Rayford looked around the interior of the high-top Leyland Daf van. It was crowded, with four men seated in the living area, but not as crowded as he had expected. Furniture consisted of assorted cabinets and pieces of timber, all of which had come from curbside throwouts. The lack of clutter was striking. There were places for each occupant to sleep, as well as for them to be seated. Everything else was neatly tucked away inside drawers and cupboards. Moving from one place to another inside the van was the biggest inconvenience, especially if anyone was trying to cook or trying to do dishes in the tiny kitchen area.

 

Seated next to Rayford, on a bench at right angles to the rear of the van, was the group's youngest member, 24-year-old Martin. Martin's family came from the Czech Republic. Opposite Martin and Rayford were Reinhard and Francisco. Reinhard was 32, while Francisco was 28. Fran's mother was from Argentina. Although they had not been formally trained, all three men were natural linguists. Together, they had translated "The Fall of America" into French, German, Spanish, Czech, Russian, and even Polish.

 

"How many of these do you get out in a week?" Rayford asked, fingering a copy of the booklet which had drawn his attention to the three men.

 

"Couple thousand in a good week," Martin answered. Martin was in charge of statistics. He kept the group's budget, as well as keeping records on literature stocks, distribution rates, and accounts of where they had worked and when. "That's 100,000 in a year," noted Rayford.

 

"A very good year," Martin reminded him.

 

"Whatever. The point is that even in a bad year, you should be getting new members. Why are there only three of you?"

 

"Two reasons," answered Francisco, who was more expressive than the other two missionaries. His hands moved constantly, and his head would jerk in time to the movements, as though pulling strings that moved his hands. Head jerks marked jumps from one thought to another.

 

"What we're preaching... well, people don't wanna hear... You know, they want preachers to say soooothing things." He dragged out the word soothing, while moving his downturned hands away from one another, like a roulette croupier closing all bets. "We're talking life and death here... forsaking all... I mean giving up everything for God! Who wants to hear that?"

 

"What's the second reason people don't join you?" Rayford asked.

 

Reinhard answered. "Ve sink God may be hiding us from udder true beliefers. Zay, too, he must be hiding from us. One day soon ve vill come together. For now, only, he is testing, to see if ve vill cheat, and make change to our message."

 

"One plants, another waters." Francisco was back. "The harvest will come. No worries. For now, they're reading. They're thinking. Hey, and they talk about it too. People tell us... every day!"

 

Rayford admired the idealism of this strange trio; but he could not believe that others were not joining them now that their predictions had come true about America. And he said so.

 

"Quickly people forget," Reinhard explained. "Zay are skeptical too. Already zay are saying zat our book vas written after zee attack."

 

"But in their hearts they know!" boasted Francisco. "They know all right! The truth is out there in those booklets, ticking away like a time bomb. One day it'll all come out. And then... ka-POW!" He clapped his hands together to emphasise the explosion and then shot one hand up in the air like a rocket. All three faces lit up in appreciation of what Francisco was saying.

 

"We're not growing in numbers; but the truth is getting out," said Martin quietly. "Nothing can stop the truth. And being right in God's eyes is more satisfying than being successful."

 

"You should understand," continued Reinhard, "Ve really belief ven ve talk of heaven and God, and about Sheesus returning. Such faith shanges deeply our interest in udder sings. Ve are living for a new vorld... an eternal one. Our faith is not like vat ve call the shurchy faith."

 

That was an understatement! Rayford could hardly believe that a tiny band of religious fanatics living in abject poverty could have had such a deep impact on himself. Yet they were doing just that. The truth was that he never would have given them a second thought if it had not been for the destruction of America. What a horrible price God had to pay to get his attention! Yet most of the world, even now, was more concerned about the effect on the world economy than they were about the spiritual implications of the fall of America.

 

Rayford stayed talking for several hours. He treated the group to a hot meal inside the Heston services, to prolong the visit. In that time, he learned that the trio parked their van most nights in service roads behind well-equipped motorway services, because they were less likely to arouse suspicion there, near 24-hour parking lots, than if they parked on city streets. Parking at the services also meant easy access to public rest rooms and showers overnight. During the day they would distribute their tracts at nearby shopping centres, just as they had done on the streets of Hounslow earlier that day.

 

"We don't stay at the same place two nights in a row," Martin explained. "That way, they hardly notice we're there."

 

The next day, Sunday, the Jesans met up with Rayford at Ruislip Country Park, for their official rest day. Rayford joined in with a group run, an informal Bible study, and a barbecue lunch, which Francisco prepared.

 

"Would I have to quit my job to be a true Christian?" he asked while they were eating at one of the park's few picnic tables.

 

"Vat you haff to do is to obey Sheesus," said Reinhard.

 

"But you just told me that he says to give up everything, and spend my time working for him!" Rayford was referring to their study of the fourteenth chapter of Luke's gospel.

 

"So do vat he said," Reinhard answered. "But don't yust do it because ve said so."

 

"But what about my family?"

 

"Vat about dem?" Reinhard asked quietly, raising his eyebrows as he often did to emphasise a point.

 

"I can't just leave them."

 

"So bring zem vit you."

 

"You know I can't do that. Chloe's trapped in Chicago, and I don't even know where Irene and Raymie are. They could be dead for all I know." Reinhard was not ignorant of this, for the Jesans had taken time to hear Rayford's story as well as to tell their own. But he wanted Rayford to see for himself how helpless he really was.

 

Once again Francisco's enthusiasm raced ahead of Reinhard's slower approach. "See? You're holding onto something you haven't even got!" he said. "Let go! When you do, then God will show you what to do. But you can't even think about that until you forsake them first."

 

Reinhard secretly signalled for Francisco to back off, leaving the group in an awkward silence for some time. They ate without speaking while Rayford engaged in a far bigger debate within his own mind. His argument was not with these relative strangers. His argument was with his Creator.

 

If God is real, he reasoned to himself, then God has the right to ask people to leave their families, their jobs, and their possessions to prove their faith in him. It must have been a decision like that which had freed Reinhard, Francisco, and Martin to do what they were doing now. They would never grow in numbers if others like himself did not make a similar decision. Rayford could see that talk of faith in Jesus that ignored his rules for his followers was not faith at all. But what was he going to do about it?

 

Circumstances had already taken his home and his family. All that remained was his job. Yet the job was his lifeline to his family, and his hope of getting another home one day.

 

"Please God," he prayed. "I can't just desert Chloe. She's counting on me."

 

"God knows vat is best for you," Reinhard said finally, as though reading Rayford's mind. "It is safer to take him too seriously zan to treat his vords too lightly."

 

Rayford was starting to sweat. He was standing at God's eternal crossroads and he knew it. He continued to pray secretly. "Help me, God. I don't want to do something stupid. There's too much at stake. What about Chloe?"

 

Again Reinhard spoke as though reading his mind. "Ve don't have zee control vat ve sink ve have," he said. "In a minute God can take avay. And in a minute he can give back. If you vant his best, zen you must let go! Let God say vat is best for you, and for zuh people vat you love."

 

Rayford Strait's analytical mind quickly weighed up the truth in what Reinhard was saying. He had told the Canadian authorities all that he knew about his family's whereabouts. Apart from that, he was powerless anyway. The real issues were the status and respect, the money, and the freedom to travel between England and Canada that his job represented. A lot to forsake, but still nothing if it was really what God wanted. The events of the past few days had moved him profoundly... caused him to see just how fleeting life really is, and how transient are our greatest dreams. If he said "no" to God now, he felt certain that he would be saying no to any hope he ever had of eternal life. Rayford had been shown the truth of his spiritual condition by these men, in a way that he had never seen it before. Now he had to act on it.

 

Through all that had happened since the bombings, Rayford had not cried once. Perhaps it was denial, or perhaps it was just his total concentration on the matters at hand. But tears began to form in his eyes now, as the truth of God's role in his life came home to him. He searched for the courage to do what his conscience told him he must do.

 

His thoughts turned to the options he had for quitting his job. Should he give notice? Should he just fail to turn up? He realised then that he had, in fact, made up his mind to do it... to forsake all for God. It was just a question of how... and when.

 

Rayford lifted his head and smiled broadly as the first tear overflowed and ran down one cheek. His companions picked up the meaning of the tear, and especially the smile that went with it.

 

Francisco, who was sitting opposite Rayford, jumped to his feet and reached out to shake his hand. The handshake quickly turned into a hug. Martin and Reinhard waited their turn to welcome him with an embrace and a few quiet tears of their own.

 

Rayford phoned work on Monday, to give notice. He was told that the British Army would not allow him to leave his job. It would be months before the airlines could return to normal routings, but for now every pilot and every plane was being used to maximum capacity in the evacuation.

 

The four men discussed the situation and agreed that Rayford's state was that of a slave... at least for the moment. He had resolved to quit his job for God, and yet circumstances had given it right back to him. He would wait until he was allowed to quit, and he would use his position in the meantime to continue to seek help for his family. While in London, he would stay with his spiritual brothers and help them get their literature out on the streets.

 

Over the next few weeks, in the midst of their concern for American suffering, Pan-Con staff also took note of a change in Rayford Strait. Rayford Strait had got religion, and had joined up with some Jesus freaks. His involvement in volunteer emergency services in Toronto was reasonable enough, but in London, he would be met at the airport by the strange young men in the Daf van and return in it a few days later, in time for his next flight out. His usual social contacts had ceased, and there was word that he was living on the streets and begging from the public.