Blessed Child (The Caleb Books)

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9781480517189: Blessed Child (The Caleb Books)

“Whoever said a straightened hand was more dramatic than a healed heart Anyway?”

A young orphaned boy was abandoned and raised in an Ethiopian monastery. He has never seen outside its walls—at least, not the way most people see. Now he must flee or die.

But the world beyond is hardly ready for a boy like Caleb. When relief expert Jason Marker agrees to rescue Caleb from the monastery, he unwittingly opens humanity’s doors to an incredible journey filled with political intrigue and peril. Jason and Leiah—the French-Canadian nurse who escapes the monastery with him—quickly realize Caleb’s supernatural power to heal. But so do the boy’s enemies, who will stop at nothing to destroy him. Jason and Leiah fight for Caleb’s survival while the world erupts in debate over the source of the boy’s power.

In the end nothing can prepare them for what they discover.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Ted Dekker is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 25 novels. He is known for stories that combine adrenaline-laced plots with incredible confrontations between good and evil. He lives in Texas with his wife and children.

Bill Bright passed away in 2003, but his legacy endures through his family and ministry. He was best known as the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, which now has staff and volunteers in 196 countries across the globe.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE:

Three Months Later
Minus 3 Days...

Jason brought the open-topped Peace Corps Jeep to a stop and turned off its ignition. The engine coughed once and died. He hauled himself up by the roll bar and studied the browned valley ahead. The Ethiopian Orthodox monastery known to locals as Debra Damarro loomed against the rolling hills, a square fortress hewn from solid rock. Why the ancients had built here, in such a remote corner of Tigre in northern Ethiopia, so far from the beaten track of worshipers, was beyond him, but then so was the tenor of Orthodoxy in general. And Christianity, for that matter.

Acacia trees swayed in the courtyard, serene in the afternoon heat. Jason kept his eyes fixed on the iron gate where Daal insisted he would be met and speedily serviced. The Eritrean invasion was only three days old, but already the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) had brought the border dispute as far south as Axum to the west; it was a wonder they had not overtaken these hills yet. But then Ethiopia wasn't taking the sudden invasion along its northern border lying down. They were obviously keeping the enemy forces occupied elsewhere, where more than a single remote monastery was at stake.

It was not the first time Eritrea had made this absurd claim to the land beyond its drawn borders. Absurd because even the pagans knew that Orthodox Ethiopians would defend their northern holy sites to the death. The queen of Sheba had first brought Solomon's wisdom and, according to many, his child, here to her castle near Axum, fifty miles to the southwest. The Jewish religion had swept through the hills, and several hundred years later, the Ark of the Covenant had followed-also to Axum, the priests insisted. A growing contingent of scholars at least agreed with the Ethiopian Orthodox community that the Ark's last known resting place was indeed somewhere in northern Ethiopia.

Christianity had first come to Africa here, along this northern border. And now for the second time in ten years, Eritrea was openly disputing that border. It was like trying to argue that Florida really belonged to Cuba.

Absurd.

Most of the relief workers in the surrounding towns had already fled south to the country's capital, Addis Ababa, with the first evacuation order.

Most. But not Jason Marker. Daal, his Irob interpreter, had begged him for this one favor. To deliver this one orphan stranded at this remote monastery to safety. And why would he risk his life to save a single child in a land where a hundred thousand would die in the next famine? Why would he head north, closer to the EPLF forces, instead of blazing a trail south as demanded by the Corps?

Perhaps because he was in the Corps: the kind of man who at least on occasion threw caution to the wind for a sense of greater purpose. Or maybe to appease the guilt he felt at having decided to leave Ethiopia for good.

But most likely because he wasn't really risking his life at all. The Eritreans would probably not harm an American. Daal had sworn nothing less before running off to see to his own family. So Jason would engage in this one last humanitarian mission and close this chapter in his life. And just as well—working in Ethiopia had been like trying to extract water from a bag of flour.

Jason wiped the rolling sweat from his forehead, rubbed his hand on his khakis, and dropped back into the seat. The monastery seemed quiet enough. He reached for the key, and the faint rumble of an engine drifted through the air.

His hand froze. It wasn't the jeep's engine, of course. He hadn't turned the key. Jason scanned the horizon quickly. The road ran past the monastery and climbed the hills to the right, disappearing into valleys and reappearing on the distant hills beyond like a tan snake.

He saw the trucks then, tiny dots slinking into a valley several miles off. A small grunt escaped his throat, and for a terrible moment he couldn't think. He snatched up his binoculars and peered at the trucks. EPLF! It was an EPLF column, headed toward the monastery, no more than ten minutes off. Which meant what?

That Daal had been wrong?

Jason's doctorate was in agriculture, not military maneuvers, but he hardly needed an education to tell him that this was not good. His heart was doing the job splendidly.

He spun around in a panic and grabbed for the old bolt action .30-06 he used for the occasional hunt. His sweaty palm slapped at the worn wood stalk and managed to claw it off the back seat before sending it clattering to the floorboards behind.

What was he thinking? Take on the Eritrean army with a thirty-ought-six?

Jason fired the jeep's engine, shoved the stick forward, and dropped the clutch. The old World War II vehicle jerked forward. He tore for the gate, blinking against the simple thought that he was headed the wrong way. He should be leaving.

It wasn't terribly clear why he did continue for that closed iron gate. At any moment his arms would yank the steering wheel and whip the jeep through a one-eighty. But they did not.

A figure in robes suddenly ran for the gate and threw it open. Jason roared through and braked the jeep into a skidding stop, three meters from the monastery's foundation. Wide, sweeping steps cut from sandstone rose to an arching entry. Heavy wooden doors gaped open to a dark interior. Behind him the gatekeeper was yelling in Amharic.

Jason slid from the seat and bounded up the steps two at a time. He ran through an internal circuit and into the cavernous sanctuary. He slid to a stop on the polished stone floor. To say that the room was empty would have misstated the matter. Although Jason was indeed alone in the huge domed sanctum, an imposing silence filled the space, heavy enough to resonate through his skull with a distant ring. His blood pounded through his ears.

High above him a yellow face covering half the dome peered down unblinking, engaging his eyes.

"Sire!"

Jason spun.

The voice echoed across the sanctuary. "Sire, you are not permitted in this room. It is for priests—"

"Where's Father Matthew? Do you have a Father Matthew here? I have to see him!"

The white-draped priest stared at Jason as if he'd just swallowed a small boulder. He held an ancient text in his arms, a huge book browned by time.

Jason lowered his voice. "Please, man. Forgive me, but I have to see Father Matthew immediately. Do you know that there are soldiers—"

"It's quite all right, Phillip."

Jason turned to the new voice. An old priest wearing the same traditional white garb as the other priest shuffled with small steps from a doorway on his left.

"Come, come, come." He motioned for Jason to follow.

"Father Matthew?"

"Yes, of course. And you are the good man Daal promised, yes? Then come, come."

The priest pulled at a wiry white beard that hung a good foot off his chin. He smiled and his large oblong eyes flashed knowingly, as if the whole thing were a play and he held a secret part that he was now executing perfectly. Jason glanced at the first priest, who had bowed his head to Father Matthew.

"We don't have all day, young man. You have come for the boy, yes?"

Jason faced Father Matthew. "Yes." He headed for the old man, who nodded and shuffled hurriedly from the room.

They walked into a passageway cut from the same sandstone as the monastery's exterior. The whole structure was literally one large rock, carved and chipped away over many years, not so unusual in northern Ethiopia. Jason hurried after the priest, who moved very quickly considering his small steps. They descended a flight of steps by the light of a torch's flickering flame and then followed a tunnel farther into the earth. He'd never been so deep in a monastery. Stories of the secret underground caverns were common, but Jason had never suspected they were much more than small enclaves. Certainly not serviced by the well-worn passageways he was seeing now.

"Welcome to the mystery of our faith," the old man said with a hint of sarcasm.

"Amazing."

"And it makes us priests feel rather special, crawling through the earth like moles while the flock wanders above."

This was no ordinary priest. A tad eccentric from his years below the surface perhaps.

"The mortals above are carrying guns now," Jason said. "You do realize that, Father. The EPLF is less than five minutes up the road."

"Precisely. Which is why we are hurrying. You think I walk with such haste every waking hour?"

"You knew they'd be coming? That's not what Daal told me. He said this would be a simple in-and-out trip to collect the orphan and take him to safety. Somehow it isn't feeling quite so simple."

"Ah, Daal. He was always a bit smooth with the tongue. Rather like a lot of priests I know. It's a case of humanity, I suspect; insisting on some brand of the truth altogether unclear, but made clearer with insistence." He shuffled on and held up a finger, half turning. "What you cannot establish with wit you can always further with a little volume, don't you think?"

Ordinarily Jason would have chuckled at the old man's own wit, but the image of those trucks plowing over the hills outside tempered his humor. The priest was muttering now, and his echoes sounded like a chuckle through the tunnel. They hurried deeper into the earth.

"Maybe you could just bring the child out to the jeep," Jason said. He was having a hard time communicating his urgency to the old senile goat. "Maybe I should go back and—"

"Do you believe in God?"

They broke into a torch-lit room furnished with a single wooden table and two chairs. The priest turned to face him. His long eyes sagged in the surreal orange light.

"Do I . . . yes, of course—"

"Or do you just say that you believe in God to appease me? I see doubt in your eyes, young man."

Jason blinked, stunned. Father Matthew was clearly out of touch. Outside a war was looming and he wasted time philosophizing about God in the bowels of some lost monastery. The old man spoke hurriedly now.

"Do you believe that Jesus Christ was a madman?"

"What?"

"Do you believe that when he announced that his disciples would do greater things than he had, he was delusional?"

"What does this have to do with anything? We have to get out, man!"

"I thought not," the priest said. "You do not believe. And yes, we are short on time. But our lives are in God's hands."

"That's fine, but if you wouldn't mind I would like to get out of here before the bullets start flying. I'm not sure your God is quite so attentive to my interests."

"Yes, I can see that you're unsure."

"And why did you call me here in the first place, if you're so confident that God will save you?"

"You are here, aren't you? I will assume that he sent you. So then he is saving us. Or at least the child. Unless we are too late, of course."

Jason shoved the logic from his mind and tried to control his frustration. "Then please help your God along and get me the kid."

The priest studied Jason's face. "I want your word. You will die before allowing Caleb to come to harm."

Jason balked at the man's audacity.

"Swear it."

It was an insane moment and he spoke quickly, to appease the man. "Of course, I promise you. Now get him please."

"We found him at the gate when he was a baby, you know. Abandoned here by a retreating Eritrean commander who had just killed his mother during the last war. She was a European nurse. The soldier left a scrawled note with the boy seeking absolution for his sins."

Father Matthew stared unblinking, as if the revelation should explain some things. But the tale sounded rather par for the course in this mad place.

"The boy is no ordinary child. I think you will see that soon enough. Did you know that he has never seen beyond the gate? You will only be the fourth man he has ever laid eyes on in his ten years of life. He has never seen a woman."

"He's been in this monastery his whole life?"

"I raised him as a son. Where I go he goes. Or in this case where I stay, he has stayed. Except now. Now God has sent you to deliver the boy and I am bound by a vow to remain here."

He reached inside his tunic and withdrew an envelope. He handed the brown packet out to Jason, who looked unsure. "These are his papers, granting him refugee status outside of Ethiopia."

"Outside? I was under the impression that I was taking him to Addis Ababa."

"As long as he is in this country, his life is in danger. You must deliver him to safety beyond our borders."

Jason was about to tell the old man that he was losing true north when a door suddenly burst open to their right. A boy ran into the room, grinning from ear to ear.

"Dadda!" He spoke in Amharic, but he didn't look Ethiopian. His skin was a creamy tan and his dark hair hung in loose curls to his shoulders—he was clearly of mixed race. A simple cotton tunic similar to the priest's covered his small frame.

The boy ran up and threw his arms around the priest's waist, burying his face in the man's tunic. Father Matthew palmed the envelope, smiled, and dropped to his knees to hug the child. "Hello, Caleb." He kissed him on his forehead and looked into the boy's eyes—eyes as brilliant blue-green as Jason had ever seen.

"Caleb, your time has come, my son." He smoothed the boy's hair lovingly.

Caleb faced Jason with those large, round eyes. The priest had prepared the boy already, and Jason wondered what the boy knew.

A tremor shook the ground and Jason instinctively glanced up. It was a shell! A shell had detonated outside!

Father Matthew's hand grabbed Jason's and pressed the envelope into his palm. The old man's eyes were misted by the flame's light. "Promise me, my friend, I beg you! Take him beyond our borders."

"I will. I will. Get us out of here!"

The priest's eyes lingered for a brief moment, searching for truth. He whirled for the boy, who stared at the ceiling as another rumble shook the room. He snatched Caleb's hand. "Follow me! Run!"

The small shuffle steps Father Matthew had employed to lead Jason down gave way to long strides, and Jason raced to keep Father and son in sight. The priest was an enigma but certainly no idiot. His voice called back as they ran.

"They are firing on the village behind the monastery. We still have time. I have asked the others to distract them if necessary."

"Distract?"

"We have a moat behind for water. It will be burning with oil."

The child ran silently, on the heels of his father. They burst into the same sanctuary Jason had been scolded for entering earlier. Now another figure stood at its center, spinning around to face them as they rushed in.

She wore a navy blue tunic not unlike you might see on any street corner throughout Ethiopia, but the woman was clearly not Ethiopian. A hood shrouded a deeply tanned face. She seemed to arrest even the old priest's attention for a moment.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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