A stray leaf



A GREAT fire blazed merrily in the praça of the little town of X-, around which a crowd of sullenlooking men and women gathered, watching the angry gestures of a big, black-robed priest, and listening to his denunciations of the book he was passionately tearing to pieces and casting to the flames. A pile of these books lay at his side, some, well-bound volumes; others, smaller and in paper covers, but all alike destined for the fire.

The watching crowd did not quite approve of the proceedings, whilst the children chased and frolicked with the fragments that the wind ever and anon whisked out of the burning mass. Only a few days before, there had come to their town a young man with winning speech and a wonderful story; and he had persuaded many of them to buy these books which, according to him, contained the very words of Christ, and told them how they might be saved.

The priest, however, had terrified them all by denouncing as false, wicked, and dangerous the books which they had bought, and had ordered them to deliver them up, under threat of dire penalties for disobedience. This they had reluctantly done; and there they stood watching their purchases go up in smoke.

What they had read of the book had not seemed very dreadful, but the priest assured them that it was so: and, as they listened to his bitter denunciations, some of them felt that they had only narrowly escaped.

One by one the Bibles, Testaments and portions – for such they were – were torn from their covers and cast to the flames; and the breeze fanned the glowing mass to such an extent that the crowd was glad to fall back from the heat. A gust whirled through the spreading crowd as a fresh handful of leaves was cast, with a malediction, to the fire which seized them greedily – all save one which, scorched and crinkled, was tossed aloft by the wind and whirled away over the heads of the crowd, and above the house-tops, till on the outskirts of the village it fluttered down into a quiet street, where a final puff of the sportive breeze sent it floating in at the open window of Dona Maria’s little cottage.

She was a good soul and devout; and as she read the fragment that had come to her in so remarkable a way, her heart was strangely moved within her. She showed the scorched leaf from the unknown book to her husband when he returned in the evening, and he, too, was deeply interested. But entirely ignorant of its source, he gave it again to his wife, saying: “Keep it, for it must belong to a very religious book, and some day we may find the rest of the story.”

A year passed away, and the village was visited again by the colporteur. This time he came to the street where Dona Maria lived, and knocking at the door offered a book for sale, at the same time explaining its nature. “Oh,” she exclaimed, “are you selling books? Perhaps you can tell me about this” – and she hurried off and brought her treasured leaf. “This seems to belong to a very religious book, and we should like to get the rest of the story. Do you know it?” “Why, Senhora,” said the colporteur, as he recognized the familiar page, “that belongs to this book that I am offering you; see, here it is.” And he turned rapidly to the New Testament and showed her the precious leaf in its proper place. And where, think you, had that stray leaf come from? It was the leaf containing the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel, and she and her husband had been reading of Christ and Nicodemus, and of how “God so loved the world.” No wonder they wanted to hear “the rest of the story”!

Gladly she bought the Testament, and when her husband returned she hailed him joyfully with the news that she had found the book from which their leaf had come; and together they sat down to read more of that wondrous story. Earnestly and devoutly they pored over the sacred pages until the light of the Gospel shined into their hungry hearts, and they found peace and salvation in Jesus Christ. One by one the whole family came to know God through the reading of the Word, and a centre of Gospel light and testimony grew up in that town through the very action of the ignorant and fanatical priest who thought to destroy the good seed of the Gospel, but only succeeded in effectually planting it in one home at least, thereby bringing joy, gladness, and salvation to many hungry hearts.


From: Anon. True Stories Re-told. London: Evangelical Union of South America, 1965, pages 73-75