Now available in Kindle and Paperback: Which Half David – A Modern-day King David Story
Here’s an exclusive excerpt from chapter 1.
Excerpt: Chapter 1: Mountain Stand
The night sat still and wet. The water lingered on the muddy path leading to the village of bamboo long-houses. The rain had nearly stopped, but that did little to alleviate the dampness which hung over the jungle hamlet like a thick sheet, swelling the air with moisture and tension.
Two dozen men stood on alert, staring into the darkness. A few of them had sticks. Most were unarmed. The mixture of tears, sweat, and rain mingled together, heightening the decades of uncertainty which weighed heavily on the weary souls scratching out a meager existence on the top of a forgotten mountain. The rest of the villagers tucked themselves quietly in their houses, praying softly and singing. Ox bells rang intermittently in the distance, puncturing the hush of the night and the methodical drippings of the trees.
Gani stood sure-footed beside his American friend of ten years. Their shared experiences created a brotherly bond between an unlikely pair: a tall Pennsylvanian and a short tribal leader. The top of Gani’s head barely reached an inch past Tobin’s shoulder. He reached over and put his arm around the foreigner.
“Are they coming?” asked Gani.
“We shall be ready for them.”
“We cannot fight them,” replied Tobin fluently in the tribal dialect.
“Then we shall pray for God to deliver us.”
Tobin tightened the grip around Gani’s arm and listened as a low rumbling approached in the distance. Shards of light flickered halfway down the hillside through the jungle-mesh of trees and bushes, thickening the hill with overgrowth and nearly hiding the bamboo houses under the canopy.
“There’s someone coming,” said Kidlat, who stood on Tobin’s left. “What are we going to do?”
“Stay calm,” said Tobin.
“I will not let them take our homes,” cracked Kidlat’s voice.
“We will stand our ground,” said Tobin. “… but we will not fight.”
Tobin estimated that three vehicles approached them. The dull roar grew deafening as the vehicles strained and bounded their way along the treacherous road leading into the remote enclave.
If the curtain of night could have been pulled away, the faces of those men would have revealed a disconnect between what they professed on Sunday mornings and what they doubted in their hearts in the face of the approaching aggressor. The fear sat uncomfortably on them all as the noise weakened their resolve.
“Perhaps we should leave,” said a voice from the fringe, followed by a chorus of agreement.
But not from Gani. Nor Tobin.
“Gani, this is your decision. This is your village. What do you want to do?” Tobin asked, wavering slightly himself. His idealism hung off his shoulders in tattered shreds as the reality of jeeps with guns approached closer by the second.
Gani let go of Tobin’s arm and took two steps forward. Everyone leaned in to see the gaunt figure standing alone, looking intently on the lights shaking unsteadily in the distance.
“There are only two things to remember. First, we have done nothing wrong. Second, we must have faith. God will deliver us.”
With those two simple phrases of courage reinforced firmly in their minds, the ranks closed in and formed a new line of defense, two steps closer to the oncoming lights.
Silence prevailed in the village, and the overwhelming sound of the humming engines engulfed the hilltop as they strained towards the landing. The headlights of the front jeep caught the first glance of the men, illuminating their heads like a string of guillotined skulls lining the darkness, but as the jeep thudded over the crest of the bank, it lit their entire bodies, a wavering front line listening carefully for the call of retreat.
The first jeep pulled off to the side, sliding to a halt. The other two jeeps stopped beside it, no more than twenty feet from the line of souls intent on protecting their village. Out of the jeeps popped eleven green-uniformed security officers. The headlamps illuminated half of the village in a shroud of light and shadows. The security force fanned out opposite the line of villagers—their faces darkened by the back-lighting of the jeeps. One of the officers swaggered out in front of the rest, holding a billy club at his side.
“You are welcome here. We don’t want any violence,” offered Gani in a congenial manner as Kidlat translated for him into Sulunese.
“Then why are they holding clubs?”
Gani looked at his men to his left and right. “Throw down your weapons, my friends. We will not fight.” The five individuals, who held onto their sticks as mementos of comfort and safety, dropped them to the ground. Kidlat was the last to let go.
“We have told you before,” started the officer, “… that the church in your village is not legal. You have no Christian rights under our constitution.”
“You’re misinformed,” Tobin spoke up in an authoritative manner. “Your constitution guarantees freedom of religion for all of Sulu’s citizens.”
“Foreigner. There is no embassy to protect you here.”
“Are you threatening me?” asked Tobin. He had dealt with corrupt officials before and wasn’t particularly frightened by their green uniforms and hand guns.
“You’re threatening yourself. Stand out of the way. You will not be allowed to meddle in our internal affairs.”
“These people have done nothing wrong. Leave them alone,” spoke the confident Tobin.
The officer walked directly towards him and stopped three feet in front of him. He looked up at the illuminated face of the American, who stood not quite a foot taller than the policeman.
“This is my district. I rule it. That church is illegal, and it’s coming down.” He thrust his club into Tobin’s stomach, barreling him in half, and he collapsed into the mud as he tried to catch his breath.
The officer yelled a brief command which sent the ranks into action, beating the pacifists into the ground within a few brutal seconds, and heading towards the rear section of the village in the direction of the small thatched-roof church. The villagers peered curiously out the windows and doors, glimpsing fragments of motions and cries of anguish. Within seconds, the front end of the church blazed an orange-red glow, flanked on each side by a half dozen security men who taunted the fire with a supply of gasoline.
Gani’s men helped each other to their feet, checking to see if anyone was seriously wounded.
“Forget about the church,” said Gani. “We can always rebuild.”
Tobin breathed heavily, looking over the scene as calm as a man can be when watching the fruit of his labor engulfed by a paranoid raid of power. The security officers walked back from the church through the gauntlet of stares from the long-houses on both sides. The villagers inched down from their houses into the mud, surrounding the officers with an overwhelming force of solidarity.
Gani feared a confrontation and walked out into the center of the path between the houses, still illuminated from behind by the powerful headlamps.
“Just leave them alone. Let them do what they must. Do not fight back.”
The head officer came and stood in front of Gani.
“Your village is not Christian. This foreigner must leave immediately and never come back. If he doesn’t leave, I will shoot one of your villagers.”
“You cannot do that. We have done nothing wrong,” pleaded Kidlat.
“You have betrayed your own people, allowing some foreign religion to sicken your mind, and rape the culture right out of this village. I won’t allow it.”
“Gani, I’ll leave,” said Tobin.
“No!” Kidlat replied adamantly. “We will not be bullied by the wrong side of the law.”
“Bullied? You think your God can save you? Don’t you understand? I own this district. Whoever lives or dies is up to me,” said the leader.
He drew his pistol from his side, quickly turning toward the mass of people which had congregated between the officers and the raging fire of the church in the background. A single crack from his pistol froze the crowd, felling a woman who stood beside her little boy of eight years. Screams and cries of desperation pierced the night on all sides. The woman fell dead to the ground. The partial light from the headlamps illuminated her fall and sent the crowd into hysterical cries of despair.
“Do you want more people to die?” yelled the officer.
Tobin ran full-force to the woman, whose chest bled into the night, and wept beside her, looking back into the darkened face of the foes who stood ready to fire again.
Tobin stood up and faced his adversary directly, not frightened by weapons pointed in his direction.
“I will not yield, and I will not leave. You will pay for what you have done.”
He moved purposefully towards the officer, who for the first time cowered backwards a step from the brazenness of the American’s walk, but he quickly raised his pistol and aimed it at Tobin.
“Do not come near me unless you want to die.”
In one of those moments which often define the historical markers of our lives, the officer yelled “fire” and sent off a volley that should have put a quick end to the life of the man who had dedicated years bettering the lives of the villagers. Some who were present that night will recall nothing short of a miracle happening. Others, more attuned to the human senses, recall the rain and wind and dimly lit surroundings as a factor. But whatever the explanation, Tobin charged towards the round of shots, eluding each of them and tackling the officer to the ground. In the epic struggle, the officer lit up the night with five more shots, but the American didn’t budge, he punched the man in the face under a constant threat of death. What happened next would also be a matter of debate and conjuncture for many years. This battle for existence unfolded unlike any could have anticipated. The other officers peppered the crowd with several rounds of shots, but the villagers, wave after courageous wave, overtook the men in the green uniforms. They fought for their lives against iron weapons which didn’t prosper in battle. Desperate for survival, the villagers left them for dead, save one, who fled to the first jeep and sped off into the night. Wailing and cries sounded throughout the village. No one slept, except the young and innocent, being the only ones who hadn’t yet grasped the magnitude of what had happened.