Chapter 11 Experiencing Zion

“Good morning.”

Thomas lifted his head from his pillow to see an angel bringing in a bowl full of steaming porridge and a glass of fruit juice. He never knew what would arrive each day, but breakfast was always delicious.

The angel gently placed the food on the table near the balcony. The doors had remained open all night allowing the sweetly fragrant breeze to waft over Thomas as he slept. As usual the sky was dancing with colours, decorating the walls of the bedroom with a slowly evolving kaleidoscope of orange, yellow and delicate pink.

The angel stood for a second, looking at Thomas.

“I’m sorry, but are you Thomas, the apostle?” asked the angel.

“I understand that’s what some call me,” replied Thomas, sitting up.

“Oh goodness!  I’m sorry, it’s just such a pleasure to meet you.”

The angel’s embarrassment surprised Thomas.

“We frequently talked about you when Jesus was first on the Old Earth. We admired your integrity.”


“Well, many of us thought you were a good example of someone who said how they really felt about things. Someone who didn’t just go along with everyone else. I think it took some guts to say you weren’t sure until you had proof. Anyway, I must be going. Pleased to have met you.”

It wasn’t unusual to talk with angels in Zion. They brought food and clothes to those who were staying for respite from their work in the communities beyond Zion’s borders. Thomas and Carlos were back for a week to recuperate and to take further lessons in the history and languages of the Previous Age.

After Thomas had enjoyed his breakfast, there was a knock at the door, and another angel appeared carrying a set of clothes.

“These are for you. We heard you have long been an admirer of the denim Carlos wears.”

Thomas couldn’t hide his pleasure when the angel held up a beautiful denim jacket and a pair of jeans.

“These have been made especially for you. Oh, and we thought this white T-shirt would look good with them.”

“Thank you!” Thomas exclaimed with genuine gratitude.

He pulled the T-shirt over his head and stepped into the jeans. Putting on the jacket, he went over to the mirror hanging on the wall. Turning to his left and then his right, he admired the perfect fit and ruffled his thick black hair.

“Oh, very twentieth century!” declared the angel with amusement.

“I really like the look and I’ve never had clothes like this before. Do you think I look ‘cool’?”

Very,” said the angel. “It’s funny, one of the few differences between us angels and you humans is your constant creativity in how to dress.”

Thomas held up his hand.

“High five?” he asked, with a cheeky grin.

The angel laughed and clapped his hand against Thomas’ making a pleasing sound.

The angel left Thomas, who was feeling very pleased with his gifts. There were constant surprises in Zion, as there were so many ways in which Jesus showed people they were loved and appreciated.

Thomas strode down the hall and found Carlos’ door open.

“Wow, look at you!” exclaimed Carlos.

“I’ve always liked denim,” said Thomas.

“Have you got your talents with you?”

“Yes, I’ve put them in my back pocket,” said Thomas patting the seat of his new jeans. “Let’s go and see what the market has to offer.”

“Can you explain the talent system for me? I’m not sure that I’ve totally grasped it,” asked Carlos.

“Jesus set up the talent exchange system within Zion. Whenever a person works for a community or on an article to sell in the market they earn ten talents an hour. The rate is the same whatever work a person does. If someone happens to amass a lot of talents, they aren’t considered to be wealthy in the way they would have been in the Previous Age, as everyone here knows it’s just a mechanism for ensuring everyone is rewarded for what they do. We are given talents to use when we arrive in Zion.”

“Does that kind of system operate within any of the communities?” asked Carlos.

“Some have tried, but it soon ran into the problems of inflation and disparity that created such hardship in the Previous Age. The talent system in Zion only works because everyone is honest, everyone trusts everyone else, everyone considers themselves to be equal and everyone works to the best of their ability.”

“So there’s no inflation in Zion?”

“No, the rate will be the same in a million years.”

They arrived at the market in the fresh morning air, savouring the buzz of activity as people engaged in the commerce of Zion. Many inhabitants had come to understand that they had a unique skill they could use to contribute to the economy. No two stalls were the same, and everything that was for sale had been made with care and pride. Such markets could be found in squares and greens across the vast landscape of Zion. Gone was the heavy mass production that had so taxed the Earth’s resources in the Previous Age, and instead hundreds of artisans and chefs had been able to open shops and trade.

“One of the things that went so wrong in the Previous Age,” remarked Carlos, “was that people never thought they had ‘enough’. We consumed goods until many of the Earth’s resources were exhausted.”

“It grew worse as the Previous Age wore on,” said Thomas. “Even in my time the rich and powerful withheld food in order to control the population. The very poor could scratch out an existence through harvesting what they could in the wild, but if there was a drought or a flood, many suffered terribly from hunger and lack of shelter.”

The two men took their time looking through the many market stalls that lined the town square, where the facades of the Baroque-style buildings shone radiantly in the morning light. Stallholders chatted to one another over hot drinks and swapped stories of how they had developed their skills. Beautiful woven cloths and printed fabrics swayed in the breeze as they hung on ornate wooden frames, and food stalls filled the air with all kinds of tantalising aromas. Some folk worked away at their craft behind their stalls as they patiently awaited customers. They were pleased to receive many compliments, as the citizens of Zion appreciated and respected people’s handiwork, even if it wasn’t to their personal taste.

“It’s funny how I might not ‘get’ a piece of sculpture as a work of art, but I can still really enjoy it as a product of someone else’s imagination and skill,” mused Carlos.

“Yes, I know what you mean. Agape love doesn’t mean that we all have the same taste, opinion or vision,” agreed Thomas.

“What do you mean by vision?”

“Well, all art is someone saying ‘This is what I see.’ And it’s that artistic vision that makes a person create that sculpture, write that story, compose that song…”

“And we don’t all see things exactly the same way, do we?” 

“And that’s what surprised me for a while,” continued Thomas. “I’d imagined ‘heaven’ as somewhere where everyone always agreed on everything.” 

“I know what you mean. I was the same. But now we know the important thing is not if we disagree, but how.”

Thomas chuckled.

The two friends took their time as they made their way around the market square, chatting to the vendors as they went. Each had a fascinating story of their life before Zion and what had led them to their current occupation.

“I never enjoyed ‘shopping’ until now,” reminisced Carlos. “As a boy I would always groan when my mother dragged me around the stores. Then the Great Suffering came, and I would daydream of shops full of food and clothes, all brand new and available for me and my family to buy.”

“I hear that before the Great Suffering you had more available to you than any other generation.” 

“Yes, we took it for granted that almost everything and anything was available as long as you had enough money to buy it. Then droughts, floods, superstorms and plagues began to disrupt all aspects of the supply chain. People began to riot and ransack shops within a few days of the fuel running out.”

Thomas and Carlos stopped at a stall manned by a Latino gentleman with long brown hair tied back into a ponytail that flowed down onto his lap. He sat behind his table of wares, concentrating on his hammer and chisel as he slowly chipped away small shavings of wood. Thomas and Carlos quietly observed him, amazed at the process. A sculpture of a barn owl about three feet tall was emerging on the plinth, its feathers carved in minute detail.

The woodworker noticed Thomas and Carlos and put down his tools. Patting his hands on his overalls, he came over to greet them.

“Hello friends,” he smiled.

“That is a beautiful piece of work,” enthused Carlos. “I’ve never seen a carving so lifelike!”

“Thank you, I’ve been working on this one for several months now. As you can see, it’s a bit bigger than my usual range.”

Thomas picked up a wooden horse standing on its hind legs in an impressive stance.

“How many talents for this one?” he asked respectfully.

“Hmm,” the woodworker said thoughtfully. “Forty, please.”

Thomas took out the folded talents from his jeans pocket. Each talent was not much to look at – just a plain piece of cream-coloured parchment with the numeral ‘1’, ‘10’ or ‘50’ on both sides.

Thomas counted out forty talents and handed them to the man.

“This object will give me great pleasure,” said Thomas. “Where did you learn to create such beautiful things?”

“I lost my life in a cloth factory in the Previous Age. My friend got caught in the machinery and I was killed when I tried to save him. When I was raised, Jesus gave me some tools and I set about learning to whittle.”

The three men chatted a little longer, before Thomas and Carlos moved on to the next stand, and then the next, taking their time to appreciate the range of products on display.

“No two markets will ever be the same, will they?” remarked Carlos.

“You’re right,” replied Thomas. “Nothing is mass produced here. Every single person in Zion is discovering and refining their individual skills, each contributing to the amazing range of things on offer. And that reminds me, we should get to our classes.”

“I have Hindi. What about you?” asked Carlos.

“I’m finishing my Russian classes today. I’ll be able to serve the community I’m in a little more insightfully when I can navigate the nuances of the Russian worldview using their own language.”

“A drink afterwards?” suggested Carlos.


Thomas arrived at the café and saw Carlos leaning back in his chair, his hands behind his head and legs stretched out in front of him, eyes closed.

Thomas grinned mischievously and with a frond from the mimosa tree at the café entrance crept silently up behind his friend. Stifling his mirth, he gently tickled Carlos’ forehead and nose as though an insect was looking for a place to settle.

Carlos furrowed his brow for a split second before bolting upright and hastily brushing his hands over his face.

Thomas burst into laughter, making Carlos jump up and spin around.

“Hey!” he exclaimed, so loudly that everyone in the café looked up, but he soon dissolved into laughter at the expression of mock innocence on Thomas’ face.

“Little trickster! I’ve not often seen this side of you.”

“I know. It’s this place. It brings out the fun side of me. It helps me realise I am often so serious. But here,” Thomas took a deep breath, “I feel so free.”

Carlos resumed his relaxed position with a happy sigh.

“I know exactly what you mean. In the Previous Age we couldn’t imagine how wonderful this place would be.”

After they had finished their iced coffees, a sprightly south-east Asian lady came out from the café with the name badge ‘Mai’ on her apron.

“Another drink?” she suggested, collecting up their glasses. “Enjoy the coffee?”

“Loved it!” replied Carlos, without hesitation.

Thomas looked at her and grimaced slightly.

“Well, I can see you didn’t love it,” she said with a smile.

“I’m sorry. It just wasn’t what I’m used to,” said Thomas.

“No problem. If you tell me what you’d like, I’ll make it for you. I won’t charge.”

Thomas drummed his fingers on the table for a couple of seconds, and then his face lit up.

“Well Mai, do you have any calda like we had in Palestine at the beginning of the first century in the Previous Age?”

“Oh, no one has asked for that since Jesus was here about two months ago. Yes, we can do that for you. Jesus showed me how to make it.”

“Thank you so much. That will suit me much better than the bitter drinks that my friend likes” said Thomas, pointing at Carlos with his thumb.

“It shouldn’t take long, just a few minutes.”

“No problem. It’s lovely here in the evening light. We’re thinking of going on to the comedy club around the corner later. Do you know anything about it?” asked Thomas.

“I haven’t been, but people say it’s great. I’ve been meaning to see something there.”

“Come along with us?” asked Carlos.

“I’d love to,” beamed Mai. “I’ll be finished in an hour if you don’t mind waiting for me.”

“If we help you clean up, will that mean you can finish earlier?”

“It would,” she replied with a grateful smile.

After Thomas had enjoyed the calda, the three new friends chatted about their journeys in the Previous Age as they cleared up the café in preparation for closing time.

Mai finished wiping up the wet crockery on the draining board, while Thomas swept the floor and Carlos put chairs on tables. Soon their tasks were done, and Mai closed the door to the café.

“I still love it that I don’t ever have to lock up!” she exclaimed as they walked away.

“It took me a little while to get used to not having to think about protecting myself or keeping an eye on my belongings,” agreed Carlos.

“I’ve been in a very challenging community, where people steal and have no respect for each other’s property,” added Thomas. “But here there are no locks and that seems perfectly natural.”

Carlos looked out across the square. “And everywhere is so clean,” he marvelled.

“Well, firstly there is very little in the way of waste, but secondly, everyone contributes to the tasks needed to keep the place clean,” explained Mai. “Each week someone draws up a list of what needs to be done – including cleaning and maintaining our toilets – and then people put their name against one or more of the tasks. No one wants the place to be spoiled, so everyone is willing to play their part. In that way, the city virtually takes care of itself.” 

“And what about all the leisure activities that go on here?” asked Thomas.

“There are some people who really enjoy organising those kinds of things. They usually have a strong passion or interest in something. So that’s why there are choirs, orchestras, all kinds of sports, plays, walking trips – almost anything you can imagine that people like to do.”

“So, if I wanted to go and explore a certain part of Zion, or maybe look for butterflies or birds, how would I organise that?” asked Carlos.

“It’s as straightforward as putting up some notices in the cafés and restaurants, and there are community notice boards in the market squares. Or you can just talk to people and invite them along. Decide a time and place to meet and then you head off and do it. It works really well, as organisers do it for their own enjoyment and, equally, for the enrichment of others. If only two people show up, they have as much fun as if there are twenty. In fact, some of my favourite times have been when there have only been a few people. I enjoy volleyball and we meet by a lake each week to play. If there are only a couple of us, we might throw the ball around for a bit and then decide to do something else.”

The three continued chatting as they turned a corner onto a main street lined with more shops, cafés and restaurants. After a few minutes they came to a doorway with stairs that led up to a large room with a stage at one end and a thick maroon curtain forming a backdrop. People were already seated at tables, chatting and waiting for the performance to begin.

Mai went to the bar and paid her talents for some beers, bringing them back to the table just as the curtains were being pulled over the windows. Candlelight gave the room a warm and welcoming glow and a cheer went up as a black woman with spiky hair took to the stage.

The next couple of hours were filled with performers taking their turn to tell jokes and funny stories. The humour ranged from slapstick to relatable, observational sketches and the surreal. It was clear that none of the performers had been comedians in the Previous Age but that they had since discovered a love of making people laugh. The audience was supportive and before long they were well and truly over any initial nerves.

“So, sleeping in a bear’s cave isn’t the best way to spend your birthday!” concluded one comic before giving a small bow to friendly cheering and applause.

“Wow, that guy was funny!” said Carlos, dabbing his eyes.

“I don’t think I quite got it,” said Mai, “but I had a great time watching you laugh so much!”

“Another beer anyone?” asked Carlos.

The trio decided to have one more before heading home. Carlos was carrying the tray from the bar to the table when a man stood up and backed into him, sending one of the beers crashing to the floor. People turned to look and smiled empathetically.

“I’m so sorry,” said the man, embarrassed. “I didn’t see you. My fault. Let me buy you another.”

“No problem,” replied Carlos with a grin. “These things happen.”

“Don’t worry,” said the lady behind the bar as she poured another beer. “We’ve got this. It was an accident.”

“That’s very kind but at least you can allow me to help clear up the mess. Throw me a cloth,” said the man.

As he set to work with a cloth and the lady from the bar joined him with a dustpan and brush, Carlos scouted out any shards that had fallen further afield. Within a few minutes the mess had been cleaned up and Carlos returned to Mai and Thomas.

“There was a time I couldn’t have had just a couple of beers,” said Carlos. “In the Previous Age I’d drink to try and have a good time and forget about other things. But I’d always drink too much and an accident like that would have made me really angry. When I drank I’d sometimes get violent, releasing all the anger that built up in me. I can’t believe how different I am now. It feels so good to know I can stop when I know I’ve had enough.”

“It’s great to see how everyone can enjoy alcohol without taking it too far,” agreed Mai. “Self-control is one of the things that mark people’s lives here in Zion. And kindness too. No one ever wants to leave another person to do all the work. Sometimes the way people bend over backwards to help each other is almost as comical as the acts tonight!”

The three finished their drinks and walked back to their accommodation, bidding Mai goodbye at her café.

“We will never stop learning from all the people we meet,” said Thomas.

“Every person here has an amazing story and their lives reflect God’s character in so many ways.” replied Carlos.  “And there is never a dull moment.”

Carlos gave Thomas a hug. “Sleep well, and I’ll be thinking of you as you rejoin Bull back in your community.”

“Thank you. You’ll be pleased to see Sylvia back at your village – please pass on my greetings.”

The two friends parted with a little sadness at the prospect of not seeing one another for a while. Zion had given them an exciting and memorable break, providing them with rest and new language skills. They’d gained new friends but now it was time to resume their lives back in their communities.