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The Prophet

By Richard Gunther


"Then answered Amos . . . I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdsman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit" Amos 7:14


   When Raoul was six he had his first dream. It came to him late one night, while everyone else in the house was asleep. He woke up and looked at the wall of his bedroom. The black slab of wallpaper and shadow was broken into two curve-cornered windows. He sat up and looked through the windows. In the dim light he could see a wall of rock, solid and cold. It whizzed by almost too fast to focus on any detail. The sound of a train was increasing in his ears, and a light shone from behind his shoulder, like an old yellow museum light. His bed rocked slightly as unseen wheels beneath him followed steel tracks. The gentle rhythm of the train went on for some time and Raoul pressed his face against the glass, enjoying the ride. He had no idea where the train was going, or who was driving it, or why it was taking him like a juggernaut through the black rock.


   The air in the bedroom was cold, and Raoul felt his skin cooling. He pulled the blankets round him and dragged the quilt over his shoulders. There he sat. On and on, through the tunnel sped the train, clicking and swaying, rattling and shuddering. Steel whined against steel, and rough rocks sped by. Raoul tried to see forward and back along the tunnel but it was all darkness. He looked away from the windows, but his bedroom was exactly where it had always been, with its tall wardrobe, and cupboard and shelves, and on the floor the jumble of clothes he had shed before pulling his pyjamas on, and in the corner dimly was his cricket bat.


   "I must tell Mum!" thought Raoul and he slipped out of bed. But by the time he reached his door the train's clicking had faded to silence, the carriage windows were gone and the bedroom was back as it had always been.


   Yawning, Raoul got back into bed and slipped under the still warm sheets. He watched the wall for a while, wondering about the train, until sleep gradually claimed him.




   Raoul's bedroom was on the lower story of a brick and wooden house, set into the side of a hill. It was a well-established house, with many small trees and a linear garden, which ran lengthways above and below the house, following the contours of thin concrete paths and triangular lawns. A steep shingle driveway, which led up from the sealed road below the house, ended at a large, dark shed with a fruit box for a step. At various places around the section were piles of things - wooden planks, mostly rotten, plastic fish-barrels, tins and buckets, boxes, cans of old paint, cement bags with perishing plastic over them, and secondhand plumbing. Long grass grew between the piles and infested every place where a lawnmower could not reach.


   Raoul lay in bed, listening to the birds whistling. Shadows of birds flapped across his half-drawn curtains, and some sparrows fought furiously as they fell to the ground, only to break the fight and fly away as if nothing had happened. Across from where he lay, Raoul could see the round, plastic globe, partly hidden by the edge of the wardrobe. One of the continents looked like a face, another like a rabbit. The negative spaces, where the oceans lay, formed the body of some other creature. Beside the curve of the Atlantic the wing of a model airplane jutted out and the tip caught the sun's bright shafts as they drew a long rectangle down his wall.


   Upstairs a chair dragged across the floor. Someone was speaking angrily and a door banged. The stern thudding of feet coming down the stairs grew louder, and then the door opened.


   "Get up!"


   Raoul looked at his father, then he stirred, and swung his feet to the floor.


   "Coming" he said.


  The sarcasm started. Raoul's father began to berate him about being punctual, how everyone else in the world always got up without having to be called twice, how the band was waiting to play for Raoul as he got dressed. The words lashed out from the small, bitter man's mouth like snake-whips, cutting and tearing the flesh off the boy's body. He dressed in silence and went up the stairs to breakfast.


   Over by the coal range his mother was stirring the porridge. She told him his shirt was crooked and waited for him to do something about it. He tucked it in further and took the wooden spoon from her hand. The range threw out a steady heat as he sat beside it, pulling the spoon this way and that. It always fascinated him, how the bubbles rose through the porridge, popping and bursting on the surface, leaving a ring of softness, which quickly merged and disappeared as new bubbles appeared.


   His mother shouted at his father about his rotten teeth. She shouted at him about other things too, but Raoul wasn't listening. It was the morning ritual. He knew it all off by heart.


   On the bench sat the large crystal vase. It was tall, and convex, with facets cut into its sides from top to bottom. When the sunlight passed through it the room was filled with distorted prisms, which, Raoul noticed, all moved very slowly as they traversed the room. Raoul watched one small prism on the floor near his foot. Almost imperceptibly the band of colours moved to the edge of his shoe. He shifted his foot a fraction and waited for the colours to move again. He knew all the time that he was watching the other side of the sun as it roared across the sky, but here, on the floor, was a miniature solar system.


   The table was set and breakfast eaten. At precisely 8 a.m. Raoul's father left the house and went to the car, a shabby old Austin A40 Devon, perched on the edge of the driveway, with the front wheels pointed down to the main road. He unlocked the door and sat behind the steering wheel, released the brake and let gravity turn the motor. The engine stuttered a few times, purred, and the car paused at the road and turned. From the top windows Raoul could see the car as it appeared and disappeared on the curves of the hill road, until it finally disappeared behind a wall of trees.


   At 30 minutes to nine his mother took him to school. This meant a long walk up the hill, to a small, almost invisible group of prefabricated buildings, surrounded by trees and shrubs. Once through the gates Raoul was set free and allowed to join the milling children, not that he wanted to, but this was expected of him. Girls giggled and passed gossip in the corners of the yard, boys shouted and kicked saggy soccer balls, and a teacher stood frowning at the door of her classroom. The dappled sunlight threw strange shadows across the tree-root buckled asphalt as Raoul went to the concrete steps and sat down. He drew his school bag close to him and waited for the bell. ..............


   When Raoul was 7 he was taken to a new school. To get there, he had to leave at 8 a.m. with his father. This meant a ten-minute journey punctuated all the way by sarcastic ridicule, from the back door of the house, to the corner of the street where Raoul got out of the car. He had no idea why his father was always so bitter. He seemed to be the most let down, abused, betrayed man in the whole world, without a single honest friend, and always, always no money. It was like a chorus breaking out, as grand as the Hallelujah chorus in the Messiah, with a leading line beginning "Do you know how much it costs to feed you?" overlaid by a multitude of sub-themes "Rates, Insurance, Mortgage, Telephone, Electricity, Car maintenance, school fees" repeated over and over until Raoul understood that what his father was trying to say was "I wish you had never been born, you cost so much, you are ruining my life!" and Raoul always kept respectfully quiet because, of course, his father was right.


   On one of these days, having left the car and walked some distance down the street, on a cold, serene winter's day, Raoul discovered some wonderful ice on the footpath. He slid back and forth, leaving white lines with his shoes. He stamped in the gutter, breaking the brittle layers. He ran along the white grass, skidding his finger through the frosted tops of fences, like a water-skier, spraying ice crystals. His feet left dark tracks in the grass, and his breath came out steaming, like the clouds his mother made when she smoked.


   He saw the school ahead of him, huddled at the edge of a wide, cold, white field. Some children were already there, running about the concrete apron, and a light shone from the staff room windows. Usually Raoul was one of the first pupils to arrive. Most mornings he went to the library, where he always found some colourful book to read until more and more rowdy children crowded in and the room became too noisy.


   This morning he discovered a book about a boy who drew whatever he wanted. He read the book twice, then he filled out the borrower's card and put the book in his bag. During class he ignored the teacher and wrote his own copy of all the words in the book. It utterly fascinated him, that anyone could make their own world.


   After school, as the winter sun dipped below the jumbled skyline of rooftops and TV antenna, Raoul walked to the corner of the street, and wondered whether he ought to keep going. Usually he caught a bus, but he was permitted to keep his bus money if he walked home. It was nearly four kilometers. He looked towards the city and shut his eyes as the glorious, fiery sun sat directly in the middle of the street and exploded golden light into his face. Every winter it perched there, blinding motorists, and bathing the street in liquid gold, and then, just as quickly, it was gone. The sky was green and violet, the horizon silver.


   Raoul felt the coins in his pocket and started to walk. Nearly an hour later he arrived at the foot of the hill, where a dairy nestled into the base of a red, volcanic rock cliff. Ice plant hung in thick, green curtains above and each side of the roof, and a crooked fence ran from one side of the shop down to the point where the cliff and the footpath met. Raoul went into the shop and ordered an assortment of sweets, then he started his long walk up the hill, another kilometer and a half, to his home.


   As he walked slowly up the hill he smelled macrocarpa fires as they were lit, and damp pine needles, and wetness of gardens, and down below he heard turkeys gobbling in farm sheds, cars driving on distant roads, in the trees he saw a cat watching him, a fantail dancing through the twigs, a man in his garage arc-welding. The gutter all the way up the road was still unfinished, and water had cut amazing convoluted shapes into the clay. Some ice still remained from the night before so Raoul sort it out and broke it with his shoes. He snapped a stick from a tree and whisked it about, cutting the air with wide, swift slashes.


   He wanted the walk home to last forever. He decided that could spend a hundred years just stepping over puddles and following clay gutters and listening to birds settling for the night. But the road seemed to speak to him. "This is not how life will be for you Raoul.  Your world is temporary. Your world will pass away, but mine will always be here. The real world belongs to the people who made me. They will force you to be a part of their world too and you will forget."


   The final corner of the road unwound itself and high in the darkness Raoul could see the lights of his own home. The curtains were drawn, but even so the flickering of the television was plain on the living room cloth. Other houses revealed their secrets too. In one kitchen a woman was bent over a sink, in another window a man was pulling on his shirt. Steam fogged a bathroom window, and in another a patch of light showed a man  dragging a sack of coal to his house.


   And that night Raoul had a dream.


2.    He was in space, tumbling like a leaf in the wind, in orbit close to the sun - his sun, the same sun that shot the vase through with prisms. The universe spread about him in every direction, a scattered sandbox of lights, myriads of stars, bright and steady as pin-points in a black velvet box, white eyes of fire. Suddenly he swung away from the sun and shot through space. He fell into orbit beside another star. It looked exactly the same as the star he had left behind, but he knew it was different. It was not his sun. And now he felt tremendously lonely. Why had he been abandoned? Where was his own sun? It was gone,  lost amongst the millions of other fiery suns. There was no way he could ever find it again. He swooped through space, streaking past galaxies, plunging through fiery gas clouds, turning and spiraling, like a swallow in the wind, and then he shot back through the streaming darkness and began to tumble beside his own sun. He saw the Earth below his feet, blue and beautiful, illuminated along one half and deep in night across the other. Clumps of city lights twinkled along the coast of north America and across other parts of the land. So, thought Raoul, in all the universe, there is only one Earth.


   He woke in his own bed surrounded by the familiar. A street light threw tree shadows against his curtains, and the sea, far away, raised an endless, gentle booming sound. Scared, Raoul reached for his Bible. It was a small, blocky book, with type too small to read, and several colour pictures, of events Raoul knew almost nothing about. It had been given to him as a birthday present, by his grandmother, no doubt in order to perpetuate her affiliation to church-maintenance and attendance in her grandson. But the text was King James and the meaning quite obscure. However Raoul always took great comfort in reading it, and this he kept to at one chapter per day.


   He turned his bedside lamp on and opened the book at random. The words of the prophets howled through his mind, wreaking vengeance and destruction on some wicked, unrepentant city. Greatly comforted to know that God was still in charge, Raoul closed the book and fell into a fitful sleep.


   "Our school trip" said the teacher, the following morning, "Will be to the museum in Lyttleton. We leave on Friday morning, and we will be traveling by bus for the first part of the trip, and then by train from the station."


   Raoul was excited. The old steam train had been kept running long after its usefulness had run out, thanks to a team of enthusiasts and a great deal of donated money. Only people with money could afford to travel the short journey to Lyttleton and back, through the hills. Raoul had never had a ride on it, because of course his father considered it a waste of time, and of course money. But the school had gained a concession price, and someone had given the school the necessary funds.


   Two days passed and Friday arrived. Raoul was first to school and spent the time before the bell staring distractedly at the pages of a book he never intended to read. Beautiful illustrations, ornate and full of colour led his mind to Arabia, and harems of gorgeous women, and thin, black horses with flowing manes, but he read not a single full sentence. At 5 past 9 the bus arrived, and Raoul joined the jostling class and found a seat. The teacher said a few stern words, and then the driver pulled out into the road and headed across the city towards the hills.


   The station was deserted, except for two men in old uniforms. One carried a pile of coal sacks, while the other, a short, fat man with a belly hanging over his belt, sat on a chair in the sun with his eyes shut. He stood with some difficulty as the bus pulled in and waddled to the station gates to await the arrivals. The morning sun was only just beginning to strike the land with any warmth, and the railway lines gleamed shiny on top but rusty brown along the sides. All the stones and sleepers were sprayed with dirty oil.


   As yet there was no sign of the train, so it became the preoccupation of every child to watched for the first signs of its. One of the girls spotted it first, squealing the news despite the teacher's order to keep quiet. A plume of white smoke was rising in the distance, like a cumulous cloud. More clouds joined it and soon the shape of the train, black and indistinct could be made out. The rumble and puff of the engine grew louder, then it arrived, steaming and hissing, chuffing and clanging. The children climbed on board and scrambled for a seat beside the window. Raoul found himself beside one more by accident than anything, and as he looked at the station through the glass he realized he had been in this same place before.


   The engine began to heave forward, banging all the carriages. A whistle screamed and the station receded. Not far ahead lay the gaping mouth of the tunnel. As Raoul watched, small bursts of white steam passed outside the window, and then the day turned into night as the wall of the tunnel rushed past. Broken rock whizzed by, only an arm's length from the window, and the cabin light threw a dull yellow rectangle out against it. The cabin swayed, and the wheel rumbled and clicked.


   Five minutes later the tunnel ended and Lyttleton appeared. It was a steep town, dazzling white in the sloping sunshine, with houses jutting from a green, tussocky hillside which skidded down to a harbour, where ships lay in a tangle of masts and funnels, decks and broad iron flanks, with holes in their skins leaking water, or seeping oil. A place where the green sea moved gently, lifting and lowering the heaviest tanker and the thistle seed yacht with the same inexorable power.


   Trailing a white plume the train followed a bumpy track to a small station and hissed impatiently as the children disembarked, then the whistle blew and the engine began to go in reverse. The teacher did a quick count of heads and then led the way to the Museum. It sat in a group of buildings some distance away, so the children had time to talk and point and shout to each other.


   Raoul was not in a mood for such humour. He felt a heaviness, a foreboding of something unpleasant ahead, which he would rather avoid. For a brief moment he hoped the Museum might be closed.


   The front doors of the Museum were large, and heavy, with metal poles across their width for people to push against. With some difficulty the teacher heaved the doors open and held one of them as the class entered, then she let it go and it swung noiselessly shut. A small, balding man with thin black glasses and a wisp of a moustache came up to the teacher and shook her hand. He remained bent so when he smiled at her his eyes were turned up to her face. He reminded Raoul of a jackal, or a fawning hyena.


   The man was introduced, his name quickly forgotten, and the tour began. Being a harbour museum, most of the exhibits were related in some way to the history of the place. Carved whale bone, model ships, figurines from prows, maps and so forth littered the rooms, and there was also a wide selection of household appliances, mangles, washing machines and the like. Raoul particularly liked the music wheel, which played a delicate tune when a penny was dropped in the slot. The balding man used a penny to start the machine, and Raoul watched, fascinated, as tiny pins struck a row of metal fins to pluck the tune.


   Towards the end of the tour, just as the class became bored and listless, the balding man began to talk about sailing ships.


   "In the past" he said, "Ships sailed across the oceans to discover new lands. They sailed from their own countries, and headed into uncharted seas and oceans. Sometimes they never returned. Other times they came back with riches and stories of new lands.    One day Man will fly in rockets to distant planets, just like sailing ships. He will explore the universe, and return with news of new lands to settle.    Because you see the Earth is just an insignificant little speck, like a fleck of dust in an enormous ocean. There are millions of other planets out there, just like Earth, and millions of suns, just like our own sun . . ."


  Raoul put up his hand.




   The words froze in Raoul's mouth. He pulled his hand down.


   "What do you want to say?" the teacher asked.


   "Nothing" said Raoul.


   The balding man glanced at Raoul and continued.


   "There's nothing special about our Earth. It's just a ball of rock with some water on it. Out there in space there are millions of other balls of rock, and one day Man will sail his ships away from these shores and . . ."


   "What is it Raoul?"


   "Please Miss Armstrong, that's not true"


   "What's not true?"


   Raoul's face was turning red and he began to tremble.


   "The sun" said Raoul, "There's only one sun and one Earth."


   "How do you know that?" asked the man, with a kindly edge to his voice.


   "I, I had a dream" said Raoul.


   The balding man laughed and wiped the boy from the conversation.


   "Well" he said, smiling, "That's good. I hope you have many more happy and interesting dreams" and with that he thanked the teacher, and complimented the class on their good behaviour, which wasn't altogether warranted, and the tour was ended.


   Afterwards, as the train rumbled out of the harbour town and entered the darkness of the tunnel, Raoul thought about what he had done. He half expected the kids to make fun of him, but they were too busy shouting to each other to remember. He was alone.


3.    During the weekend a storm rolled in. It was announced by clear skies, which soon became shredded ribbons of torn cloud, and then a wind began to whip the trees and tug at the rooftops. Swirling pieces of paper spiraled up from back yards. The sky turned an ominous blue-grey, then from over the ocean came a thick bank of thundercloud, which formed a cigar-shape and began to grow, and turn on a long axis like a giant drum-wheel. From inside the cloud lightning sparked and flashed, as if trapped.


   Raoul sat on a chair in the kitchen, watching everything. He was thrilled and scared behind the window which reached almost from ceiling to floor, and which flexed and bent as the wind roared about the house. From his vantage point he could see the ocean, which spread away from him like a vast woolen blanket. Whitecaps rushed across the surface, breaking over each other and tossing wildly to escape, it seemed, the fury of the overhanging cloud.


   Suddenly a white bolt streaked down to the sea and struck the water. A huge explosion of white water shot skywards, falling slowly back. The sea gathered the wound together and sealed it over. Further down the hillside a sheet of roofing iron flapped, and a white plastic bag shot past, tumbling madly.


  Raoul slid off his chair and went downstairs to his bedroom. He pulled on an extra jersey, and his plastic raincoat, and then he went out into the storm and started to walk. The wind met him head on, like a malevolent beast, throwing him backwards, but he recovered his balance and kept walking. He went along the path, past the daisies that grew out of the retaining wall. They swung about in a frenzy, as if trying to wrench themselves free. The trees swished downwards, lashing the air, and dust rose in clouds, as the wind sucked it off the shingle driveway.


   Half an hour later Raoul was above the last house on the road and walking across a paddock. The storm seemed to close in on him, hungrily tearing at his body, but he had no thought of personal injury. He stopped, in an open, bare space, where the grass was close-cropped by sheep and the tussock was small and tufted, and there he sat down. He watched the sky as it boiled and shuddered with lightning, and his head was filled with the roar and rumble of the wind, which bellowed up from the valleys and screamed from the hills around him.


   For Raoul Time no longer existed. He merged into the storm and listened. His epiphany was broken by a shout. He turned to see a man coming towards him, a neighbour, a man he saw sometimes through  gaps in the trees but whom he never spoke to.


   "Hey!" the man shouted, "Get out of the storm, you stupid boy!"


   Raoul stood up.


   "You're that kid Raoul aren't you?" said the man, "Your parents are looking for you!"


   Raoul followed the man back to a car and they drove carefully back down the hill. Huge raindrops began to spatter on the windscreen as they pulled up at Raoul's house.


   As he went back into the house his parents told him off. They shouted at him for ten minutes at least, and his father gave him several hard whacks on the backside with a wooden spoon. He refused to cry so his mother sent him to his room, and there he sat, on the bed, for some time while he thought about what he had done.


   After a while he heard the warning thud of feet descending the stairs. It was his mother. She knocked and opened the door all in one movement.


   "What were you doing up there?" she demanded, "You know how dangerous it is to go out in a storm? A sheet of iron could have hit you, or a tree might have fallen!"


   "I wasn't worried" said Raoul.


   "Well you should have been worried. What got into your head to go walking?"


   "I had to" said Raoul.


   "What are you talking about? Who said you had to?"


   "I don't know" said Raoul. Wishing the words would stop tumbling from his mouth. He felt like a rabbit being pursued by a fox.


   "You're hiding something" said Raoul's mother, "Has this got something to do with a dream? Have you had another one of those dreams? Your teacher told me about something you said about having a dream, when you were in Lyttleton?"


   "No" said Raoul, "I didn't have a dream. I just had to go . . .  it was like I was being called to . . . "


   "And who called you - God?"    The sound of mockery was there, but also a motherly concern.


   "I don't know" said Raoul, "I had to see something."


   "What did you see?"


   Raoul looked at his mother and searched her face for understanding. She saw the look in his eyes and sat beside him. Her arm went to his back and she rubbed it gently.


   "We love you Raoul" she said, "We're angry because we care about you."


   "I know" said Raoul.




   "Mum? Can you keep a secret?"


   "Depends what it is" she said, "If its something about you personally I can."


   "I saw things" said Raoul, "Pictures, in the sky. There were six stars, and one of them went out. Then one of the other five was taken to a prison."


   "That's interesting" said Raoul's mother, "I wonder what it means?"


   Raoul leaned against his mother.


   "God talks to me" he said, "I wish he wouldn't. I want to be like the other kids, but I keep hearing him."


   Raoul's mother started rubbing his back again, then she got up from the bed and ruffled her son's hair affectionately with her hand.


   "Its OK" she said, "We still love you, even if God keeps poking his nose in. You can come back upstairs now" she said, "Its dinner time."


4.    Sunday was desultory, as if the storm had never happened. The steaming roads were strewn with leaves and sticks, and the gutters had left wide fans of debris across corners where drains had blocked, but now the sky was warm and blue, and only white gulls swooped over the land as they wended their way back to the sea.


   Raoul lay in bed and dozed. His eyes followed the shape of the familiar. The globe on the shelf, the airplane, the wallpaper with its plant design, the cricket bat. Everything in its place and a place for everything. Perhaps, he thought, the day before had been a dream? Childhood eternity stretched before and after in an unbroken expanse of unmarked time. The storm seemed only an exceptional moment in a never-ending succession of identical days.


   Raoul decided to go to church. It would not be a pleasant experience, but he knew he had to go. God had told him to.


   He pulled his pyjamas off and found some reasonably good clothes to wear, then he brushed his hair and went upstairs. His mother was vacuuming the living room. His father was out, off to the Showgrounds to sell tickets at the gates, as a spare time job. His father always worked, regardless of the time or day. The song of money rang in his ears.


   Raoul found some food and ate, then he explained to his mother where he was going. She didn't believe in God, but she had the decency to allow other people to say they did believe. Raoul appreciated her generosity. He took a handful of peanuts from the jar on the bench to chew as he walked.


   The sermon was terrible. The minister was a middle-aged man, with large blue eyes and thick glasses, which caught his eyes and made them distort and swell in the glass as he turned his head. He was round-bellied too, and his mouth was thick. He preached with from a sheet of printed notes, and quoted from many sources, though never from the Bible. His congregation enjoyed these messages because they had long ago abandoned any thought of comparing what he said with the Bible. They, and their minister, were alike.


   As Raoul stood to sing the long, slow hymn, which included all seven verses, he watched the minister and saw, above the man's head, a large, two-bladed axe. It hovered above the man's sparse crop of hair its thin, white blade only inches from the skull. Raoul fought to keep from gasping. He expected the whole congregation to react, but there was no change. With relief Raoul saw that the axe was now disappearing.


   As he walked home after the service he talked to God.


   "God," he said "If that axe thing was meant for me to see, then I think that man's in a lot of trouble. I don't want him to die, so can he go to some far away place where nobody comes to hear him?"


   There was no reply.


   Raoul found a stone to kick and tried to forget the whole strange event. The stone obstinately refused to stay on the footpath, so Raoul enjoyed a good hour of kicking until he finally arrived at his gate. He picked up the stone and put it in his pocket. After all he and the stone had been through it had become a kind of friend.






   It was on the news that night. One of the local counsel members had been murdered. The TV pictures were vivid and intrusive. Blood on the floor, an overturned chair, a broken window. One distraught bystander, teary-eyed, told how she had heard the shot. A teenage woman, with a whining baby explained how she had been crossing the street when a sleek, black car was driven away, narrowly missing her. The police red tapes were strung round the building and the item finished with an aerial shot, taken from a helicopter, showing the streets where the crime had occurred.


   Raoul usually avoided the TV news. It always bored him, but this night he could not miss because his father had turned the sound up and demanded that "everyone be quiet". "Everyone" consisted of Raoul and his mother, so they stood respectfully in the room and watched. The item finished and something about sport came on.


   But half an hour later an update appeared. Five city counselors had been arrested, one of them on a charge of murder. The chairman was dead and the killer was in custody, awaiting a trial. Apparently a fight had broken out in the Counsel Chambers and one of the men had used a gun.


   As soon as the item finished Raoul's mother put her arm round her son's shoulders and looked at him very seriously.


   "You saw this" she whispered.


   Raoul nodded.


   "Don't tell anyone."


   Raoul left the room and ran downstairs, into his bedroom. He grabbed the small, almost useless Bible off his dresser and tossed it on to the bed, then he flung himself after it and started to flick through the pages.


   "God is speaking to me!" he thought over and over, "But I don't know who he is!"


   He desperately turned the pages, hoping to find the answer written clearly in black and white, with large bold letters, but all he found was a mass of grey text, almost too small to read. He looked at the index and found the list of books. That was no help. He went to the back and looked at maps. The Journeys of Paul the Apostle, a plan of the city of Jerusalem, the land of Palestine during the reign of king David. All useless. He found a section called Harmony of the Gospels, and a list of the Parables. But there was nothing about God.


   "This is supposed to be God's book" thought Raoul, "But where is he?" He flicked the book open and tried to read the tiny print, then he shut the book and flung it away.


   The following Sunday he dragged himself reluctantly to church again and sat on the hard pew, with the shabby hymn book in one hand and the white newsletter in the other. Several elderly people smiled politely at him and acknowledged his presence, and one old man even shook his hand and praised him for coming. "We need some young blood in this church" he chuckled, "There's only a bunch of dinosaurs left, and we'll all soon be extinct!"


   The minister stood up and walked to stand behind the creamy, wooden pulpit as he always did, and his hands turned the pages of a large book for as moment as he searched for the correct order of service notes. Raoul noticed a tremble in the hands.


   "Before we begin today's service" said the minister, with an expression of shock and bewilderment, "I have an announcement. Normally, when the Church decides to transfer a minister from one district to another, a reasonable warning, perhaps several months, is given before the move is undertaken. However, I have been notified, without any prior warning, and beginning this week, to begin a new ministration, in the district of . . ." and he said the name of the tiny rural town where his new posting would be. It was a remote place, set deep in the foothills of Canterbury, and it was unlikely to have a population large enough to support a minister, but "there you are" said the minister, "I must leave tomorrow and begin my new work."


   He cleared his throat as emotion welled up inside him, then the organist played the first bards of the hymn and the congregation stood. Raoul sang in a daze, and hardly noticed the service, then he slipped out and walked home.


5.    Close to where Raoul lived, not far down the road, was a house set at the bottom of a long, thin foot path. It was a house which Raoul had often wondered about, because most of it was hidden by thick evergreen trees, and he had never seen its occupant, either arriving or departing. Yet he knew someone lived there because the lights were usually on at night, and he had often seen smoke drifting from among the trees around about where he guessed the chimney was. He had asked his mother who lived there, once, and she had said all she knew was an elderly woman called Mrs. White owned the house, and that she had been overseas for most of her life, doing missionary work.


   "I've never met the woman myself" said Raoul's mother, "But I've heard about her. Apparently she a kind old thing, and she keeps very much to herself."


   Raoul wondered if this woman, Mrs. White, might be able to help him find God, so on Sunday afternoon he walked down the road and turned at the long, thin foot path. At the bottom of the path he found what he had expected, a small house. It was in poor condition, with weatherboards covered in peeling paint, rust patches growing on the roof and a jumbled, dilapidated garden, but the owner had taken some care of the small, irregular lawn, and all the weeds were clipped short up to the front door.


   Raoul went to the door and knocked. After a few seconds he heard someone coming, then the door opened and a sweet, wrinkled face appeared. The hair was white, the skin brown, and the hands that welcomed him were thin and fine-boned.


   "Come in" said the woman, smiling radiantly, "I've been expecting you."


   "You have?" said Raoul.


   "Don't look so surprised!" smiled the woman, "Come on, I've got everything ready."


   Raoul followed her into the house and immediately became aware of a presence, as if the house itself was alive. There was nothing tangible to attach this feeling to, but it seemed that the rooms breathed, the walls watched, and the house shifted itself, to accommodate its visitor. Raoul looked about, half expecting to see someone else, besides Mrs. White, but she was alone.


   She led the boy into a small living room, which held almost no furniture. A single bookcase stood against one wall, with five or six books, and a low table held center position, on which was a large Bible and a dog-eared school exercise book. Mrs. White indicated a chair and Raoul sat on it, while the old woman seated herself on the other chair facing him. She continued to smile, as if she had been given a wonderful gift, and she held out her hand to shake Raoul by his.


   "It is so good to see you" she said, "My young Samuel. I have been waiting a long time for your arrival."


   "How did you know I was coming?"


   "You should know that" laughed Mrs. White, "The Lord does nothing but he reveals it first to his servants!"


   "But I don't know the Lord" said Raoul.


   "That's why you're here" said Mrs. White, "I'd like to help you find him, if you're willing to learn?"


   "Yes, please" said Raoul.


   Mrs. White began by introducing herself formerly, and asked Raoul for his name and a few minor things, then she shut her eyes for a moment, tilting her head, whispering thanks to heaven.


   The lesson began with Mrs. White launching into her own life story. She started at the point where she had first realized that there must be a God. The starry heavens had convinced her, and the wonder of the night sky, so immense, so vast, and so beautiful, stretching out in unlimited glory. She went from that first questioning time to the tent meeting she had attended, when she was a young teenager, and then came the definitive moment when she asked the Son of God to take up residence within her. She became his tent. "From that day" said Mrs. White, "I began to know God."


   The story continued and covered her early years, then she detailed her recurring sins, her days of loneliness, her weeks of sorrow, her isolation and deprivation, and then her move to China, where she worked for thirty years with two other women. Finally weakened under the strain of age, she returned to her home country and was given a financial gift, which she used to purchase the tiny house and section on the hillside.


   "Since then" she said, "I have helped with the Sunday school, and whatever else I can find to do."


   "So do you really know God?" asked Raoul.


   "I do" said Mrs. White firmly, "But not fully. Not completely. That would be impossible. But I can say that I know him truly. There's a difference you see."


   Raoul understood.


   "Do you have a dog?" Mrs. White suddenly asked.


   "No" said Raoul, thinking of his father's harsh words the last time he had brought the subject up.


   "Have you ever been to dog trials?"


   "I've seen it on TV."


   "And what did you think? Were the dogs unhappy as they obeyed the shepherd's whistle?"


   "No, they were enjoying themselves."


   "Exactly. That is how to know the Lord. First you must become familiar with him, and learn to distinguish his voice from all the other voices in the world. When you hear him, and obey him only, you will be happy."


   "But how do I know if it's him speaking?"


   "Read his book. Read it every day. Read it out loud. Listen. Get familiar with his manner of speaking, and soon you will know his voice from all the others."


   The afternoon sped by, and soon the shadows in the room were long and dark. Mrs. White switched the light on and suggested that it was probably time for Raoul to go. He thanked the old woman twice as he went to the door, embarrassing her, then she bid him well and shut the door. Raoul walked home in silence. He had a strange sensation of having passed a point in his life to which he could never return, and from which he would never be the same. He also determined to find a Bible with type he could read without straining his eyes.


   6.      When Raoul was seventeen he left his home and moved north, to a city called Wellington, which was almost identical to the one he had left behind except it was larger, and populated by many taller buildings, and most of its land was hilly. He arrived at night, wearing a heavy backpack and carrying a small suitcase. In the bank he had a hundred dollars, and in one pocket another thirty. He wore his only pair of shoes and his hope was to find a room at the local YMCA. He walked off the ferry and along the side of the wharf, stepping carefully around large black puddles, and made his way to the main road. Cars and trucks whizzed by, whooshing through the wetness, spraying a fine mist into the air, and the air smelled foul.


   He crossed the street and made his way to the main entrance of a tall, ageing high-rise. He entered and stopped at the foyer. A young woman came to the counter and took some money from him, offering in turn a key with a plastic label and number. Raoul thanked the woman and went up the stairs. His room was near the top, with a view of the harbour. It was the only room left free in the building, although it did have a double bunk so there was a chance that he might have to share it, but no-one else came. He was grateful to have the room all to himself, but he did not know what to do next, so he sat on the edge of the bed and waited.


     "Gerald" he said, "I will meet him tomorrow."


   He pulled his large Bible from the backpack and read for a while, then he kneeled and prayed. Having completed his day he slipped into bed and fell asleep. But three hours later he woke, walked to the door and locked it. Seconds later he heard a man's voice, slurred and mumbling, shouting abusively in the corridor. Someone shouted back and a fight ensued. A heavy jolt struck Raoul's door but the lock held, then a third person arrived, who also shouted at the two troublemakers to move along. Raoul went back to bed and listened as the arguing faded away, then he fell asleep again.


   In the morning he dressed, washed his face, and gathered his belongings. He made his way down the stairs again and walked out into the cold, pale sunshine. The first traces of Spring were showing everywhere, in the gardens, in the birdsong, and in the sky. The pale, milky blue of the sky was passing and the lustrous blue of summer was already taking its place. The air seemed crisp, and charged with life. Raoul took several deep breaths and walked up the gentle slope towards the three-story Salvation Army building.


   He arrived at the entrance at seven thirty. Some street lights were still on. A wino slumped on a doorstep, still asleep with his whisky bottle nestled between his knees. A thin dog, collarless and hungry-looking, wandered by. Raoul spoke quietly to God.


   "You who open shut doors, open these doors for me"


   Immediately the heavy glass doors slid aside. Raoul stepped in and the second set of doors opened. He walked down one corridor, went up a flight of stairs, along another corridor, and stopped at a counter. There he found a chair and sat down.


   Almost an hour later a woman came bustling towards him.


   "Excuse me" she said, nervously, "How did you get in?"


   "I walked in, through the main doors" said Raoul.


   ""But they were locked" said the woman, "Did you have a key?"


   "No" said Raoul, "I just walked up to them and they opened."


   "Well they shouldn't have" said the woman. Now she was worried. "Those doors are security locked. They don't open without a code number."


   "Is Gerald in?"


   "Gerald? Yes, I think he just arrived."


   Before the woman could get back to the mystery of the opening doors, a short, friendly-faced man arrived. Raoul stood up and held his hand out, and Gerald shook it, looking at Raoul with a puzzled expression.


   "Do I know you?" he asked.


   "Not yet" said Raoul, "I have to talk to you."


   "Well come into my office" said Gerald, showing the way. Raoul followed him into a small, overcrowded room, with a small table in one corner and a poster of Jesus crucified on one wall, and a map of the city on the other. Raoul sat down and Gerald went behind his desk and swung into a swivel chair. On the desk was a small block of wood, with Gerald's full name and the words 'Publicity Officer'.


   "I've just arrived in Wellington" said Raoul. I stayed at the YMCA last night. It's a fair city isn't it?"


   "Yes" said Gerald, "A great place to live."


   "I have come to see you because something is going to happen to this city if the local council doesn't change one of its policies. You have the power to prevent this thing from happening."


   "What are you talking about?" asked Gerald.


   "Well first of all" said Raoul, "I want you to know that I am not deranged, or crazy. I am not a psychic either. Nor do I have an overactive imagination! (He said this smiling) so what I have to tell you comes either from God or Satan. You can decide."


   Gerald shifted uneasily in his seat.


   "The local counsel has decided to close all the flats along this street (he pointed to a map on the wall). This move by the counsel is at the expense of a large, very expensive plan to build some rose gardens here (He pointed to another spot). The only reason the rose gardens are to be built is because the outgoing mayor is filled with pride. He wants a memorial to himself, and will build it at the expense of a large number of people who cannot afford to pay higher rents.


   God says he will pour out his fury on the Counsel and destroy the mayor if they continue on this path. God loves the poor and has great compassion on those who cannot defend themselves. He says he will pull down the counsel building and protect the poor of this city, for behold, the Lord is a great King!"


   Gerald leaned back in his chair and pulled a face.


   "You're kidding, right?"


   "No" said Raoul, "I never kid."


   "So . . . what do you want me to do?"


   "You are Publicity Officer" said Raoul, "You can alert every member of the Salvation Army to mobilize. If a certain number of submissions are received by tomorrow the Counsel plan will be abandoned."


   Gerald winced. He knew he could do exactly as Raoul suggested, but he also knew the consequences of sending such a message. Raoul, seeing that Gerald understood precisely what was expected of him, stood and shook Gerald 's hand again, then he walked out into the corridor and was gone.


   Gerald sat down at his computer, turned it on, and began to type.


   "Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, we hope you are well and happy. Please read this message and pass it on to your friends, as it concerns some poor people in the city, who need our help. Please pray for these people, and ask God to supply their needs. We in the Army will of course do what we can in the practical area.    We must also alert you to the proposed plan by the Wellington City Counsel to close all the flats along . . . . Street. Those of you who feel led by the Spirit to do so might like to write a letter to the Counsel, asking them to change their mind.    God bless, Gerald (Publicity Officer)


   The letter was duly sent by Email to all the local addresses and posted on several notice boards. As a result, nothing changed. Two people wrote to the Counsel, and one old, and rather deaf woman actually went into the Counsel building and spoke to the receptionist. Her complaint was noted on a pad and nothing more was heard of the matter.


   7.    The following day, late in the afternoon, the Counsel sat and passed two resolutions. The flats were to be closed and the flower garden built. The mayor was extremely pleased, because it meant that for generations to come people would walk through his roses and read his inscription, etched onto a brass plate, on the plinth in the center of the gardens. His name would long continue, and he would have a small slice of fame.


   Raoul walked down towards the harbour again by way of Taranaki Street. He passed several shop fronts, which advertised striptease and similar trades. Tears began to well up in his eyes and trickle down his cheeks as he passed the gaudy windows.


   He stopped at a public seat and sat for a while. From his pocket he pulled a dog-eared copy of the gospel of John, which he read, and reflected on. Carefully replacing it in his pocket he prayed for a moment then he started walking again. He stopped outside the doors of a two-story youth hostel, and went in.


   The entrance was dark. Large doors blocked the way as Raoul heaved one aside and entered. Three scruffy teenage boys were in an adjoining room, playing snooker, while a TV flickered behind them. Raoul waved to them in a friendly manner and went up the wide, linoleum-covered stairs, following a small arrow which indicated that the 'Manager' was somewhere in a higher floor. A second arrow led Raoul to a blue door, on which he knocked.


   A woman opened the door and looked quizzically at Raoul. She was in her late forties, overweight, and wearing too much white powder on her face. Her lips were small, but made large by a smothering of red lipstick, and her hands were puffy with long, pale fingernails.




   "Good morning. I hope I haven't come too early?"


   "No" said the woman, summing him up by a quick glance from head to toe.


   "I need somewhere to stay."


   "I'll get you an information sheet" she said, disappearing for a few seconds. "Here you are," she said, handing it to him.


   Raoul read it quickly, decided, and swung his backpack down to the floor. He unzipped a pocket and drew out the last of his money, which he handed to the woman. She counted it and went to get another form, which she signed and passed to him, along with a key.    "You room is down that way, at the very end" she said, "You can call me Matron, and my husband likes to be called Ron."


   "That's fine," said Raoul with a large smile.


   He went down the corridor and unlocked his room. It was very small, with a small bed and one window, which overlooked a jumble of rusty rooftops and dirty walls. In a sliver of space between two walls the sea shimmered like white fire.


   "Now" said Raoul, "I think it is time for a little breakfast. He left the hostel and started walking towards the shops. As he approached them he saw, on the pavement, a neat bundle of $20 notes. He gathered them up and counted out a hundred and twenty dollars.


   "Thank you Lord" he said quietly as he pushed the money into his pocket.


   At the first dairy he came to he was about to enter when a disheveled man passed him. The man, as thin as a rake and wearing old rags of clothes, looked at him, and Raoul looked back. Their eyes met and Raoul read his soul.


   "Can I shout you breakfast?" said Raoul.


   The man stopped, surprised and optimistic.


   "You're kidding me?"


   "No" said Raoul, "You look like you need a decent feed. Come on, what would you like?"


   The man came into the dairy with Raoul and, thanking him repeatedly, ordered two pies, a can of drink and a filled roll. Raoul paid for his and the man's food and started walking down the street, with the man swinging along beside.


   "You from here?" asked the man.


   "No, I came from Christchurch yesterday, on the ferry. This is the first time I've been in Wellington."


   "I've lived here all my life," said the man.


   "Do you want a job?" asked Raoul.


   "Do I!"


   "You'll have one, starting today" said Raoul.


   "Are you the manager of some business then?"


   "No" said Raoul, amused, "But my Father is a businessman."


   Together the two walked through the streets, passing into and out of large slabs of sunshine, until they reached a small patch of lawn. They sat and talked for an hour, while the traffic rolled by, and the sun climbed slowly into the thin, blue sky, and then Raoul bowed his head and prayed.


   "Lord, show us your power" he said, while the thin man waited respectfully beside him.


   Raoul stood up and started to walk. He stopped outside a garage and caught the attention of a round-bellied man in oily overalls.


   "This fellow here, Ricky, is looking for a job."


   "Well he can start today," said the man, startled "I didn't know the boss had put the advert out! Come in Ricky, and I'll show you what you have to do."


   Ricky followed the man into the garage and Raoul walked on.


   Raoul headed back into the city and followed a road that twisted and turned west, then he turned left at a corner climbed a rough track which wound up a hill. Ten minutes later he was alone. Around him stood tall, ancient pines, and huge-trunked macrocarpas. In amongst the buttresses and roots of the trees were delicate trees, with tiny leaves and ferns. Wax-eyes flitted noiselessly among the branches, and a rude, obsequious magpie warbled from the tops. He sat with his back against a trunk and looked at the city below. From where he was, the sound of the traffic was almost inaudible, and all the colour of the buildings seemed to have been blended into one bleached paleness.


   Raoul prayed. He prayed for the people in the city, for the homes where bad tempered parents were ripping at their children's hearts, for marriages full of distrust and suspicion, for greedy men who put their own plans before the best interests of their family, for cold-hearted teenagers who stole, and lied, and cheated, destroying the homes which nurtured them, for unmarried couples so intent on satisfying their own lust that they put that before the lives of their discarded children, and for the babies, killed before they had a breath of air.


   And as Raoul prayed the wind seemed to pick up. The trees around him swayed and whistled, and several small branches fell to the ground near where he sat. He ceased from praying and rested against the tree, even as the world grew suddenly very still and silent. No breath of wind ruffled the leaves, no blade of grass stirred, and the world seemed to have suddenly frozen in suspended silence. Then the ground began to shake. It was a slow, steady vibration, like the monotonous rumble of orchestra drums, and the whole city swayed as the drums beat louder.


8.    Raoul descended the hill, threading his way through the trees. He walked back along the way he had come, following the same streets through the city. Sirens wailed, and emergency services went by with flashing lights. Raoul stopped where a large crowd had gathered, along the perimeter of a police cordon, where several ambulances were parked, and firemen stood about, and there beyond the fluttering red tape he saw the ruins of a building. Huge chunks of concrete protruded from an enormous hole, and twisted metal formed a bizarre sculpture near the center. The entire council chambers building had collapsed inwards and fallen into a deep, dark crater.


   Smashed and fallen on the footpath were the remains of a sign, and large cracks cut their way through the curving lip of asphalt and roadway around the edges of the hole. A team of rescuers, linked by a yellow nylon rope, cautiously lowered a man down and two Alsatians, pulling and whining on the end of their leash drew a harsh comment from their keeper.


   The man at the end of the rope shouted an order, and a crane swung its cable across the rubble, dropping a harness to where he was waiting. A woman was hoisted clear and lowered to the waiting ambulance crew. She was barely alive.


   On the news that night an expert explained what had happened.  An underground stream had gradually eaten away soft clay, leaving a hollow, which had finally collapsed. It was, he said, just a case of ill-timed erosion, quite unforeseeable, a piece of bad luck. A government spokesperson suggested new rules for buildings, and the prime minister said he was deeply distressed, offering his condolences to those who had lost loved ones in the disaster. It turned out that this offer of condolences had been premature. By a strange quirk of good luck, every council member had been out at the time of the earthquake, and the only injured person was the receptionist, who was now making good progress.


   However, the mayor collapsed and died that night of a heart attack. As he died he saw, in a dream, a statue of himself, standing tall above a wide spreading bed of flowers. The roses were red, yellow, white, crimson, all bright with sunshine and glorious in their perfection. The statue was golden, with every part polished and smooth. Gradually the statue turned black and disintegrated away, carried like sand by a gentle wind, and the flowers turned brown and dropped in a shower of old petals. The sticks that were left began to smoke and smoldered to the ground, leaving nothing. With a groan of despair the Mayor went to meet his Maker.


   Raoul turned away from the scene of destruction and walked around the city for a while. He prayed quietly as he walked, and wondered what God was doing with his life. He thought back to the first dreams he had had, and the people who had suddenly approached him, to deliver words from God to him.


   When he was seven, at Primary school, the headmaster had come over to his desk and there, in front of the whole class he had said "The Lord is going to use you . . ." and the prophecy had been pronounced. The class had fallen silent, and the poor man, embarrassed by his own behaviour, had returned to his desk and buried his mind in a pile of work.


   Another time two women had stopped their car outside Raoul's house. His mother had opened the door and the women, both complete strangers to Raoul, had asked to come in. They told Raoul's mother that they had been driving by when God told them to stop and speak a prophecy over someone in the house. When the women saw Raoul they became quite excited, and asked if they might speak to him. Reluctantly Raoul's mother had agreed and a great prophecy, full of might and power, had been delivered over the boy. Then the women departed and drove away, never to return.


   And again, when Raoul was a teenager, a man had come up to him in the street and started a "Thus saith the Lord" over him.  This encounter was similar to a later one, in which another man had stopped him and passed some money into his hand, with a blessing.


   Raoul thought about these and other moments in his life as he walked the busy streets, then, on rounding a corner, he saw Gerald coming towards him. Gerald's first reaction, on seeing Raoul, was to look for an escape, but the footpath was walled along one side by concrete and a line of moving traffic blocked the other, so Gerald had no choice but to continue until he stopped short, face to face with Raoul.


   "I'm sorry," said Gerald.


   "So am I" said Raoul, "You should have stood up for what you knew was the truth. My friend, the times when the Church has grown are when it has made an uncompromising stand, and the times when it has fallen are when it has compromised."


   "You're right," said Gerald, downcast.


   "But look" said Raoul smiling, "You're still alive. You have time to set things straight. Next time God speaks to you, do what he says."


   "I will," said Gerald, turning and falling into step with Raoul.


   Gerald talked about his feelings, and the destruction of the Chambers, and the death of the Mayor, then he hesitated.


   "Yes?" said Raoul, "What is it?"


   "Would you be able to speak at the service this Sunday?"


   "I'd be delighted," said Raoul, "But there is one condition."


   "What's that?"


   "I must be allowed to say only what the Spirit directs me to say."


   Gerald's face showed his misgivings.    "That's fine," he said at last, "I'll make the arrangements and you can speak. At the morning service."


   Raoul took the offered card from Gerald and bid him well, then Gerald disappeared into a crowd and Raoul walked on.


   Ten minutes later Raoul noticed a play center ahead of him. He came to the wire fence and watched the children for a while, enjoying their laughter. Eventually a dark-haired woman in a long dress and sneakers approached him. She looked suspiciously into his face.


   "Can I help you?" she asked.


   "Hi there" said Raoul, "I wonder if you'd like me to come in and tell the kids some stories?"


   "I think that might be a good idea," said the woman very seriously, "But I'll have to check with the supervisor first."


   "Of course" said Raoul.


   The woman walked away and called to someone, then she returned with another woman.


   "Hi" said Raoul, "I'm Raoul. I'm just up from Christchurch for a while, having a sort of holiday and I thought it might be a nice idea to pop in and give the children some entertainment."


   The women smiled and shook Raoul's hand.


   "We have some favourites," said the second woman, who introduced herself as Gail, "You'll soon know which books to read because the kids will bring them to you."


   "I was thinking of telling Bible stories," said Raoul.


   "Oh no, we can't have that" said Gail, "Its not our policy to have religion taught here."


   "Religion?" said Raoul in surprise, "Bible stories aren't religion! The Bible is a book of historic events, set in real time with real people. All the men and women in the Bible are real people. Bible stories are like biographies. There's nothing religious about them."


   All the friendliness had disappeared from Gail's eyes.


   "As far as we're concerned," she said, "The Bible is a religious book. We don't use it here."


   "Do you tell the children Greek myths, and Maori legends?" asked Raoul.


   "Yes" said Gail.


   "And what about Halloween? Do you dress the kids as witches and tell them stories about ghosts?"


   The woman was rapidly losing her temper.


   "So" said Raoul, "You tell the children about Easter bunnies, and the occult, and all the fiction of the world, but you refuse to tell them true stories from God's Word?"


   "Please go" said Gail, "Or I will call the police."


   Raoul said no more. He caught the woman's eye, saw the darkness in her soul, and walked away.


 9.    Sunday morning, nine o'clock was fine with cool air and a sky shredded with cloudy ribbons. Gerald was waiting at the doors, shaking hands and chatting with people as they arrived. His face broke into a delighted grin when he saw Raoul and he broke from a conversation to greet him.


   "Good to see you" he said, shaking Raoul's hand.


   "Good to see you too" said Raoul, "Looks like you have a thriving little fellowship here? Lots of happy faces, and plenty of children - always a good sign."


   "Yes we have a membership of 300" said Gerald proudly, "Of course they don't always all come on Sundays. Our usual turnout is about 100. The building couldn't hold many more anyway!"


   "So you hope they don't all come?" said Raoul, laughing, "Shall we pray for apathy then?"


   Gerald laughed as he steered Raoul in through the doors and down to the front. A seat had been reserved for Raoul on the front pew, right in front of the microphone, and Gerald sat beside him there and chatted merrily until the pianist began the first bars of the opening song.


   It was a good service with some jokes from the front, as well as several clear Bible readings and an anecdote or two, which solicited a little friendly calling out. The songs were adapted from scripture and carried the people along with a good beat, and the room buzzed with life, until Gerald went to the microphone and introduced the "mystery guest", at which point the atmosphere changed to anticipation. Heads craned to see the back of Raoul's head and the children whispered, and rustled in their seats.    "Thank you for inviting me to speak" Raoul began, "I understand I am taking Gerald's spot? I have only known Gerald for a few days but I am sure he will soon be doing great things for God."


   Someone called out "Amen" at this and Raoul smiled.


   "Its good to see so many eager faces" continued Raoul, "Many of you are totally sold out to Jesus. I praise God for you, my brothers and sisters. If all of God's family were as committed as you the Church would be a lot stronger, and it would have won a larger proportion of the world by now.


   "I'd like to read a passage from Ezekiel before I start. Ezekiel 33:31 and 32.


   "So they come to you as people do, and they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them. For with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them."


   "I'd like to ask you to search your hearts. There is no need for you to speak, but as I ask you some questions, listen to your conscience and be honest with what you hear.


   "Have you criticized your leaders? Have you deliberately spoken against them, instead of praying for them? Have you paid your taxes? Have you taken money and not declared it as earnings? Have you kept the rules of the road? Have you stayed within the speed limit? And you husbands, have you loved your wives as your own bodies? And wives, have you obeyed your husbands in every thing? And you young people, have you chosen to look at pornography?


   "I can show you the scriptures, if you need to see them, but I think you know what the Bible says. I think you know whether you are doing what God says.


   "In every church I have been to" said Raoul, "I have seen disobedience, false converts, compromise with God's Word and play-acting. God is prepared to pour His Spirit out on Christians who walk down the narrow path, but too many of you have chosen a counterfeit Christianity, and you are receiving back exactly what you deserve! Deadness. No victory. No influence. No power to transform the city! You want the rewards, but you are not willing to work for them. You want Christ in your homes, but you are  not willing to let him further than the front door.


   Someone was crying in the church. A woman fell to her knees and began to sob. Another woman went down, and two men hung their heads, wiping their eyes. Soon the whole church was filled with the same sound. Tears fell to the floor like rain.


   Raoul went back to his seat and put his arm round Gerald's sagging shoulders.


   "Let it come" he said quietly, "God's Spirit is moving here today."


   But near the back of the church one man sat unmoved by the sudden outpouring of emotion. Judkin bowed his head, so as not to look conspicuous, but his eyes darted this way and that as he watched the people around him. There was no way he would be repenting. He had too much to lose.


   For more than an hour the congregation poured out its heart to God, confessing sins and seeking a cleansing on the inward parts. Several people came to shake Raoul's hand, and many embraced him, thanking him for "his message". To every one of these well-wishers Raoul had the same reply, that it was not his doing but God's, and that he was just a servant, doing what was expected of him. Many of the children also came to him, and clung to his legs, or begged to be picked up. To each child Raoul extended unreserved welcome, hugging each in turn and complimenting them on some aspect of their appearance before placing them back on their feet.


   Finally the meeting was over. Gerald managed to beat off all competition and took Raoul to a small, white car, intending to have him home for lunch. Raoul gladly accepted, and they drove away.



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