Gustav moved slowly through the snow, hampered by heavy boots as much as by his fatigue. He shouldn’t complain about working outside in winter; at least he had a job. His friends and relatives were not so fortunate. As he stood in line for a loaf of bread and some cheese to take home to Magda and the children a man passed by, keeping his eyes averted to the ground and barely audible he said, “green house.” Gustav didn’t look up or respond to the passerby’s comment. Reaching the head of the line he accepted the meager provisions, lowered his head to the icy wind and quickly made his way home.
Home was a two room flat on the 30th floor of an ancient government building with no elevator. Magda had to haul water for drinking, washing and cleaning. The only heat came from a two-burner, gas hot plate that doubled as their cooking stove. Gustav smiled at Magda, Olga, and Yuri as he entered the main room where the children slept near the heat. The other, smaller room served as his and Magda’s private space. The only bathroom was down the hall, shared by all those on that floor.
“What beautiful cheese, and bread as well. You spoil us,” Magda smiled back. Gustav gathered 3-year old Yuri and 5-year old Olga into his big arms and accepted their hugs and kisses.
“Green house tonight,” he told her. “We all need to go tonight.”
“You know how I worry that the children will be caught and tell the authorities about the meeting. They’re too young to understand they must lie about worshiping God.”
“It’s dark already. We’ll go the long way around and play games with them while we walk so they can’t tell anyone about where we went. We are supposed to have an American preacher visit. He is in the country on an educational visa, listed as a student not a preacher. This is the only night he can get away unnoticed and come to talk with us. He has Bibles, songbooks and money sewn in the lining of his coat. It will be a glorious meeting.”
Magda hid her concern, fed them and dressed the children for the long walk in the sub-zero night air. She spoke a silent prayer that they would not be caught. The party strictly prohibited religion of any kind.
The “Green Church” was an old farmhouse two miles out of the city limits. No one remembered who owned it, and the farm had long ago reverted to the party. For nearly four years a small group of Christians met in the old building, painted green because that was the only paint available. Their meetings were erratic, always called that day so no schedule could be determined should anyone watch them. They had one Bible for the thirty-five adults. It was Gustav’s turn to take the Bible home after meeting. Now it looked like there may be enough for each home to have their own Bible. There was certain risk involved in having any religious text in their home. Magda was torn between the desire to read God’s word any time she wanted and the fear that they would be found out.
“Why have you risked so much to meet together in Christian worship?” the guest asked the group inside the unheated Green Church.
“We are fearful”, Magda said, “but not so much when we are together. At first there were only two families: now we are fifteen families. Although the place we worship is not as important as the actual worship, coming together in the Green Church helps us study and learn, especially when we doubt or have theology questions. To me the importance of the group is the love we share: tangible love just like the love Christ has for us.”
“Are there other house churches?” the guest inquired.
“I’m sure there are,” Gustav stated, “but we know of no other in fact. That way if we are caught we cannot betray them. Small home groups make it harder for the government to find us. But God knows us. He sent you with the Bibles didn’t He.”
Each family received a Bible but the songbooks were dangerous. They burned them, warming their hands before the walk home. Families left one at a time going in different directions until the next time they heard “green house”. No one was caught that night.
Word Count: 740
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