Pierre Durand paused in the doorway and raised his hand to the rough-hewn wood of the door post. He fingered the inscription that his father had crudely etched there 15 years ago. “God be merciful to me” Pierre murmured as he read the words out loud. Yes, if ever he needed the mercy of God it was now. His hand lingered over the words for a moment longer before he passed through the doorway and made his way over to the far side of the small room. Once he reached the wall he ran his hands over the rough surface until he found the uneven edge he was looking for. He applied slight pressure to the right spots and a section of the wall tumbled forward and into his waiting hands. Setting it aside he reached into the small crevice that was exposed in front of him and found what he was looking for. Carefully, reverently he pulled out the family Bible.
He glanced around quickly to make sure that the house was empty. He had drawn all the curtains shut and lit a single taper in an obscure corner of the room so that its light could not be detected from outside. Sliding the secret panel of wood back into place he made his way over to the taper and sat on the floor in the small pool of light that spilled from it. His entire body was tensed and rigid as he carefully opened the Bible and began to thumb through its pages in search of the passage of Scripture he was looking for. If anyone discovered him he could be arrested and put to death. The year was 1719 and more than thirty years had passed since King Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes but the shadow of that revocation still hung like a heavy cloud over the lives of every single Huguenot who had dared to remain in France.
Many had left. Disguising themselves in a variety of ways, they had fled to the borders in droves, some to Switzerland, others across the channel to England, still others to the far-flung colonies of the New World. The great exodus of asylum seeking Huguenots had been like an unending stream. His father Etienne had chosen to stay.
To stay and stand. To stay and resist. To stay and share the truth. To stay and depend completely on the mercy of God for sustenance and protection.
The sound of the lock clicking open and the creak of the door on its hinges made Pierre jump. Almost without thinking he shut the heavy Bible, his eyes simultaneously darting around the room for a place to hide it.
Pierre’s shoulders relaxed and he sagged against the wall, weak with relief. It was his father.
“Papa, I am here,” he said in a low voice.
He heard the soft shuffle of footsteps and in a moment his father’s face appeared out of the shadows, peering down at him. “Did I scare you?” Etienne Durand asked with a twinkle in his eyes as he took in the ashen face of his son and the incriminating book lying in his lap.
Pierre cracked a weak smile. “A little,” he said rising to his feet. “I was not expecting you back till sunset. Where are Maman and Marie?”
“There has been a change of plans son” Etienne’s eyes darted to the drawn curtains shielding them from the world outside. “We will have this evening’s meeting at your uncle’s house.”
“Oh?” Pierre raised an eyebrow “Why?”
“We thought it might be safer” Etienne hesitated “I heard in the marketplace that the King may deploy a regiment of men to conduct raids here and in the neighboring villages. With your desire to be a pastor being generally known I thought our home would be a sure target”
His desire to become a pastor has been a subject of much discussion. His parents had been remarkably supportive of his decision even though it put the entire family at risk. To voluntarily choose to become a Huguenot pastor in France under the present circumstances was akin to committing suicide and sentencing your entire family to death row to boot. But his parents had raised him to love the truth and to stand for it regardless of the cost. There was nothing more he wanted to do with his life than to plant the standard of truth in France. Nothing else mattered. And so the entire Durand family had made the decision to stand in the shadow of the King’s sword because they stood in the shadow of Christ’s cross.
Pierre and Etienne remained indoors until the long shadows of evening began to slant through the cracks in their front door. Then they quietly rose to their feet, put back the Bible in its hiding place and stepped out into the cool evening air. They made their way down the quiet country lane towards the home of their nearest Huguenot neighbor who also happened to be a relative. When they reached the little farmhouse they knocked quietly on the door and identified themselves in low voices before they were allowed inside. The small living room was packed to capacity and Pierre scanned the crowd for the familiar faces of his mother and sister.
“Pierre!” Marie sang out as she danced her way through the crowd towards him. His face broke into a grin as he saw her jovial expression. He gathered her up into his arms for a big bear hug before setting her down on the floor and playfully tugging at one of her braids. “How was the market?” he asked in amusement as he took in the excitement on her face “It was wonderful” she exclaimed before quickly glancing around and lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper “I overheard Maman talking to….” “Pierre they are waiting for you” his father interrupted laying a hand on his shoulder and waving towards the front of the room. Pierre nodded. He looked down at Marie “I want to hear all about it later…when we get home” he promised her. Marie nodded with a smile before turning away and dancing back to their mother who was talking to a group of ladies on the far side of the room.
Smiling to himself Pierre wove his way through the small crowd, shaking hands and nodding as he went. Marie was almost 8 and 11 years younger than he was but the bond between them was strong. Once he reached the front of the room he held up his hands to quieten the crowd and then led the congregation in prayer and singing.
Suddenly there was a loud banging on the front door followed by an angry shout; “Open this door in the name of the King!”. Pierre felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. They had been discovered. “Open!” the banging became more insistent “Or we will break this door down”. At that moment a single scream pierced the quiet night air, snapping the company of Huguenots out of their tranquil cocoon of quiet worship. And then all hell broke loose.
Some of the Huguenot men rushed to barricade the doors but the King’s men were already engaged in rhythmic battering against the groaning wood. “Run!” someone screamed and there was a sudden rushing in the direction of the back door just as the front door shattered open with an ear-splitting crack. Pierre jumped into action. His eyes scanned the crowd for his family but he couldn’t see them. They had all rehearsed this scenario a million times around the family dining table. He knew what to do.
He rushed towards the back door and managed to stumble out into the cold night. He didn’t really know where he was going but he took off at full speed, running faster and faster till his lungs burned and his legs ached. But he pushed on through the pain not daring to slow down let alone stop. His heart was thundering loudly in his chest, his eyes wide with panic staring ahead unable to penetrate the suffocating blackness around him. Suddenly he felt the ground disappear from under him and he landed face first on the hard soil. He scrambled clumsily to his feet panting hard. He looked around him into the darkness but couldn’t see a thing. He stood still, listening hard but all he heard was the heavy sound of silence. Up ahead he could make out the dim outline of a tree and he made his way over to it, sinking down against it in relief, the blood burning across his skin in hot waves.
What had happened to Marie, Maman, and Papa?