No Refuge for the Refugee

The wars began long before Grace came into the world. Conflict and struggle constituted the norm in her life, it’s all she had ever known, and, at seventeen years of age, she had become increasingly involved with dangerous assignments. Her father, Malachi, regretted the need to send children on these missions but sending his own daughter made it doubly difficult. Yet he could not treat her any differently than the others. Conditions were deteriorating and their chances of surviving were diminishing. They were caught in a violent conflict between opposing armies, struggling frantically to stay out of the way.

Grace returned to the cave from a scouting mission, and said: “Government troops have been driven from of the area. Heavily armed rebels now surround the refugee camp. And that convoy of trucks is still sitting at the crossroads.”

Malachi silently acknowledged his daughter’s report with a forced smile as Dan’s voice came from the back of the group huddled in the cave, saying: “Those trucks are carrying food. You know that, don’t you?”

Before her father could respond, Grace shot back: “No, we don’t know that.”

Her words reverberated in the hollow chamber as Malachi said: “Even if they were carrying food, we couldn’t do anything about it.”

Dan persisted: “I have a plan.”

Malachi gestured to his daughter to control her outbursts, and then he said: “Let’s hear it.”

Dan’s arrival in their group had ignited Grace’s competitive nature. Malachi was pleased at first to see his daughter challenged by someone her age. But the young man had a unique understanding of the strategic and tactical position they were in and his daughter seemed unable to accept that.

Dan began his explanation: “As I’ve told you before, there are several groups, just like you, not far away.”

Grace interrupted: “How long do you think those trucks are going to just sit there?”

Dan replied: “I think they will be there for awhile. It’s international aid headed for the camp. Food, medicine, and clothing that neither the army nor the rebels need badly enough to weaken their present positions to go after. We are the ones who need it most, along with the others I’ve mentioned, who are mostly loyalists, followers of the socialist government. The rebels are rightwing followers of General Adolpha. If they continue to hold the camp hostage, they’re tied down for awhile. And the army will not be returning anytime soon. I’ve been expecting this kind of thing to happen. It’s what I’m here for.”

Malachi interjected: “Do we have time to communicate and coordinate with other groups?”

Dan replied: “My purpose in coming here was to communicate and coordinate. I’ve been telling you that all along. Many other groups know the same things you know. They are assuming you will be ready along with them when the time comes. And those trucks are the type of target they have been waiting for.”

Grace received her father’s permission to speak with a glance, and then said: “Okay, so we take the trucks. But we also alert both sides to our presence here. I doubt if the combined strength of all of these groups you mentioned could stand up to either army. And, if both armies turned against us, where would we be then? I say we hold back.”

Malachi responded emphatically: “I think that’s best. I’m unable to envision a successful confrontation and, therefore, I’m unwilling to ask this group to lay down their lives for such a cause.”

Grace raised her arms in a triumphant gesture, looked at Dan, and said: “We’ve survived until now by living off the land and we’ll continue to do so.”

___

At the rebel headquarters outside the refugee camp, the lieutenant on duty informed the sergeant of the watch: “General Adolpha will be arriving here by helicopter in an hour.” Then, as he raised his binoculars to view the camp, he added: “We need to arrange a meeting with whoever has command inside there.” The sergeant responded: “That will be easy, sir. We have direct communications with them. Some priest or something has been demanding food and medicine. Says he knows there’s an aid shipment due.”

While continuing to scan the camp with his field glasses, the lieutenant muttered, as though to himself: “Yes, well, that will have to wait.” Then, his curiosity satisfied, he pulled the glass down, and instructed: “Let’s get this, whatever he is, on the radio.”

In answer to the sergeant’s call, a voice crackled through the speaker: “This is Father Joy. Have you news about the supplies? Conditions are worsening here. We need immediate assistance.”

The lieutenant spoke into the microphone: “You can have that assistance and your supplies, whoever you are. But first you must lay down whatever arms you have. And you must allow the camp to be occupied by our forces. All government troops, except for those remaining inside with you, have already left the area.”

The priest’s voice came slowly from the speaker, his exasperation evident in the deliberate pronunciation: “There are no troops in here. And we have no arms to lay down. We couldn’t stop you from coming in here if we wanted to. Right now, your political philosophy means nothing to me. It’s your humanity I’m worried about.” Then he shouted: “We are dying in here.” And was gone.

The lieutenant pondered the necessary steps to secure the camp before the general’s arrival. There may be important civilians inside, he believed, making the job a delicate one. Yet his main concern would always be the safety of his command and he wanted to avoid unnecessary losses. As a soldier, he had no personal political philosophy. He followed orders without questioning the authority of his superiors.

Yet the war began, the lieutenant knew, when General Adolpho refused to take orders from the government, which he considered to be communistic. The lieutenant sympathized with the communists in his heart. If it wasn’t for his father, who died serving under then Major Adolpho in the government army, he could easily be on the other side. Mostly, he just wanted to end the war and get on with rebuilding a new society: one in which every individual had the opportunity to reach the highest possible potential. However, for now, it was his job to find the important civilians in the refugee camp and make them available to the general when he arrives. And he was determined to execute his orders to the best of his ability.

Inside the camp, Father Joy stood with the radio’s microphone still in his hand. “We need to form a surrender committee,” he said, thinking aloud. Something in the lieutenant’s voice gave him hope where none had been before. “I pray to God I’m right,” he added; then, remembering when his faith seemed strong enough to endure anything, he realized how challenged his beliefs had become. But now there was a rational voice on the other end. Demanding, yet rational. And there was an aid shipment eminent: food and medicine and clothing. It seemed to him as if events had gone full cycle, and order was returning. With hope extending his expectations, he envisioned the possibilities.

Father Joy himself had no real argument with General Adolph’s fascist leanings. The church’s existing absolute power was similar in nature to the power which the general sought to obtain. For the church, finding itself on the side of the communists was simply a matter of tactical circumstances. Neither side would actually guarantee the church’s property rights. The very fact of legitimacy favored the government, which wasn’t considered “too communistic” until General Adolph used that claim to justify his rebellion.

Cooperation had become the buzz word. Communities based on sharing cropped up all over the country. Businesses were owned collectively. Even stock market trading was done by mutual collectives. As Father Joy contemplated the scene around him, he thought aloud: “Perhaps collectivism went too far. Leadership suffers when every decision must be debated until a majority agrees. Responding to brutal attacks becomes impossible.”

He continued talking to no one in particular. And no one was listening. Hunger, thirst, and despair had distorted their awareness so completely they seemed to not even care about a future. When the government troops abandoned them, and General Adolph’s rebels surrounded them, they gave-up completely. And now they waited, wanting only to die without more pain. Father Joy’s faith allowed him to stand apart, never completely controlled by external forces, always expecting God to give him the necessary strength to continue.

___

Commander of government forces, General Robbert Dewitt gathered his staff in the war room, and said:

“Our ranks are getting thin. Between numerous battle losses and desertion, we’re finding it difficult to protect the civilian population. New boundaries are being determined, and we’re temporarily giving up a lot of ground and a lot of people. But we remain the one force capable of reuniting the country. Factions operating unchecked must be eliminated, one by one, if necessary.

“At the refugee camp in Hollow Junction, two anti-government factions are present on the scene. The use of tactical nuclear weapons would give us an opportunity to cancel out a large percentage of the opposition in the area with one quick move. Problem is, we take out some of our own people in the process. Seems they’re important people also. But who isn’t important? Anyway, since General Adolph himself will also be in the area at the time, the president has authorized the strike.”

___

Malachi gasped when he saw the flash of light. And even though miles away, on the other side of the mountain, he soon felt a mechanical shock wave. “I don’t believe it,” he shouted as he ran for the shelter of the cave, not sure if it would do any good, wondering what the range of radioactive fallout would be.

As they huddled in the darkness of the cave’s deepest recess, Grace whispered: “Dan and his people, the aid givers, the refugees, the rebels, that whole valley, they’re all out there right now, exposed to the full force of that explosion.” With anguish and frustration overwhelming her, she shouted: “It doesn’t make sense.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Malachi said as he reached in the direction of her voice, wanting to wrap his arms around her, wishing he could protect her from all that was happening.

“Why would God let them do it?’ she sobbed on his shoulder as her body convulsed against him.

Malachi’s heart painfully constricted and he tried desperately to think of something reassuring. “It’s not God’s fault, dear,” he said; and then, doing his best to sound convincing, he added: “Everything happens for a purpose.” 

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