Note from the authors:
“The Parables of Epaphroditus” is a historical fiction story written for children of Cedar Heights. Its original intent was to accompany Pastor Jeff’s sermon series on Philippians in 2021, though we hope it is helpful to any future readers as well.
– Avery Johnson and Carter Brown
Part 6 – The Good News (Walk with Jesus)
Epaphroditus and the kids were the last ones through the town gates before they were closed.
The guards at the gate nodded to Epaphroditus, but crossed their arms and blocked the way when they saw the kids.
“Oi! What do you think you’re doing back? I thought we told you to get out and stay out.”
Epaphroditus glanced between the guards to the kids. Pavlos and Sofia looked ready to bolt, and Kepheus clenched his staff tightly. The guards were big, burly, and well-armed. One held a spear and the other a broadsword. The kids might get away in a chase, but they wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight.
Peacefully, Epaphroditus stepped between the two groups. “They’re with me,” he said to the guards.
The guard with the spear raised his eyebrows. “Yeah? How’d you end up with this lot? You’re likely no better than they are. Rotten, filthy, rapscallions all of you.” He spit on the ground.
Epaphroditus ignored the insult. “I met them on the road, and since I sent my travel companions ahead for supplies, I hired these three to serve as my guides.”
The guards exchanged suspicious glances. “Is that so?”
Pavlos gulped and Kepheus frowned angrily, but all three kids nodded their heads.
Just then, a young, lanky man came rushing over. Judging by the peach fuzz on his face, he looked only a few years older than Kepheus. “Epaphroditus! You made it!”
Ignoring the guards, Tobias gave Epaphroditus a hug and then looked him up and down. “It’s so good to see you. I’ve been checking the gate and watching for you. Ajax and Iris will be so relieved that you made it. We must go to them!”
Epaphroditus looked at the guards. “May we?”
The guards looked at each other and grumbled something only they could hear. Then the guard with the broadsword said, “Fine, but if anything goes missing, it’s on your head.”
Tobias looked at Epaphroditus curiously. Epaphroditus spread his hands. “So be it. But I’m sure you will find nothing missing.”
The guards grunted in response, but Epaphroditus and the others were already walking away.
After they had passed out of the guard’s hearing, Tobias asked, “What was that all about?”
“A couple of grumpy guards is all,” Sofia said.
“They’re always grumpy,” Kepheus said.
“Especially when you empty their coin pouches!” Pavlos said.
Kepheus elbowed Pavlos with his good arm, “Hush. We don’t do that anymore.”
“Indeed you don’t. You’re new creations!” Epaphroditus said. Then he turned to Tobias. “These are my friends, and even more than that, Kepheus and Pavlos are dear brothers in Christ, and Sofia, a dear sister.”
Tobias’s eyes widened with surprise and joy. “They are? Tell me more!”
“We will. But let’s wait until we’re with the others.”
“Even better. Come with me. I’ll take you to them. I’m sure you’re hungry. We’ll feed you.”
Hearing this, the kids cheered.
Tobias led them to a small house on the other side of town. It was unassuming, but the light from within was warm and welcoming. He waved them inside.
They were met with the smell of cooked food and murmured conversation which stopped when they entered. Suddenly weary, the travelers set their packs down and found spots to sit.
A man and a woman, the ones who had been talking and making the food, welcomed them in. The man was short but muscular. Relieved to see Epaphroditus, he fondly slapped him on the back. It was hard enough to knock the breath out of a person.
“Ajax, take it easy on him! He’s had a long day,” the woman said. She had a kind face and a streak of gray in her long, brown hair. She turned to Epaphroditus, “We’ve been praying for you since we parted. It’s so good to see you’re safe. Thank the Lord for answering our prayers!”
“Thank you, Iris,” Epaphroditus said.
Ajax hooked his thumb towards the kids. “Who’re they?”
“My guides and my friends. This is Kepheus, Sofia, and Pavlos. We’ve walked through a lot together, and I’ve only known them since this morning! They were curious about the letter, so I read it to them as we walked. God worked mightily in their hearts, and they’ve chosen to walk with Jesus too.”
“Really?” Ajax asked. His eyes twinkled with excitement.
“It’s so good to meet you,” Iris said to the kids. “We can’t wait to hear more.”
The kids nodded politely, suddenly bashful.
Ajax spoke again, “Any friend of Jesus is a friend of mine.” He gestured at the house. “Make yourselves at home! We don’t live here. Phyllis does. But she’s out visiting her brother, so she told us to make ourselves comfortable.”
Iris spoke up. “I’m Iris. And this is my husband, Ajax.”
“Right. Names are important too.”
“Iris,” Epaphroditus said, “do you think you could take a look at Kepheus’s arm? He took quite the fall and hurt it.”
“I see that,” Iris said. She drew closer to Kepheus. With his permission, she gently took his arm from the sling.
“She’ll get you fixed up in a jiffy,” Ajax said while Iris carefully prodded and poked. “Doctor Luke taught her a few things when he came through a few years back.”
“A few years back? That was over ten years ago, dear.” Iris said. She had Kepheus put his makeshift sling back on. “Your arm should heal normally, but it will take several weeks and you won’t be able to do anything with it until then. I’ll fix up a splint for you, and I can bandage those scrapes too. You’re going to turn out just fine.”
Kepheus let out a sigh of relief.
“Now, are you going to tell us the story of how you all met? We’re eager to know everything that’s happened since we left you.”
“Wait just a little bit longer,” Epaphroditus said. “We’ll tell you all about our adventures over dinner.”
Once they had prayed over the meal and settled in their spots, Epaphroditus and the kids told the day’s events beginning with the morning ambush, which now seemed so long ago. Once Kepheus, Sofia, and Pavlos got comfortable with their new friends, they had a lot to add from their perspectives. As with all good stories, there were plenty of laughs shared as well as a few tears.
The sky outside was dark when Epaphroditus concluded, “And so, we made our way here just just before the gates closed.”
“I’m so thankful the Lord kept you safe,” Iris said.
“And on time,” Ajax added, “Even if the path wasn’t one you were expecting.”
“And he gave us new friends!” Tobias said. Then he addressed the kids. “You’re the meanest band of bandits I’ve ever seen.”
“But no more.” Epaphroditus said. “You’ve been called to greater things.”
Kepheus, Sofia, and Pavlos each agreed. For the first time in their lives they were full. Not just their stomachs, but their hearts too. Jesus had filled them. They were different kids now than they had been that morning.
Epaphroditus stood and stretched. “It’s getting late, and we’re all getting sleepy.” He went over to the kids. “We better send you home. We don’t want to worry your parents.”
Each of the kids looked down. “We don’t have parents,” Sofia said quietly.
Epaphroditus kneeled so that he was eye level with Sofia and put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
After a moment passed, he said, “Where do you live?”
“With our grandma and our aunts,” Pavlos said.
“Then go to them tonight. It’s important they know you’re okay. Tobias and I will walk you there.”
They all sighed, but each began gathering their things. Once they had their packs on, they trudged slowly through the door, dragging their feet as they went.
“Remember to walk with joy. That means no feet dragging!” Epaphroditus shouted after them. Then he and Tobias walked out into the street too.
They didn’t have far to go to get to their grandma’s house. When they were outside the door, they stopped in the quiet street to say goodnight.
“Get some rest. You need it.” Epaphroditus said. The kids started to turn to go inside, but he stopped them. “Ajax, Iris, Tobias, and I are leaving in the morning. Philippi is only a couple more days away. But before we go, would you do us the honor of sending us off? You can meet us just after sunrise at the east gate.”
Kepheus planted his stick firmly in the ground. “Of course.”
Sofia gave a twirl and Pavlos jumped, pumping his fists. “Yes!”
“Hush!” Kepheus said. “You’ll wake everyone!”
Epaphroditus couldn’t help but chuckle. Then he gave them each a hug and sent them to bed.
• • •
Epaphroditus, Ajax, Iris, and Tobias stood at the east gate as the sun rose over the hills of Macedonia. A fresh set of guards had just opened it, and sunlight streamed through the opening.
“I never get tired of sunrises,” Tobias said. “Look at those colors!”
“God is the master artist,” Iris said.
“That sounds like it could be another parable.” Ajax said, winking at Epaphroditus.
Epaphroditus laughed. “We’ll see about that. I’ll pocket it just in case.”
Tobias fidgeted with the strap on his pack. “Do you think they’ll come?”
“They’ll be here,” Epaphroditus said.
“We’re in no hurry,” Iris said. “It’s still early.”
The four of them enjoyed the peaceful stillness that settled around them as they watched the colors change across the sky.
Suddenly, the quiet was broken as three figures came running around a corner. Seeing the four travelers, they skidded to stop, bumping into each other. They were out of breath and panting.
“We thought we,” Pavlos gasped, “overslept.”
“So we ran,” Sofia took a breath. “As fast as we could.”
“We made it.” Kepheus said while hunched over with his good hand on his knee.
Ajax let out a hearty laugh. “We weren’t going to leave without saying goodbye to our new friends!”
“But we appreciate the hustle,” Tobias said.
When the kids caught their breath, Iris fitted Kepheus with a new sling. “This should do until your arm heals fully. Give it a few weeks before you try carrying anything heavy.”
“You got it,” Kepheus said.
“I have something for all of you,” Epaphroditus said. He knelt down and had the kids gather around him. Then out of his pack he pulled a rolled up letter tied with string. “This is yours.”
“Yes it is. I made a copy.”
“But we can’t read!” Pavlos said.
“I’m sure you can find someone who can help you learn. And now you have something to practice with. This is yours to keep.”
“Thank you,” Kepheus said. Sofia and Pavlos echoed him in agreement. Carefully, they took the letter and placed it in one of their packs.
Epaphroditus stood back up and smiled fondly at the kids. “Always remember the good news of Jesus Christ. Can you remember how he helps you walk?”
“Joyfully! Like the boy and the map.” Pavlos said with a tearful smile.
“Humbly. Like the soldier and the gardener.” Kepheus said.
“Firmly. Like the captain and the anchor.” Sofia said, planting her feet in a solid stance.
“And Peacefully. Like the bandits you aren’t.” Epaphroditus said. “And who do you walk with?”
All four kids spoke together, “King Jesus! Our Savior!”
“Amen.” Ajax, Iris, and Tobias said.
Then the travelers and the kids circled up for a big group hug. “This is goodbye, but only for a little while. We’ll see you again. We’re not far away.” Epaphroditus said.
“Can’t we come with you?” Pavlos asked. His eyes were wet with tears.
“No, it’s best that you stay here and look after your grandma and aunts.”
Pavlos sniffled, but nodded his head.
Epaphroditus and his travel companions hoisted their packs.
“Hold on to that good news,” Ajax said.
“Think about it every day.” Iris added.
“And share it with others!” Tobias encouraged.
Finally, Epaphroditus said, “Maybe God will plant a church here some day. That’s something we can all pray for.”
After a shared time of prayer together with the kids and one last farewell, the four travelers set off down the road.
“Goodbye E.!” the kids shouted. “Come back soon!”
He was almost out of range, but they thought they heard a faint, “I will!”
Together, they watched until all four travelers were hidden by a hill. Then Kepheus, Sofia, and Pavlos walked back into town.
• • •
The sun was bright overhead as the children played their games in the street. Lately these involved reenactments of famous Roman battles using sticks and stones. One girl, who had grown tired of the boys always getting their way with their games, separated from the group. Walking down the street, she found a spot where she could play with her clay doll in peace without the risk of it being snatched and used for some battle.
It was as she was playing that she looked up and saw a figure with a walking stick coming down the street.
“Chief!” She shouted with excitement. She ran over to the man with her doll in tow.
The man wasn’t annoyed, but simply smiled and kept walking. “Rhoda, I thought I told you not to call me that.”
“Oh.” Rhoda said. “But that’s what the boys call you.”
“And I’ve asked them to stop too.”
“Then what should we call you?”
“My name is Kepheus. You should call me that.”
“Hmm. Chief is just so much easier, but I’ll try. Hey, what’s that you’re carrying?”
“My walking stick?”
“No, in your other hand.”
Interested in the conversation and only slightly tired of reenacting battles, the boys gathered around too.
“It’s a letter,” Kepheus said. He stopped walking and held it up for them to see.
“I’ve never seen a letter,” a smaller one said.
“What’s it say?” One of the bigger boys asked.
Kepheus’s eyes were serious and joyful. He looked at each of the kids in turn. “It’s a letter with good news. The best news!”
The kids looked at each other with a thrill. “Really? What is it?”
“I can tell you, but you might not understand at first.”
“Try us,” the boys challenged, crossing their arms.
“Come with me and I will. I’m going to read it to the church. I can read it to you on the way.”
Several of the boys looked back at their battlefield. “Maybe another time,” they said and turned away.
Kepheus gazed after them. He wondered what it would take to get them interested in Jesus. He would keep praying. One of these days God might open their hearts. He began walking again. Sofia, Pavlos, and the others would be waiting. Lost in thought, a tug on his sleeve pulled him back to the present.
“I want to hear more about the good news.” It was the girl, Rhoda.
Kepheus smiled warmly at her. “I would be happy to share it with you.”
She nodded, “Good.”
Together, they continued walking down the street.
Struck with an idea, Kepheus suddenly asked, “Tell me, have you ever heard of a parable?”
Rhoda thought for a second. “I don’t think so.”
“It’s like a story, but with greater meaning. It might help you understand the letter and the good news. In fact, a long time ago someone told me parables to help me understand this very same letter.”
“I like stories,” Rhoda said. “Go ahead.”
Kepheus grinned, unrolled the letter, and began reading.