incredibly proud of you.”
“Oh, Lord, I don’t mind at all!” said Elsie, falling to her knees in heartfelt worship.
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