Two soldiers

 

 

EARLY one day, a young Peruvian named Octavio found himself drafted to a district on the frontier for military service, and set about getting to know his companions. Among them was one, destined for an officer in the regular army, who was also specializing in radio and telephone engineering. Something drew them together, for the young officer had an unusually sunny nature and was unselfish to a degree that made him different from all the others.

It was evident that he was respected and admired by all, and yet he was continually made the butt of ridicule and scorn. Octavio would have defended him, but when he found the reason, he himself joined in the general persecution; for Antonio was a declared Evangelical – a far worse disgrace than being a free-thinker or a free-liver. And he would not keep it to himself, never losing a chance of saying a word when he could, to commend the faith that seemed to mean so much to him. He would insist, too, on reading to Octavio out of the Bible, a book no good Roman Catholic should read; and he sang, over and over, hymns that were certainly haunting in their joyful certainty, but dangerous to listen to.

So, while they remained friends in other ways, the two young soldiers were divided at heart, each bent on changing the other. Octavio set himself to make his friend fall into sin, inviting him to drinking parties, tempting him at every turn, mocking when he prayed, and taunting him with being a heretic.

But Antonio kept on his way, persistently good tempered, seeming not to heed the jibes, so intent was he on passing on to his friend the secret of his own peace and joy. So the year came to an end. Octavio had finished his military service, and was free to go back to civilian life. One morning, therefore, very early, he slipped out of the barracks, but there at the gate was Antonio, waiting to say goodbye. Octavio felt suddenly ashamed in the face of such undeserved friendship; and, when Antonio asked him to go with him to church, if they were ever in a town together, Octavio, only half in earnest, gave the promise.

For months he worked in Lima, but grew restless and asked to be changed to Puno. To reach it, he had to pass through Arequipa, and, finding friends, decided to stay. Little did he know that Antonio had also been moved, and was in Arequipa too. When they met, the old friendship was renewed, and then Antonio demanded the fulfilment of the promise given, naming the next Sunday for their visit to the Evangelical Church.

Very unwillingly Octavio kept his promise, but was not very much impressed. Several times he attended, and Antonio visited the home, spending hours with Octavio and his young wife, always ready to bring out his New Testament or hymn-book, always eager to share what he had learned. Still resisting, Octavio yet began to feel a great hunger to know the truth for himself. He reviewed what he knew of the Roman Catholic Church, but felt there was no help for him there; he attended Adventist meetings, and got no light; and finally decided to give up the quest and become a declared atheist.

Then, one Sunday, he went again with Antonio to church, and was reading for himself in the Bible his friend had given him. He came to the story of the Crucifixion as told by St. John, and something lit up the page for him. He saw vividly the picture of the Saviour suffering and dying for him, and realized at last that patient love that went even to death for his salvation.

Then began happy days for the friends. Octavio and his wife never missed a meeting, and both asked for baptism. Then Octavio’s soldier brother, stationed in Arequipa, joined the friendly circle, and later he, too, professed faith in Christ. Little did they know that Antonio’s work on earth was nearly done! During an uprising, Antonio and his men were called to defend the radio station, and there he fell, fatally wounded, a good soldier of Jesus Christ, faithful unto death.

Much of this story was told for the first time months later, on the night of Octavio’s baptism. Speaking from a full heart to a congregation which had known and loved his friend, Octavio told of Antonio’s part in winning him for Christ, and ended saying: “I was a rebel, but his testimony won me; his endless patience overcame my resistance. He kept humbling himself to the very depths for me, and so he brought me to the Saviour, who for me became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.”

 

From: Anon. True Stories Re-told. London: Evangelical Union of South America, 1965, pages 37-39

 

 

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