There once lived a young couple recently married. With their small baby daughter they lived in a temporary dwelling in a hot desert. There were many thousands of people who shared similar accommodation nearby, and over time it became apparent that food and other necessities would not continue to arrive to support the population.
When the people had arrived at the town they had been informed of a Kindly Man who had established this area as a temporary shelter, and that he would send a message when it was time to move on, with instructions as to what the people should do.
As time passed, and supplies dwindled, many began to believe that the story of the Kindly Man was nothing more than a myth. Consequently some individuals and families around them started to move out into the desert, following promises of sustenance, and even opulence, elsewhere. But the couple recognised such promises as nothing more than vague rumours, and the routes people were taking uncertain. They considered it would be foolish to follow such rumours into the desolate wilderness, and so they waited with little more than a hope that the Kindly Man was real, and that he would send the promised message before life’s necessities vanished and they, along with their precious baby, perished.
The number of people leaving the town continued to increase until only a fraction of the original population remained. As neighbours became scarce, finally the couple knelt in prayer one night and pleaded to the heavens that if the Kindly Man existed, a message from him come soon that their small family might be spared. Knowing that their rations would not last much longer, they then retired to bed, wondering if their lonely words to the night sky would be heard or answered.
The man awoke early, lying in bed wondering whether he should venture outside the town to see if other food or water could be found. He worried what would happen to his family should he meet his doom in the wilderness; but also worried what would happen to his family if he did not go, and no message from the Kindly Man arrived. His stomach knotted with indecision, finally he arose from his place of anguish.
As he left his bedchamber he saw a strange object on the floor near the entrance to their dwelling. It was a small oval-shaped object that could fit neatly into the palm of his hand. Its dark marble appearance would have made it almost invisible in the black, desolate rocky hills to the east, but against the white sand of the desert it stood out as a dark beacon. It had not been there the previous evening, and the man wondered who had placed it there.
The man walked over to where it lay on the ground, and in the quiet stillness of morning’s early hours he could just discern a faint sound coming from the polished stone’s surface.
Curious, he placed the stone-like object to his ear, and heard the words,
“My children, I am the Kindly Man, and here I give you instructions on where you must go, and how you can safely cross the dangerous wilderness.”
The man’s heart raced and he stood, immobilised with excitement, as the Kindly Man’s voice gave instructions for their journey. As soon as he gathered himself, and without removing the stone from his ear, he quickly walked to his wife’s side and quietly woke her. He silently gestured for her to place her ear against the other side of the stone. Though she did not understand, she did so, and within seconds her attention too was rapt; and together they eagerly absorbed every word from the Kindly Man.
When the message was complete they immediately began their preparations for departure. They were excited, but also fearful, for the Kindly Man’s instructions were not what they had expected. Their neighbours who had departed without waiting for the Kindly Man’s message had headed in many different directions into the barren wilderness, but never had they gone towards the rocky hills to the east; for there, in addition to the desolation, were rumoured deadly creatures who sought those whose mortal frames would feed their own hunger. And their journey would not be short. They now knew that it would take them a great many years for them to traverse the dangerous passage.
But the Kindly Man had reassured them that a glorious residence with him awaited them and their descendants, and that the way – though dangerous – had been prepared. And so they completed their own preparations with faith.
The man and woman quickly noticed that though they had both been listening to the Kindly Man at the same time, they had heard different messages as to what they needed to do to safeguard their small family on their journey. Again they were astonished, for though the instructions they received were different, they were complementary rather than contradictory, and they found that as they each carefully followed the instructions the Kindly Man had given them their preparations proceeded more quickly than if they had both received identical instructions.
They worked with as much haste as diligence would allow, and soon the small family headed from their temporary shelter towards the menacing-looking hills. Others in the town watched them as they left. Some called out wishing them well; others warned them that they would be better to remain in the town than tempt the danger that surely awaited; still others told of people they had seen walk in that direction before, whose bones they were sure now littered the perilous trail. The man and woman tried to explain that they had received a message from the Kindly Man and were following his instructions, but none believed, and so they continued alone with their child.
The stone they kept safe with them. The Kindly Man had told them to keep it close, for he – or those who served him – would continue to send them messages through it, and they would need to ensure they could hear it so as to avoid the perils that might otherwise cause them harm. He had sought a promise from them that they would listen to the stone regularly, and they had eagerly committed themselves to do so.
As they began up the slopes of the dry rocky hills they easily spotted the path that had been carefully prepared.
Messages would regularly come from the dark stone leading them to where food, water and provisions had been hidden, and so they travelled in safety. At night they would pray and give thanks that the Kindly Man had spoken to them and that they were now travelling safely towards a secure destination. And in the daytime they rejoiced with their small family, confident in their journey.
And so the years passed. Two more children – two sons – joined their family, and as the children grew, the dangers of the path became more apparent. Sharp rock edges, and steep cliffs along the edge of the path, meant almost constant danger for boisterous children. But the messages from the stone warned the couple of the dangers, and advised them on the best ways to keep their family safe. A special rope had been left for them at one point and they were able to gently tie their children to themselves, thus preventing them from wandering too far or falling into chasms.
Once again secure as a family, they continued their journey. They had learned to identify the visible signs of where food and other provisions were hidden and thus they no longer required the messages from the stone to tell them, and as the months passed the couple began to forget to listen for messages from the Kindly Man. Soon the stone became buried under other provisions, but it did not matter for the couple were now confident in their journey.
One day as they were journeying, their children running ahead and behind playing in the sunshine, they heard their precious daughter cry out in fear. At first they were not worried for their daughter was secured to them with the rope, and whatever the cause of her fear she could return to them. When they called out to their daughter and she did not return, they followed the rope, initially annoyed that their child had not heeded their call. When they found her, however, they could see the marks of a snake bite in their precious off-spring’s leg, black lines spreading from the bite mark, and their daughter lying on the ground with sweat across her brow.
For seconds they were paralysed with fear for the life of their daughter; and with anger. How could this happen? The Kindly Man had prepared this path; there should be no deadly creatures. Maybe the Kindly Man wasn’t kindly after all? Maybe it was a deception and those who had warned them not to come towards these perilous hills were right after all?
As these thoughts raced through their minds, the woman quickly gathered together their small sons, while the man held his daughter in his arms, fearing she would soon pass from mortality. The weeping family gathered together, and prayed that somehow they might know what to do so save their precious child and sister. It was then that one of the boys spoke up, his innocent young voice asking,
“Why have we not found the stone? Maybe the Kindly Man is telling us what we can do.”
The couple were ashamed that they had forgotten the messages from the Kindly Man, and they quickly began a search for the stone. They had buried it deep amongst their provisions, but were able to locate it while their daughter still had breath. They placed it to their ears, and immediately heard the familiar voice of the Kindly Man. Though they had ignored his voice for too long, his voice was as gentle as it had ever been. Somehow the Kindly Man knew that their daughter’s life was in danger from the deadly venom and his voice directed them to a nearby hole in a rock, in which was stored a strange-looking red medicine.
They applied the medicine to their daughter’s lips as instructed, and as she gained consciousness she drank the remainder. Their daughter proclaimed it to be the sweetest-tasting thing she had ever ingested, and thankfully it was effective and their daughter, who had been at death’s door, was soon restored to health.
As the couple again placed the stone to their ears they heard a servant of the Kindly Man speaking to them. He said that he had been warning them of the deadly serpents in this area for many days, and had been giving instructions on how to avoid them. The Kindly Man had become desperate when he realised that they had buried the stone and were no longer listening to it, for he knew the inevitable outcome, but there was nothing he could do. The couple could hear the tears in the voice of the servant as he said how grateful he was that they had finally remembered and sought the stone. There were others, he said, who had not remembered, and the Kindly Man still grieved for their loss, for he loved them all as children.
The couple wondered how the medicine had been placed precisely where it was needed. Perceiving their thoughts, the servant of the Kindly Man now spoke in hushed tones.
“The One who prepared the path for you: He knew that these evil creatures infested this area and that they would bite some of the Kindly Man’s beloved people. He was immune to their venom, and so He placed some of His own blood in vials scattered nearby and across the path wherever such danger exists, knowing that any who partook of His blood would be healed.”
The couple wondered at how one could take so much blood from His own body and still retain His life. Though they suspected the servant could hear their unspoken question as he had the previous one, he did not answer them this time, and all they could hear was sobbing from the servant.
They did not understand, but they were nonetheless joyful beyond description that their daughter was once again safe, rescued by the blood of a stranger.
And so they continued their journey. They were much more mindful of their need to constantly listen to the messages from the stone now. When the man would become pre-occupied with the journey his wife would listen more carefully and remind him of the stone’s value; and when the woman would become preoccupied, her husband would do likewise. Though there were periods when it seemed that the messages they were receiving were mere repetition of previous messages, they nonetheless remained faithful to their obligation now, and were grateful as they were warned of ravenous beasts, deep chasms, and other perils which they were able to safely avoid.
Their children continued to grow along their wilderness journey, and one night when they were safely camped and the children – now teenagers – were finally asleep, the woman beckoned to her husband. As they sat to quietly talk, she explained that she had heard a message from the stone that gave a warning of a particular hazard they were about to face. The man had not heard this warning, but that gave him no concern, because they often would hear different messages – each one hearing those messages that were best suited to their ability to sustain their family.
This peril, the woman explained, would be unlike others, for it would seek to divert the family from the path. The Kindly Man’s servant had warned, she explained, that they must stay on the path at all costs, for the stone would not work if they left the path, and they would not be able to find their way back, becoming lost forever. Together they committed to heed the warning and keep their family on the path.
Several weeks passed and the couple had almost forgotten the warning when one day their children came running up to them excitedly, saying how they had seen a large oasis. Surrounding the oasis were large tents, and they could see people laughing and playing. There were many people their own age, they said, and exotic foods. The couple became excited themselves and hurried with their children to the place on the path where the oasis could be seen, and everything their children had described was true. Only a few hundred metres from the path was the largest oasis the small family could have imagined. There were old and young, men and women, families and individuals – all appearing joyous in the cool water and shade of the trees.
The couple could see how desirable this was, but looked at each other knowingly. The man voiced their thoughts,
“I am sorry children, but the oasis is away from the path. We cannot go there.”
But where once his children had been small and would have accepted the disappointment, they now were older.
“It’s not far from the path.”
“We can easily see the path from there and can come back.”
As night approached, the couple remained firm in their resolve as their children continued to plead,
“But it’s been so lonely on this path. We can find friends there.”
“Look, as the night is falling the tents have many lights. Maybe we can just go there for the evening to see what it is like.”
The couple knew that all of their children’s arguments sounded reasonable, but also remembered the warning they had received from the Kindly Man’s servant. His warnings had always saved them before, and they were determined to stay firm now, although their children would not understand.
They were awoken the following morning by one of their sons, “My brother is gone!” he cried. The couple urgently searched, and soon found footprints leading from the path and headed toward the oasis. They pulled the rope that still bound each of their children, but their son had cut it before he had left them, knowing that his parents would seek to return him to them. The parents bitterly wept, for what should they do now? They had lost a son, and no longer had any way to retrieve him.
They pulled out the stone, hoping that there would again be wise words to save their child. Once more they heard the words of the Kindly Man,
“You must not leave the path, for if you do you will all be lost. I too weep for your son, but do not give up hope. He has cut the rope that bound you together, but there is another tie that he cannot break, for your own obedience and faithfulness has bound your family together in a way that no rope can equal. Continue on the path and believe.”
With tears on their faces the family continued on their journey, with one child and brother less.
The days passed slowly at first. Night after night the couple prayed in tears that their lost son would return; day after day they would continue forward in solemnity. But while the sorrow for their lost son never departed, they were once again able to find joy in their other children who had remained faithful with them. And so they continued on in their journey, retaining a hope from the words that the Kindly Man had spoken that in some way they could not understand their lost son would some day be restored to them.
As the years passed they eventually began to draw close to the place where the Kindly Man lived, and which would be their home. They had continued in their faithfulness at seeking the words from the Kindly Man’s servants, and in heeding their warnings. They had eventually come across others on the path, and their faithful son and daughter had found companions of their own and they now journeyed along the path in their own families, though always nearby. The sorrow of losing one son had never departed, however.
Then one day as they were seeking counsel through the stone they heard the voice of the Kindly Man.
“Your lost son seeks to return, but he cannot find you. Remember that I spoke of a bond that cannot be broken. It remains intact.”
The Kindly Man then directed the couple to a place behind a rock on the side of the path where lay an unusual looking lantern. They pointed the lantern towards the wilderness where their son had been lost, and the unique light of the lantern illumined a string that now glowed, but which they had never before seen. They could see that the string bound all of their family members together. They took hold of the string and found they were able to pull it.
They felt a weight on the string as they pulled but continued to draw it closer. After what seemed too long, their lost son eventually came into view. As soon as he could, the man ran to his son, embracing him tightly with his tears of joy cascading from his face; his lost son, now found. Soon the son returned the embrace, and then sought his mother’s arms, and to whom he simply repeated the words,
“I’m so sorry.”
When the woman looked in her son’s face, she saw a lifetime of tragedy: of betrayals; of heartache. He would later tell of how the Oasis had been little more than a mirage, the joyful faces little more than pretense; the tents and night-time lights placed there to tempt faithful travellers from the path. But when he had come to that realisation the path was no longer in sight. It had taken a lifetime and the continued efforts and prayers of his parents to help him back again.
For now, though, all that mattered to the woman was that her son had returned, though he was still in need of healing. As she placed the stone to her ear, now trusting implicitly that the Kindly Man would provide her with the things she needed for her family, she again heard the voice of a servant, directing her to where another vial of the One’s blood could be found. She located the vial and gently helped her son imbibe it. The years of pain and sorrow melted from his face, and once again the innocent beauty that had etched his face as a child was seen in his countenance.
As she offered her thanks in prayer for the One who had given His blood to save her son, she once more placed the stone next to her ear. She heard the now-familiar voice of the Kindly Man,
“The blood of which you speak is that of my Son. He prepared the path for you, and in giving His blood, He also sacrificed His own life. Can you not now see the depth of the love I have for you and for your own son?”
Such love she could not have imagined from one whom she had never met, and she was awed at the knowledge. Later she shared with her family, including now her grandchildren, the great love of the Kindly Man and his Son, and together they rejoiced in the blessings they had received.
The day finally came, at the end of their many years of hardship and toil, when they arrived at the end of the path, entering a beautiful land of green fields, rolling hills and flowing streams. Trees with delicious fruits dotted the landscape, and the most beautiful buildings lay scattered across the large valley. In the middle of their sight rose a most magnificent tree that shone with a beauty that they could not describe. A warmth filled their hearts as they reverently approached the tree, where they knew the Kindly Man would be awaiting them.
As they drew near they could see two Men stood under the tree, one in similitude of the other. The couple were astonished that at once the faces of the Men were familiar to them, and they did not need to hear them introduced as the Kindly Man and his Son, somehow now risen from the dead.
And as the couple and their children entered the embrace of the Kindly Man, they knew that the joy which they now felt and which was utterly beyond description would never again leave their hearts.
By Jeffrey Collyer