Chapter 44: The Mission

Before the rains set in and the weather turned cold, before he changed his mind entirely, Paul walked Timothy and Silas to the Long Wall and sent them north with his letter for the Thessalonians.

He’d delayed their journey longer than he should have, reluctant to send them away so soon after turning to the Gentiles. He needed them in the agora and at Gaius’s house. He needed the coin their work provided so he could devote himself fully to the mission.

But he knew the Thessalonians needed them as well … and the letter they carried. So, finally, when he could delay no longer, he told them to pack and then walked through the city with them to send them on their way. He stood at the wall, now, watching their bobbing heads and swaying packs for the longest time. He laughed at how quickly Timothy fell to goading his companion and at Silas’s long-suffering, resigned bearing as they trudged together towards Macedonia. It would be a long journey for the older man, Paul knew.

Oh, how it hurt him to watch them leave—the son he never had, the brother with whom he’d shared the hardships of the road and the agonies of the whipping post.

They would never know, he could never tell them, what their companionship meant to him. They were true believers, those two. Their faith was a tested, proven thing. He did not question their commitment when the days grew long and the work wore them down. He did not wonder what they would do when the time for suffering came. He knew. And the knowing brought a palpable sense of relief to Paul. It eased his loneliness. They were his partners. And good partners were rare … precious … hard to let go.

When their heads finally disappeared down the road towards the Isthmus, Paul turned back to the city and made his way to Aquila’s shop.


II

He found the tailor in the back, washing some of Demeas’s hides, turning his head away from the worst of the reeking stench.

“Aquila! Could I interrupt you for a moment?” Paul called from the street in front of the shop, where even the odors of garbage and sewer smelled sweet by comparison. He could see the relief on Aquila’s face. Any excuse to escape those hides! He grabbed a rag to dry his hands and hurried to Paul.

“That’s it!” he grumbled as he stepped into the street, gulping in the fresher air. “Demeas can either wash his hides himself or I’m shopping elsewhere. His secret ingredient?” Aquila raised an eyebrow at Paul. “I don’t know what it is, but I’ll wager it’s been dead a long time!”

Paul laughed. “It is pretty bad.”

“It’s past bad. It’s insufferable. Unendurable. It takes three days just to get the smell out of the shop. Three days of no customers and no help from Prisca—nobody can stand to be here!”

Paul noted that more than Aquila’s beard had gone in recent weeks. His robe had been packed away. He wore a tunic now. He was looking more Greek every day.

“I need my job back, Aquila.”

Aquila studied Paul for a moment. “Timothy and Silas on their way?”

“Yes. And with them gone, I have to make a living again. I don’t require much. Some coin for food. The fee for the baths. I still have some of the money they brought from Macedonia. Between that and what I can earn, I should be fine.”

“You’ve enjoyed spending all your time in the agora and at Gaius’s house, haven’t you?”

Paul sighed and flashed a rueful grin. “It’s been a luxury, these last few weeks. Not worrying about money. Not dividing my time between the gospel and the tents.”

“Why don’t you ask for help? Gaius. Or Stephanas. They’d support you gladly.”

But Aquila knew this was a point of pride with Paul. He liked the independence that came from paying his own way. He liked the freedom of no obligations.

So it didn’t surprise him when Paul shook his head. “No, Aquila. That’s not my way. Not in Philippi. Not in Thessalonike. And not here. I work with my own hands to provide for my own needs. So … do you have enough business to take me on again?”

Aquila eyed the shop, and felt a smile creep onto his face. “How do you feel about washing hides?”


III

Mornings toiling in the shop. Afternoons in the agora and the taverns and the baths, striking up conversations … looking for that mix of interest and hunger that signaled a chance to share the gospel … leading people, dragging them, pushing them towards the moment of decision. Evenings at Gaius’s house, teaching and training the precious souls God had entrusted to his care. Short nights of exhausted sleep. Rising before dawn to pray.

Paul set a killing pace. But what choice did he have? Though his companions were gone, the work must continue. And the burden of the work fell squarely on him.

Dark circles formed under his eyes. Though he forced himself to eat, he had no appetite. His back hurt with a dull constancy that tormented his days and disturbed his nights. He resented the demands of his body. He resented its limits.

By the time he trudged to Gaius’s house in the evenings, he did not have much left. Many a night, entering the courtyard, Paul cast a wistful glance at his bedroom window and could almost hear the soft mattress calling to him.

But they were waiting for him inside, the people God had sent him, with hurts of their own … with another kind of weariness that sleep could not cure. They needed what only he could give them. He had words that would be a balm for them. He had lessons for living that brought the rest they required.

So each evening, his hand on the door pull of Gaius’s house, Paul murmured a prayer before going inside. Keep me going just a little longer, Lord. Speak through me for their sakes. Show me what they need to hear tonight.

And then, taking a deep breath, he’d open the door to greet the brothers and begin another round of discipling.

Invariably, the people within worked like a tonic on Paul. Their faces calmed him and damped down some of the fatigue. Their eagerness to learn, to ask questions, kept him going long into the night. He saw relief in their eyes, a relaxing around shoulders and mouth as he talked about the way life worked in Christ, and the memory of it lingered with him after they’d gone until he dropped off to sleep.

In this way, he discovered fresh reserves each evening, and recognized in this a tangible sign that, really, he was not alone in the work. They gave to him as he gave to them—a partnership of sorts.

But it was more than that, he knew. He saw another hand behind the strength that filled him each evening. His last conscious thought before sleep was a grateful prayer—for a Spirit who worked powerfully, even in a worn-out tent-maker insufficient for his task.


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[Beginning of the novel]

© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.