Chapter 30: The Mission

The storm would break soon. Dark clouds threatened on the Sabbath horizon—he had only days before the tempest hit. There would be wind and thunder, he knew—Sosthenes blustering … Berekiah rumbling.

But would there be lightening? That was the unknown.

He’d weathered wind and noise before—the angry words and shouted threats, unpleasant but unavoidable. Paul accepted those as the price he paid for his difficult gospel. The long tension of the synagogue had to find some release.

On occasion, though, the release meant more than words and raised voices. Violence would flash, sharp and terrible. A bolt of blows. A burst of stones. A jagged streak of whip. The finger of fire would leap suddenly, fiercely, and Paul was always the high ground it struck. They would kill him one day, he assumed.

Whether lightening would strike this Sabbath, Paul did not know. He didn’t think so. The voice in the night had told him no harm would come.

But in case it did, he had decks to clear before the storm arrived.


When Prisca and Aquila returned to the shop, Paul beckoned them into the back and broke Crispus’s news. The couple looked at each other and then back to Paul, wordless. He reached for Prisca’s hand. “I’m sorry.”

But she surprised him, the warrior stepping into the blow rather than running away. “We all knew this would happen. And now we know when.” She put a hand on her husband’s arm. “Don’t worry about us, Paul. We’re ready.”

“There are some things we need to talk about, plans to make in case …” He looked at Prisca and let the sentence die.

They talked through the heat of the day, pausing only for customers with coin in their hands and the call of the chamber pot. They tried to imagine how the Sabbath would go … the best they could hope for … the worst that might happen. They went over a list of people likely to join them. Paul spoke frankly with them about the role they would play in the new church, with or without him. They even talked a bit about the Gentiles, though Paul did not mention Stephanas. He did not think they were ready.

As the day ended, talked out, they knelt together to pray on the floor of the shop, the smell of leather a kind of incense … a stack of hides their altar.


He spent the following morning with Timothy and Silas, talking frankly about the future. There was Corinth to consider, of course, and the church about to be born. “If something should happen to me,” he looked down at his hands, “you’ll have to stay here and carry on the mission. You know what to do. Crispus is a good man, you can depend on him. And I need to tell you about a merchant named Stephanas.”

But they also talked a long while about the infant church at Thessalonike, struggling to find its feet. Paul was worried about the Thessalonians. The report from Timothy and Silas, the letters they brought, spoke of a church that was aching for Paul. His stay had been too short. He’d left suddenly, in the night. They were missing him. And they felt abandoned … alone.

What they needed, of course, was a visit. What they’d get, what they’d have to settle for, was a letter.

“If things go well this Sabbath,” Paul told his two friends, “I’ll be sending you back to Macedonia. Not right away. But soon. I’ll write the letter before the end of the week. Just so you’ll have it whatever happens.”


In the afternoon, he traveled to the east side of the city and knocked at Crispus’ door. The steward who answered told him his master was out. “But it’s your mistress I’m looking for,” Paul said. He sat with Hester in the atrium, on the same benches where he and her husband had sat for a long conversation weeks before.

“I know this is hard for you,” he told her.

And, for a long while afterwards, she let him know just how hard it was. Her words were not kind at first; fear made her harsh. But, after a time, her tone softened. She spoke of their years in Corinth, always strangers far from home, and of the people who’d become family for them. She talked about her husband, his grief and his goodness. She even managed to tell Paul that she believed his story about Jesus, whatever that faith might cost her.

Paul let her talk. It was why he’d come. Hard things could be endured, he knew. But, often, they left resentments in their wake. He could afford no resentment from Hester. She and Crispus were too important to his mission.

So he gave her the gifts of a listening ear and a humble spirit—the listening, his penance for her pain; the humility, his offer of friendship.


On the third day, as Aquila and Prisca came downstairs to open up the shop, Paul asked them, “Can I borrow your apartment for a few days? I need a quiet place. I have a letter to write.”

“It’s yours,” Aquila told him without a thought. “We’ll sleep down here in the shop and make sure no one bothers you.” He waggled his eyebrows at his wife. “It’ll be like the early days, won’t it, Priscilla! Sleeping on the floor.”

But Prisca wasn’t listening to her husband. She was staring at Paul. She could sense the weight he was carrying—the weight of Corinth, certainly, and of the coming Sabbath. But it was more than that. He’s too frail to carry so much, she thought. When God picks an apostle, he should choose someone with broader shoulders.

She voiced none of this, however. “We’ll be fine,” was what she said. “You go upstairs and do what you need to do.”


Paul heard that women approaching their time go into a frenzy of cleaning and cooking, preparing themselves and their families for the coming birth. He felt like that now. The urge was primal, an instinctive drive to find a nest and to prepare himself for the letter about to be born.

In the past, he’d dashed off a few notes—to churches, advising them of his travel plans, and to individuals, sending his affection and encouragement.

But he’d never written a letter like this—words intended to shape a church. He was aware—again, instinctively—that this letter would become his voice for the Thessalonian Christians, and perhaps for others who might read the words he sent. He wanted the words to be right. And he knew, for them to be right, something more than his own advice and wisdom was required. He needed the words to be more than himself.

He fasted for three days. A fast from food. A fast from people and interruptions. A welcomed fast from the worries of the synagogue. He lay for long hours on the bed and the floor. He folded himself into a corner and sat stock still through the course of an entire afternoon. He tuned out the noises from the street and the adjacent apartments. He flushed himself physically and mentally—an emptying to prepare himself for the filling to come.

On the third night, with his stomach growling and his mouth stale from the lack of food, he fell into bed, still reaching for God’s words, still struggling with the Spirit who had the words but held them just beyond his grasp. He prayed himself to sleep.

But when he woke long before light the next morning, Paul knew what God wanted to say to the Thessalonians.

He lit every candle and lamp in the apartment. He rummaged through shelves and chests, looking for writing tools and clean paper, chiding himself for forgetting such simple but necessary things. He finally found quill and ink and a stack of old receipts, Prisca’s neat numbers on one side, blank on the other. The pages were of different sizes and quality, but Paul didn’t mind. He hoped Prisca wouldn’t. Turning the receipts over, he spread them out on the table, opened the ink well, and sharpened a nib on the quill.

And then, without hesitation, he dipped quill in ink and wrote:

This letter is from Paul, Silas, and Timothy. It is written to the church in Thessalonike, you who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May his grace and peace be yours.[1]


Later that day, the day before Sabbath, Paul showed up to work in the shop. Aquila tried to send him away, to relax and clear his head, but Paul needed the labor to keep himself busy. The two of them passed pleasant hours together, talking about everything except what was coming.

Finally, as evening approached, Paul excused himself and stepped from the shop into the street. He looked up at the sun and reckoned he had enough daylight for one more task.

Taking the Lechaion Road, he walked to the Isthmian Gate and moved down the road a few hundred yards. Turning right, he began a slow circuit around Corinth’s walls. As he walked, he prayed—for the events of tomorrow … for the city and it’s people.

He was Joshua marching around an Achaian Jericho, his prayers the trumpet blasts that would bring down her walls.

[Next chapter]

[Beginning of the novel]

[1]   1 Thessalonians 1:1, nlt

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