It had all happened so suddenly, without warning. The sound of a mighty force inhaling all the air around you, then with one tremendous breath, exhaling – all that was once became naught. The last thing he remembered was the earth disappearing beneath his snowshoes and then nothing. For a long while, he lay trapped beneath the tomb of white, unaware of what had happened. When he awoke, he suddenly realized he was imprisoned by a force beyond his strength to overcome.
For as long as Benjamin Perrou could remember, he had heard tales of men caught up in avalanches and never seen again. That Alpine region was known for its precarious winter dangers. Snow, as beautiful as it appears, can be just as dangerous. Benjamin had seen the evidence of snow slides firsthand. One of the many gorges up in the Germanesca valley had been destroyed by one. Like a mighty hand, the forest, and everything in its path had been erased. Trees as big around as six men holding hands could reach had been snapped off at the root, like a twig on a branch. The earth, rocks, and timber had become one giant wall of death. The snow that engulfed it all concealed the extent of the damage until the spring thaws came. It was then that everyone saw how powerful, how dangerous the word “Avalanche” could mean. Trees looked like grass mown down and then strewn in patterns that looked like water flowing down the mountain.
Benjamin could feel his arms and legs, but something heavy, if it could be called that, was holding them locked in place. There was a sharp pain in his lower back that felt like fire when he tried to move. A small air pocket, space enough before his face, afforded him time. “Maybe enough air to live until they find me?” But then again, he had left his house in the little village of Balziglia before dawn. His wife, Maria, and newborn son were still asleep. His goal was to reach the upper shepherd’s hut and return home by noon. He and his cousin Markus had to flee the upper pastures because of an early winter storm leaving behind precious rations of food they had stored up over the summer.
Christmas was now past; the winter months were now pressing upon them. It was a new year, 1510, yet it didn’t feel like anything new worth celebrating. The cellar shelves were getting bare. Working with sheep wasn’t keeping his family fed. He desperately needed to travel back to the shepherd’s hut to retrieve the much-needed supplies. When he mentioned the trip to Maria, she only became angry because of the danger of traveling up to the higher elevations during this time of year. She had begged him to go into the lower valleys and maybe find a job in Pinerolo, where her Uncle had a leatherworking shop. During the grazing months, Benjamin and his cousin would go to the higher elevations to graze their herds for weeks on end. It was the family tradition. The separation was painful for Maria – her heart longed for her Benji. She often said she didn’t know what she would do without him. She had no idea he was leaving that morning. So, when Maria awoke to feed the baby, she realized Benjamin had gone – her heart sank. Fearing the worse, she began to wonder if he would ever return.
Meanwhile, Benjamin began to wonder if the life of his ancestors was no longer possible. There were still those from the Waldensian Valleys studying in the Barbi College, going out in pairs across Europe sharing the gospel, and facing death and persecution. But Benjamin had not felt that calling. He had grown lazy. It had been weeks since he sat down and went through the daily practice of putting the Word of God to memory. It felt like God was a distant thought as the fear of his family going hungry began to gnaw at his soul. The urgency to act had hit him in the night, and it was foremost on his mind when the coming dawn was still a distant thought. He was already several miles up the mountain when the sun kissed the edge of Mount Piatasse. The sled tied to his waist had made a curious trail behind him in the freshly fallen snow, weaving in and out of his ski trail. He was alone, save for his faithful traveling companion and sheepdog, Jacques. If anyone knew his whereabouts, it was Jacques. But for all Benjamin knew, he too, was buried alive and dead.
Benjamin’s heart was racing as the thoughts continued out of control, fighting for the remnants of any sanity that was left. He fought the fear to panic, but there it was, on the edge of the precipice, waiting to dive into his soul.
“What will it be like to die a slow, painful death – buried alive? Would he ever see Maria and Jacob again?”
“Where is God when you need him?”
It was this last thread of mental torment that finally grabbed his attention. In all his worry and despair, he had failed to notice the one thing that meant the most to him and his family – God. Then he again thought to himself, “But truly, was this God’s will – to bury him alive? Was there anything even He could do?”
Feeling the end approaching, he began speaking out loud, “I know that if nothing else, I will go to my grave praying for my dear Maria and my newborn son, Jacob.” Around him, the weight of the snow, rocks, and trees began to creak as it settled farther, sealing his tomb all the tighter. Hearing his fate becoming more profound, Benjamin began to pray to God. “Dear Lord, if it is your will to rescue me, I would be forever grateful. But I’m not afraid to die, for I know in my heart, mind, and soul that you will be with me. There is no place that I don’t carry you, nor is there any place that I can turn that you are not there. Please take care of my family should you call me home. They are so young and helpless. My cousins and neighbors can fulfill their earthly needs, but I fear that their hearts will be forever plagued by my absence. Please fill that void with your love.” Tears began to choke off his words as he paused. “Dear God, I love Maria as I love you….” A loud crack above him and another weight seem to be added to the load already upon his chest. He could barely breathe but continued, “Lord, I don’t make many new year’s resolutions, but this one thing I say, that if I survive this, by some miracle, I will seek to serve you in any capacity, in whatever way you choose. My soul is yours, take it and do as you wish. In Jesus’s name I pray,” and at that, the tears welled up in his throat as the air became nearly too thick to breathe, “Amen.”
The frozen mass around him began to seep into his body, and soon even the pain dissipated. Finally, there was no more feeling in his frame. Numb from the cold, he began to drift off into a peaceful sleep.
Before Benjamin stood a marble staircase gleaming white in a brilliant light. The weight upon his body was so great that he could only crawl, so he did, slowly up, one marble step at a time. Above him, he could see a shadowed translucent figure lit by a brilliant light from behind. Slowly Benjamin approached the shadowy being. The closer he came, the more fearful of the being he became until suddenly, there was a voice like thunder that echoed into his very core, “The just shall live by faith! Get up and walk like a man.” Afraid not to do as the angelic being demanded, he tried to stand, but there was a weight upon his body that held him bound.
“I, I can’t get up.”
“The just shall live by faith! You have made your own bondage. The Grace of God that will set you free.”
“But, my body…it is as if I am tied to the earth.” He strained with all his might, yet, he could barely move enough to twitch a toe. “Help me; that’s all I ask. Please, tell God I need Him.”
Somewhere beyond the Angel atop the staircase came the distant sounds of a dog barking. His mind tried to understand as the stairway dissolved into a cascading waterfall surrounded by a crystal clear pool of water at the bottom, into which it plummeted. Summer grasses, rich and succulent, fed the pearl white sheep that surrounded the oasis. From behind the herd came Jacques racing toward him. For a moment, his heart was overjoyed, and a warmth filled his aching soul.
And then there was nothing.
The sound of barking once more. Scratching. Barking.
Benjamin began to cry; the feeling of suffocation overwhelmed him. He realized he might never see his Maria again. Then something warm brushed away the tear. The hand of God?
Again a bark, the brush from the wings of an Angel, a warm tongue across his cheek.
Blinking, unable to focus, Benjamin slowly realized it was Jacques, and it wasn’t a dream. The faithful dog had dug down to where he was trapped and was now trying to free his master. The fresh air felt alive on his face. Jacques kept digging and soon had enough snow and rocks removed that Benjamin’s face was entirely free. He gasped in large mouthfuls of air but realized there was no way alone that Jacques could lift him out of the twisted maze of limbs and ice which entangled his body.
“Go get help, boy,” Benjamin begged of the dog. But he wasn’t leaving his master. The dog sat and stared blankly, ears tilting at the sound of Benjamin’s voice coming from the hole in the snow. He barked in return and would go back to digging and licking Benjamin’s face. But as the day wore on, so did Benjamin’s patience. He realized this was not the answer and that he might still die a slow death.
He again turned to prayer and once more sought God with every fiber of his being. There was nothing God couldn’t do; this he knew in his heart. As he finished in the silence, with Jacques patiently looking on, a cloud passed over, totally obscuring the setting sun, and for a moment, the pair, Benjamin and Jacques, disappeared in its mist. When it cleared, there stood before them a stranger.
Benjamin blinked, “Huh, hello.” At the sound of a voice. From where he lay beneath the snow, he couldn’t see the man. Jacques began to growl, the hair standing up on his neck. He quickly ran and stood between Benjamin and the outsider.
“It’s ok boy, the stranger said.” Benjamin could hear his footsteps crunching in the snow nearby as he approached. Jacques’s protective stance quickly dissipated. There was something about the man the dog trusted. Benjamin knew Jacques well enough to know this was a good sign.
“I see an extreme misfortune you have had.”
“Yes,” Benjamin could barely feel his mouth move. The numbness was growing, and soon, he would no longer be able to speak if something wasn’t done.
“It seems God has me here just in time placed.”
“Thanks be to God,” Benjamin breathed out.
The stranger dropped his pack, removing a small saber, fell to his knees, and quickly began carefully digging around Benjamin. Jacques joined in, and within an hour, they had freed him from his frozen prison. The stranger started a fire and soon began setting Benjamin’s broken legs with wood splints. Afterward, he quickly wrapped him up in a warm blanket with a cup of some hot, dark warm liquid. As he sipped, the feeling began to return to his broken legs, as did the pain. There was a shallow puncture to his back from a stick, but the stranger had wrapped his midsection in cloth to stop the bleeding. As bad as it was, Benjamin knew it could have ended much worse.
“Did you believe God had abandoned you?”
The words brought Benjamin back to the moment. He shook his head, yes, his hand shivering as he slowly lifted the drink to his lips. The bitter brew flowed down his throat, warming his entire being from within, dulling the pain in his legs. A sense of something greater than the moment began to grow inside. He felt it a first like a slight breeze, one that you can ignore if you choose, but he didn’t. Instead, he welcomed it, and it grew. There was also something strange about his liberator. His language seemed foreign, possibly from Germanic regions to the north, but he wasn’t sure. The man before him asked where he was from, and Benjamin pointed to the valley, “There, down below us in the village of Balziglia.”
The man smiled.
“Who are you and where are you, you…. from,” Benjamin replied.
“Oh, not too far from this place,” he smiled. “But I must return to start a new life.”
“Sounds familiar,” Benjamin said, even more curious. “What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t,” he smiled again.
“Nice you to meet Benjamin, Brother Martin I am, just a simple monk.”
“Where is home, Martin?”
“Oh, over the mountains in the village of Erfurt. I was from my pilgrimage to Rome returning. Many things in my life must now I change. My life’s goal a priest to become was.”
“Oh,” for Benjamin’s family for centuries had been persecuted by the Roman Catholic church, so priests were people that his family tried to avoid. Yet, here he was now, having been literally saved by one. The least he could do was to hear him out.
“What makes you say, ‘was’ to become a priest?”
“Something to me in Rome happened. Something Godly. Let’s just say I now with new eyes can see.”
“What about you, Benjamin? Do you with new eyes see? You were trapped and near death. Surely you had to God prayed?”
Benjamin began to remember the dream and, without thinking, began sharing, “Yes, you can trust I prayed. And yes, I was indeed blessed with a gift from God. Just a few days ago, I felt like my life was nothing, that I was losing my soul to the world. The scripture, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” kept repeating in my head. Then I was buried in the avalanche and feared I would die. In desperation, I prayed to God. Then an Angel of the Lord spoke to me in a vision while I was climbing a beautiful marble staircase. He said that I needed to stand up, that the just shall live by faith.”
Martin, seated across the fire from Benjamin and Jacques, stood up immediately, dropping his mug of liquid and spilling it across the snow-covered ground. His face, almost in shock at the words, scared Jacques enough that he let out a sharp bark. He looked at Benjamin as if he, too, had seen the Angel of the Lord
“What did you say?”
“Did I say something wrong?”
“No, no,” he paused, hands outstretched as if he was trying to keep from falling, “ What was the last thing you just said, the thing that God said to you?”
“That the just shall live by faith?”
Martin stared blankly, looking at something beyond Benjamin, something he could not see. It was a minute or two before Martin recovered and could speak. Finally, he answered in a grave, measured tone, “You have spoken words that can only be confirmation to my soul. God has indeed spoken.
Benjamin Perrou, I don’t know who you are or what is going on in your life right now, but if it is possible if you will allow God to lead your life, I want you with me back to Erfurt to return. There is something special about you that I must learn more about.”
“But I have a wife and child.”
“Great, then them you must bring. We wonderful schools for your child have, and I will help you to become a man of God, a preacher, or at the very least, an evangelist. This your calling is, brother Benjamin!”
Tears began streaming down Benjamin’s face as he realized this was the answer to his prayer, the one he had made when he realized his life might end. God had answered him, but in a way he never imagined. He didn’t know this Martin, but there was something about him that he trusted, something special that he knew had to be correct. That day, Benjamin felt like David being called from the field by Samuel to be anointed, King.
Later that night, Maria had barely drifted off, having cried herself to sleep when she heard the gentle rapping at the door. Fearful and with much trepidation, she held the lantern in one hand as she peered through the ajar door. There she saw a stranger holding onto a rope tied to a sled upon which lay a man covered in a blanket.
“Are you Frau Perrou,” the stranger asked.
“Ya, yes…,” she said, still too scared to open the door beyond a crack. Then out of the darkness bounded Jacques, barking, tail wagging, bounding at the door. Maria, forgetting her fear, swung the door open as Jacques leaped into her outstretched arms, licking her face uncontrollably.
The voice came from the blanket as Benjamin realized he was finally home, raised up enough to see Maria’s light.
“Benji,” she screamed and ran to him, dropping the lantern at her side and throwing her arms around his neck.
“Careful,” the stranger beckoned, removing the blanket revealing Benjamin’s broken limbs.
“Benji,” she gasped.
“Yes, I was buried by an avalanche, but God sent a couple of angels to deliver me. Let us go inside, and I will tell you the rest of the story over some hot stew and a good piece of your delicious bread for our guest.”
It was then Maria realized her prayer had been answered – her Benji was alive. She would continue to weep with joy as he would introduce her to his new friend and explain to her how their life had been changed by a prayer made in desperation. From that day forward they never had need or want. Benjamin would take his little family to Erfurt, where he would study with Martin, Eventually. They would return to the valleys of his homeland where he would preach the Word of God.
Martin would go on to make even greater history when he would eventually nail his disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church to the door of the church in Wurms. You know the rest of that story, a little something called the Reformation.
But more importantly, two men, once strangers brought together miraculously, would never forget the words of God that changed their lives forever when He said – “The just shall live by faith.”
For Benjamin’s calling became more than a New Year’s resolution – it became his promise to God.
Thanks be to God.
 Matthew 16:26 KJV