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My sandals, worn from treading the path to the city gates, smoothed the sandy soil into footprints that were neither large nor deep. It was around the middle of the day; the sun was overhead in the clear blue sky. I would not encounter other merchants or farmers until I was very near the metropolis barrier, but from where I had kneeled near the edge of a field of crops, I could see the soldiers marching out to confront a small boy attempting to enter the gates. I stood slowly while they interrogated him and slipped through a hole in the wall. Luckily, I had made it through without paying, for I could not afford it.
I traveled through the crowded section of Rome, where vendors called out names of products. I always passed through this area rather quickly, because if someone appeared poor, as I do, a merchant could accuse him or her of theft.
When the smell of dirty work horses mixed with the smell of freshly baked bread, I knew I was near the large stone building where we met. We met in a small room where we were not in sight, because of the wariness resulting from a new religion.
The group that I met with at this time of day consisted of about ten other men, not including myself. We participated in a new religion: Christianity. A larger congregation had traveled from a place called Israel, without the emperor's knowledge. They had spoken of a God that was forever forgiving and saving anyone. He was a single God, who could control everything that took many Greek gods to control. He gave his only son for the good of man; what was more of a sacrifice?
The eleven of us met and worshiped from mid-day to almost dusk. We prayed over things such as poverty, the government, and the condition of the city streets. Most streets were very populated and laden with wood, so naturally we were concerned with the hazard.
After the meeting, I was on my way to the hole in the wall when a procession of carts and soldiers blocked my path.
“Emperor Nero is passing! Stay out of the way,” yelled a man in front of the parade, “You will be trampled!”
On the opposite side of the intersection, I saw small children straining to see the emperor’s face while adults grimaced.
After the display, I quietly walked over to the opening and walked through. All the guards were watching the emperor leave, so I ran to edge of the field and walked home.
During the night, I awoke hearing screams for water and help. Our family's small hut of a house was far enough away from the city, so we would be safe from the danger. I walked outside to check the fields and saw great flames spreading from one end of Rome to the other.
Where was the great Emperor to help his city? The only people I saw helping were civilians--no nobles or guards in sight. I ran and picked up a large stone basin.
Once I was near the wall, I dropped to the ground and crawled. The soil was cool and smooth, and scattered with small pebbles. As I touched the wall, warmth gradually grew greater. Through the hole I saw people running anywhere but the exits. Did they not know this fire would result in destruction for the city?
I called out to anyone I caught a glimpse of, and they gladly ducked through the space.
I do not know how many people I called out to or what I said, but I know that I whispered a prayer I learned. A man I helped escape asked what it was that I murmured, and it was then I knew what helped me rescue so many people.
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name," I recited to him.
"What does it mean? Where did you hear it?" he asked in earnest. I told him about our meetings, and the new religion. He thanked me excitedly and wandered off to find his family.
I had not known a Roman, though a fellow citizen, would accept our religion so eagerly since Nero felt suspicious about it.
Sometime later, I could not see anyone else and the fire was just smoldering ashes, so I posted an energetic person in my place and went home.
In the morning, I found a decree tacked to the fencepost. It read, “All citizens of Rome found participating in Christianity are asked to report to the heroic Emperor Nero’s encampment by noon of this day. If you are known to be a part of this felonious group and you do not grace the great Emperor Nero with your presence, you will be arrested.”
I decided not to take the warning seriously, because I knew this land better than the guards did, and if they tried to capture me I could disappear. I regretted this action slightly before noon when a voice said, “Stand, peasant!” The men bound my hands and blindfolded me.
I stumbled they pulled me along with a rope. Suddenly, I fell as one of them yelled and jerked the rope.
“Get the waif on its feet,” one of the men yelled. I felt my hands bleeding through my clothes and cringed at the thought of crimson blood staining my tunic. A guard heaved me upright and threw me into step.
I felt the scorching afternoon sun through the cloth covering my head. The blindfold smelled musty and dirty, but it was clean linen. I had repaired my sandals with a strip and rough leather, and now the leather gave me a blister on my heel. I realized I was limping due to the sore and that made walking harder under the smothering heat.
Before long, I heard other voices surrounding our group. Most were anxious or angry, and portrayed the same feeling I felt. The light trickling in through the blindfold dimmed as we entered a building. The difference in temperature cooled my hot clothes and made my breathing easier. The men lifted my blindfold and what I saw was astonishing.
There was the emperor, sitting upon a golden throne surrounded by sparkling jewels, and then there was a large buffet holding tray after tray of delicacies and drinks. There were gorgeous people sitting in rows near Nero, who had an evil smirk on his red face. Around me were farmers and businessmen alike. All looked suspicious, for clearly none of us favored Nero. I supposed the citizens about Nero had accused of us being Christians. A short time later, Nero proved my thoughts were correct.
“Felons, you have been accused of setting the great city of Rome afire. You will be sentenced to duel lions in the arenas.” Everyone knew our religious choice was Nero’s main reason for mistrust.
We walked to a stable where livestock lived and slept there for the night. In the morning, I noticed some of the accused from yesterday were no longer in the stable. My heart beat quickened as I thought of their situation. Without comprehending what I whispered, I muttered, “Lord, forgive us for whatever we have done. We who are undeserving do not want to meet the fate of those deserving.”
I was not surprised to find the other men in my church group huddling in the corner. They were devising a plan to escape the duel. I joined them and we figured out that some guards disagreed with Nero’s decision. Those few men would allow captives to flee during the night.
The first morning after the guards agreed, five people left, including two from our group. The guards told Nero the missing captives turned to slavery instead of dueling lions.
Over the second and third nights, twelve people left the stable. The remaining population in the stable looked diminished, so thankfully Nero never stepped foot in this dirty place, for he would surely stop believing the guards’ lies. After a week passed, only seven of us remained. I was the last person in our group to live in captivity.
When the day came that I was to run, I prayed continually. I would run to Israel and live there. My family made the journey before me. As the moon rose in the dark black sky, I slipped out through a hole in the back of the stable. The clear night air replaced the stale smell of animals in confined spaces. I hurried to meet the man who would accompany me to Israel.