There was silence in the hall of the church of Pra del Tor. The presiding minister glanced in turn at the Waldensian ministers. He pointed to the letter on the table before him.
Brethren, I must call your attention to this letter from John Calvin, that man of God in Geneva. In it he has told us of the severe persecution that broke out in France, and how hundreds of our brethren have fled to the city by the lake. The people of Geneva have helped them, but their resources are limited. The worthy Mr. Calvin wrote to us asking our assistance. We have collected more than three hundred gold pieces. They are here in this bag, waiting to be carried to Geneva.” He paused as he glanced around the room again.
Henri Boudwin stood to his feet.
“Should we not send word to Mr. Calvin and inform him that the money is here and ready for him to collect?”
The minister shook his head.
“How can you suggest such a thing? Have we no one brave enough to cross the mountain and deliver our gift to the leaders of the Reformed Church?
“It will be extremely dangerous,” spoke up Giles, a pastor from Gobbio. “The soldiers of the Duke of Savoy travel along these roads, and woe to the heretic caught by them. He is dragged to Turin to die at the stake, or worse yet, to spend the rest of his life in the Duke’s dungeons.”
The presiding minister agreed. “I am well aware of the danger involved,” He paused and then continued. “Since there is no volunteer, I shall make the journey myself.”
“No! No! No!” Voices came from all over the room.
“We cannot spare you,” said one pastor after another.
Leaving his bench, Robert Tuchi walked down the aisle and stood before the table. He lifted his hand, and the presiding minister nodded his head, ready to hear what the young man might have to say.
“This is a task for a young person, one who can outrun, if necessary, the soldiers of the enemy. I believe I can do that. So here I am, send me.”
“Good for you, Robert,” “Well spoken.” “God go with you.” Words of approval came from all parts of the hall.
“How will you go that the soldiers of the enemy will not suspect that you are a Vaudois minister?
“I intend to dress as an Alpine peasant. The gold pieces I shall hide in loaves of bread and carry them in my knapsack on my back.”
“God bless you, Robert, “ spoke the presiding minister. “You will have our prayers for a safe journey and a speedy return. But should anything happen to you, rest assured that we will not allow your wife or children to suffer.”
There was an earnest season of prayer that the angels of God would go with young Tuchi. The pastor placed the bag of gold in his hands, and everyone went home.
Before the sun’s first rays had touched the summit of Mt. Pisa, Robert Tuchi left his humble cottage and set out for Geneva. He dared not go by the main roads, for they were frequently patrolled by the soldiers of the duke. So striking right through the heart of the mountains, he started northward. Sometimes he found a path; sometimes he was forced to walk through uncharted forests. Again and again he climbed to the summit of a lofty ridge only to find a long decent on the far side. Climbing, he came to realize the full weight of the gold he was carrying. At night he would make his bed on the grass beside some mountain stream. Before retiring he would kneel and pour out his heart to God whose dwelling lay far beyond the stars that shown down on him so brilliantly.
One afternoon a sever thunder storm burst over his head, forcing him to take refuge in a cave for three hours. He dared not risk letting his precious bread dissolve and cease to shelter the precious coins. Many times he was tempted to eat the bread after his own provisions were finished, but he resisted. Twice he came to the huts of Alpine shepherds who gladly shared their simple food with him. He was glad it was springtime and that wild berries were plentiful. Once he went for more than a day with no food whatever, he did not falter.
Climbing one more slope on the ninth day, he was thrilled to see the city of Geneva lying along the shores of the lake, some miles away. Tired and worn by his long hike, he nevertheless hastened his steps, and ere nightfall had past within the hospitable gates of John Calvin’s city. A citizen gladly directed him to the humble home where the reformer lived. Here he was warmly welcomed and cared for during the week he spent in the city.
The morning after Robert arrived, Calvin called the elders of his church together. He introduced Robert to them and invited him to tell the story of his trip and of what he had brought from the generous people of the Waldensian Valleys. When he finished, Robert poured onto the table the pile of gold pieces he had brought. John Calvin’s eyes glistened as he took Robert’s hand.
“God bless you my son. Be sure to take the greetings of the Reformed Church of Geneva back to our brethren the valleys. We shall never forget what you have done for the poor refugees from France. Because you have done it unto them you have done it unto Christ Himself.”
Robert rested for a few days in Geneva, then with a haversack filled with an abundance of good food, he set out on the return journey to his home in the valley of Angrogna.
“Which way are you going, my son?” John Calvin asked as his young friend took his final meal in the reformer’s home.
“I expect to take the highway back, the one that leads from here to Turin. Of course, I shall not go as far as the duke’s capital, but will turn westward when I have crossed the crest of the mountains.”
“But will that not be dangerous? You know you will probably meet the dukes soldiers.”
“Yes, perhaps. But I think it will be all right. All they will see if they stop me is a humble peasant going about his work.”
“Why not return the way you came? It is much safer, isn’t it?
“Yes, but somehow I cannot bear the thought of climbing all those lofty mountains again.”
John Calvin, old and feeble went to the gates of Geneva and saw him set out on the road to Turin. He watched the stalwart form of the young man as he turned and waved just before a bend in the road hid him from sight.
Robert’s heart was light as he trudged along the homeward road. His mission was completed satisfactorily, and he was carrying with him the heartfelt gratitude of the Reformed Church. Down in the toe of one boot he carried a personal letter from John Calvin to the presiding minister at Pra del Tor.
Out of the fullness of joy, he began to sing one of the Psalms of David; “’I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.’”
Twice he passed companies of the duke’s soldiers, but no questions were asked. The third group, however, proved a different matter.
“Stop! Where are you going? Who are you?”
Robert saluted respectfully.
“My name is Robert Tuchi, and I am on my way to Torre Pelice.”
“I think he is a heretic,” muttered one of the soldiers, “Otherwise he would have cursed when we stopped him.”
“Are you a heretic?” demanded the commander of the troop.
“No”, replied Robert. After all, a heretic is someone who does not obey the Bible commands, and that did not fit Robert.
“Search him!” commanded the captain. “We’ll find out where he comes from.”
Hands went rapidly through Robert’s garments, but this did not worry him. But when the soldiers took off his boots, Robert found it hard to hide his agitation.
A soldier held up a boot, shook it upside down, and a paper fell out. The captain pounced on it. He spread it out and hastily glanced through it.
“He is a heretic! I knew it! Here is the proof. He is carrying a letter from John Calvin, that arch-heretic of Geneva, to someone at Pra del Tor. Young fellow, you are coming with us to Turin.”
Three days later, Robert Tuchi was thrust into the dungeon of Turin, the capital city of Savoy. Eating nothing but bread and water, and lying in almost total darkness day after day, did not break the young man’s spirit. Months passed. Robert began to wonder whether he was to remain there for the rest of his life. He thought of his wife and children, watching the road for his return. Tears trickled down his cheeks. He clasped his hands together and prayed.
“O Lord, save me if it be Thy will. If not, make me strong to endure what I must suffer.”
Then one day his cell door opened. A soldier took him by the wrist. “Come this way,” he ordered. “You are to appear before the judge.”
The months spent in the gloom of the dungeon cell had weakened Robert’s eyes. He was forced to close them when he stepped in to the bright sunshine. The soldiers led him into the hall of justice.
High on a platform sat the judge, who had been told that there was a heretic to be examined that morning. Speaking to Robert, he started by heaping abuse on him.
“We will put you in the fire and reduce you to ashes.” He shouted.
Robert looked up, he began speaking softly. “’The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.’”
“After we have burned you here, you will be cast into hell with a fire ten times as hot as this one.” Continued the judge.
Robert did not answer. Looking up he continued, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’”
“Hopeless, hopeless!” shouted the judge. “It is evident we can do nothing with you.” He glared at the prisoner. “I sentence you to be taken from your prison cell to the place of execution three days from now, there to yield up your life to atone for your obstinate resistance to the teachings of Mother Church.”
Robert was returned to his prison cell. He did not know that both of the public executioners had been present at his trial and were strangely moved by his words.
“I cannot put that man to death,” whispered the first executioner.
“Oh, yes, you can and you will,” muttered the second executioner. “You have to do it, because I refuse to. That man is a saint, and you know what would happen to you if you killed a saint.” The men separated, returning to their homes.
The morning of the third day came. The soldier took Robert from the prison to the place of death. But where were the executioners?
They were nowhere to be seen. Surely one of them would come, at least. One of the soldiers was sent to the first executioner’s house with orders to bring the man immediately. He was back after a few minutes, but the executioner was not with him.
“Where is he?” demanded the captain of the guard. I told you to bring him.”
His wife met me at the door and told me that he was very sick and cannot be disturbed.”
“Well, then, fetch the other executioner.”
A thorough search was made, but the other executioner could not be found.
“Take him back to his cell,” shouted the captain. If that executioner is not here tomorrow, I will cut off his head.”
So Robert was taken back to his cell. Somehow he felt that God was working for him, and he poured out his heart in prayer to his great Deliverer.
That night as he was sleeping on his pile of straw he heard the door of his cell creak. He lifted up his head, wondering whether someone had been sent to kill him in his room. He heard a whisper. “Come with me.”
Robert responded by standing up and following his guide through the open door. Down the corridor they proceeded until they came to the main door, which was open. Robert stepped through into the cool night air. Looking up he saw the stars twinkling above him. It had been a long time since he had seen them.
The man spoke softly again. “Go in peace.”
That was all. The man vanished into the gloom, and Robert started walking along the deserted streets of Turin.
Morning found him well on his way to Torre Pelice. The mountains of his homeland rose far off on the western horizon, but with every mile he passed, they seemed to come nearer.
Late in the afternoon of the second day Robert Tuchi walked into the yard of his humble cottage. His wife and children danced around him, beside themselves for joy.
“Oh, where have you been all these months?” sobbed his wife. “I thought I would never see you again.”
“I was caught by the duke’s soldiers, and have been in prison in Turin.”
“How did you get here? No one ever escapes out of those dungeons.”
Looking into his wife’s face, Robert replied in the words of Daniel, “My God…..sent His angel.”