Pierre Durand stood casually leaning against the doorpost of his small home watching his children playing in the snow. They will need to come indoors soon or they will catch a cold he thought absently to himself, smiling as they launched snowballs at each other, ducking and squealing all at once. He heard soft footsteps behind him and tilted his head around just a fraction as his wife came to stand beside him.
“They will need to come in soon,” she said softly echoing his thoughts.
“Yes,” Pierre agreed.
There was a long, heavy pause before his wife spoke. “What will you do Pierre?” she asked gently.
He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you remember that night Anne?” he finally asked turning to look her squarely in the eyes. She nodded meeting his gaze unflinchingly.
“I remember,” she said quietly.
Pierre’s mind melted away from the present which was punctuated with the excited shrieks of his children and tumbled back through time to take hold of a different scene, punctuated by equally loud shrieks. But unlike those of his children, the shrieks from his past were filled with terror. A palpable, visceral terror that had permeated the entire room. He had been 19 and officiating a secret Huguenot worship service when the soldiers had broken the door down and entered the house.
Every Huguenot family had a fully rehearsed emergency plan for such eventualities. The Durand emergency plan was thoroughly ingrained in Pierre’s mind and had spurred him to action in the panic that ensued. He had stumbled out into the cold night, running as though his life depended on it, and it had.
It was only later, when he had paused for rest, that he had thought about his family. When the panic had faded into a low distant thrum of fear, he had begun to wonder what had happened to his parents and his sister. He had hidden in the forest that night and then made his way home at daybreak only to find soldiers occupying the small dwelling. It was in that moment that he decided to leave. There was no place for him here in France. France did not want the gospel. France did not want men like him. He would be hunted like an animal, hunted and killed and for what? His thoughts had come fast and thick and irrational.
He crossed the Rhone that night and made his way to the home of Jacques Roger, a well known Huguenot pastor. He would need letters of recommendation to get settled comfortably in Geneva.
“I lost my brother that night” Anne’s voice ripped him away from the past, dragging him into the present. He looked up at her and saw tears beginning to pool in her eyes. The pain of the memories was still fresh.
He nodded. “I know,” he said quietly, pausing to swallow the lump that had begun to form in his own throat. “I know that pain” he choked out, clearing his throat “I lost my maman that night as well.
Anne’s eyes moved back to her own children playing in the front yard and Pierre immediately knew what she was thinking. “It is a difficult decision to make Anne,” he said with a defensive edge to his voice “It is not as simple…not as simple as it appears”
“I know,” she said softly “I just…wish there was another way that’s all”
“Do you wish I wasn’t a pastor then?” he asked
“Of course not!” she exclaimed “How could you even think that? You know God called you to this place!” At her words Pierre’s mind began to claw at the past again, dredging up the bittersweet memories in a painful rush.
“Pierre!” Jacques Roger’s surprised face, as he opened the door, was still vividly impressed in Pierre’s mind. “Jacques, I need your help” he had said, quickly ducking into the small home without waiting to be invited in.
“What has happened?” Jacques sharp eyes did a quick sweep of the area around the house before he stepped inside and shut the door. “There was a raid…we…we were having a service. We thought” Pierre could feel the tears beginning to well up in his eyes, “We thought we were safe, but the soldiers came…I ran…I couldn’t think of anything else” he sank into a nearby chair sobbing.
Jacques pulled up a chair next to him and waited for him to calm down. “What will you do Pierre?” he asked after the young man finally became still.
“What else can I do but leave?” Pierre said wearily rubbing a hand across his face. He hadn’t slept in 24 hours and the fatigue was beginning to take its toll.
“Leave France?” Jacques clarified.
“Yes,” Pierre nodded “leave France.”
Pierre’s eyes searched Jacques’ face “What do you mean why? If they had caught me last night I would most likely be on my way to the stake now…they hunt us Jaques” he stood up abruptly and began to pace the length of the small room “they hunt us like we are wild beasts and for what? Because we dare to speak the truth? Because we dare to speak against the mass and the Pope? Because we dare to hold fast to the Bible, as the only infallible source of light? No” Pierre shook his head “I would rather go to Geneva where I can do some real good than stay here for another moment to be treated like some rabid dog in the street”
“And tell me what kind of good will you do in Geneva when there are so many starving for the light of truth here in France?” Jacques stood up to face him “Will you run Pierre Durand? Run to the comfort and safety of Geneva when the cross of Jesus needs to be lifted up here in France? Will your faith waver like that of a coward or will you stand like Paul of old and fight the good fight?”
Pierre’s eyes widened as he took in the intensity of Jacques’ gaze.
“Did you come to me for a recommendation to leave France?” Jacques asked softly, almost menacingly “Well, I have nothing to recommend to you but the cause of the gospel in France, Pierre Durand, and your duty to stay and preach it like a man”
“God called me alright” Pierre looked at Anne, a small smile playing around his lips “Called me through the fire and brimstone rained upon me by Jacques Roger” he chuckled “But you are right Anne, he has called me, I cannot leave my post of duty” he paused “no matter the cost.”
“So what will you do then?” Anne asked, her face reflecting the pain and helplessness he felt in his own heart.
“I will write to La Deveze and tell him what I think, and then God’s will be done” Pierre pushed away from the doorpost and moved inside the house.
“Call the children Anne, it’s time for them to come inside”
On that terrible night all those years ago the soldiers had arrested Pierre’s mother Claudine Durand but his father Etienne had managed to escape with his younger sister Marie. They had been safe, until now.
Since he had been officially ordained as a pastor in 1726 Pierre Durand had had a bounty placed over his head. At that very moment, the bounty was 3000 livres.
Pierre sat down at his writing table and pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment. That morning he had received word that his father had been arrested. It was a cat and mouse game between Pierre and the King’s man La Daveze. La Daveze would only release Etienne Durand when Pierre left France and exiled himself in Switzerland.
But I cannot leave, Pierre told himself as he reached for his quill, regardless of the cost, I cannot leave my post of duty. He squeezed his eyes shut I must commend Papa to God and remain faithful.
He dipped his quill in the inkwell. Yes. It was the only way forward.
April 22, 1729.
Monsieur La Deveze,
Permit me to ask if the king orders you to punish a father for the pretended crimes of his son? Do they proceed in France with more severity against ministers of the gospel than against robbers and assassins? Has anyone ever heard of so black an act of injustice? The office I hold does not permit me to forsake the flock which the Lord has confided to me. Of what use, besides, would flight be, when it is absolutely determined to take my life and guards will watch all passages with the description of my person in their hand? No. I will not flee. I will stand faithful at my post and finish my course with courage. I will permit none of these things to move me.