The nearest town is about a two-hour walk from our camp. We have been walking for almost one hour now. Jacob and I go in front of the team, trying to clear the way with our machetes.
“It looks like the forest grew denser overnight,” I say.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Jacob say.
“It couldn’t have grown like this while we were asleep, could it?” I ask.
“It probably could,” Jacob replies. “Tony grew a brand new arm, remember?”
“Good point.” I pause. “But, are you sure it happened last night? What if we have been asleep for longer?”
“Now that you mentioned it, I looked for my cellphone this morning, and it was dead. But it was fully charged before the soldiers showed up.”
“If Armageddon happened yesterday, your cellphone should have sufficient battery still. Is that what you are saying?
“In theory. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. I was actually wondering about how the city must look like now after Armageddon.”
“Well, you will not have to wonder for too long. We are almost there.”
We finally make it to the edge of the forest. I am surprised by what I see when we reach the road. The asphalt is cracking, and the local vegetation has partially replaced it. Almost as if the forest is reclaiming what was once part of it. The place is deserted. Not a soul around. We keep following the road east. It doesn’t take long for us to arrive at the nearby village. The welcome sign says: “Welcome to …” the rest of the sign is burned off. We didn’t expect to meet anyone, but it’s a strange feeling to walk into an empty place like this. We pass by a few houses. They look abandoned but undamaged. There are no vehicles to be found. And, just like with the asphalt, the local vegetation appears to be taking over everything.
We arrive at the village’s center. Now we can see more evidence of Armageddon’s destruction, but nothing like what I would have expected—no debris, no buildings in ruins or rubble anywhere. Everything indicates that a church used to be there in the main town square. Not anymore. There is a facade building sign on the ground with the church’s name covered by weeds and shrubs. But the building itself has simply vanished. Whatever was standing in that plot of land before it has been pulverized out of existence. We look at each other, dumbfounded by the scene, as we walk around the town’s commercial area. We can see a pattern emerging. While some buildings are entirely gone, others were left altogether unharmed. In this corner, where signs show the location of a bank, the scorched signs are the only thing left. The gas station and the car dealership on the other side of the street had the same end as the bank and church buildings. Their destruction seems to have been selective, targeted, and deliberate. On the other hand, the hardware store stands intact; not even one of its windows is broken. The supermarket has also survived unscathed.
“All right,” Jacob says. “James, John, and I will check the hardware store for the materials on the list. Marcel and Caleb, you can get the supplies we need from the supermarket. Josh, you can take the rest of the team with you to assess the situation of the town, okay?”
“Okay!” the ten respond.
“We meet here again in one hour.”
“Right!” we agree and scatter.
We enter the supermarket. There is no electricity. Light is coming through the windows, but the place is still dark. The site looks like it has been abandoned for many days, even months. Everything is covered by dust, branches, jungle-like vines and ropes coming from trees outside the building. I walk through the corridors, looking at the shelves. I find the dry food aisle. I take a quick look at my list and start putting things in my shopping cart.
“Hmm. Peanut butter with pieces of peanuts.” The girls will love this, I think to myself. “Hey, Caleb,” I call out.
“Hi,” he replies.
“Maybe we can have a barbecue at the party today. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. Do you have meat on your list?”
“Not really. But Tony asked us to keep an eye out for things we could use for the celebration, right?”
“Yes, but all of it might have spoiled without electricity to power the freezers.”
“You’re right. Let me check.” I go to the freezers. “Empty?”
“What did you say?” Caleb asks from the other side of the shop.
“I said, it is all empty. Nothing left here.”
“There are no fruits or vegetables either. I think all perishables are gone.”
“Maybe the people took everything during Armageddon.”
“Only the perishables? It doesn’t make sense. Everything else is untouched.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “It’s like everything perishable had decomposed completely. And, if that is true, we have definitely slept way more than a few hours.”
“Not necessarily,” Caleb says. “Remember how Jehovah grew the bottle-gourd tree for Jonah. And how on the next day He sent a worm at the break of dawn, and it attacked the plant, and it withered as fast as it grew?”
“Yes. I remember that.”
“And, if He could make the sun stand still for Joshua, He can also make it move faster, right?”
“Anyways. I guess no barbecue today, huh?” Caleb says.
“No. I guess not,” I reply.
“My cart is full already. I have everything on my list. How are we going to take these all back with us?” Caleb ask.
“Hey, guys,” Jacob enters the shop. “Look what we found in the hardware store.”
“Ah, nice. Construction bags,” Caleb says. “We use this to move debris and heavy equipment on the construction site.”
“Exactly,” Jacob confirms. “We will use them to take the supplies back to the camp.”
We fill our bags with the supplies. The others arrive with their own bags filled too.
“How did it go, guys?” Jacob asks.
“We got everything,” Matthew replies.
“The town is completely deserted,” Joshua adds. “Most of the houses survived the destruction, but no vestige of the people, yet.”
“Do you think they have all been destroyed?” I ask.
“Or maybe some of these houses belong to brothers and sisters that are still on their assigned refuge just like our congregation is still in the camp.”
“Oh, yeah. That is also possible.”
“Some of these houses and little farms have gardens, and they are all overflowing with produce. There is food growing everywhere you look. It’s amazing. We got some fruits and vegetables with us.”
“All right, guys,” Jacob says. “I think we have everything. We should be heading back now.”
We have four enormous bags full. We use construction wood stakes to lift the bags by the handles and carry the weight with our shoulders. Each bag, made of extra strong cloth, must weigh around one hundred kilos at least. I am impressed by how we can take that kind of weight with no problem. Let alone how my eighty-something-year-old friend here can do it at all.
We make our way back to the camp. Tony is the first one to welcome us.
“Dear brothers, thank you so much. This is great,” he says.
“Tony, you have to see it. The town. The scene,” I say, struggling to find the words to describe what we saw.
“I am looking forward to hearing all about it, but right now, we need your help with something else,” Tony says.
It didn’t take long for the sun to set on the horizon. The most beautiful one I have ever seen. There is something exceptional about it. Maybe it’s the beautiful double rainbow accompanying it. Or simply because it is our first sunset in the new world. One thing is for sure, June and I can’t have enough of it.
Everyone was informed about the dinner we will all have together. Many took part in the arrangements for the celebration in preparing the foods and drinks while others rehearsed music presentations and Bible dramas.
Now, everything is ready, and we all meet together in front of the Tent of Meetings. As the coordinator of the body of elders of our congregation, Tony welcomes everyone and says that before enjoying the meal prepared and starting with the party activities, he would like to read the last letter received from the Governing Body. This letter should be read to all congregations on their first day in the new world. We all gasp and sigh at his announcement.
“The letter reads as follows,” he says. “To all congregations…”