EDITOR'S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from Blood Covenant by Lisa Harris (Zondervan).

one

Monday, February 21, 8:55 a.m.

Vensi, Mponi region

Dr. Paige Ryan hesitated in the open doorway of the Cessna Caravan before stepping down onto the grassy runway. An early morning mist lingered along the edges of the clearing, but even the cloudy veil wasn’t enough to mask the handful of thatched huts smoldering on the far side of the landing strip.

The familiar feeling of helplessness pressed against her chest. The last time she’d gone out with the mobile medical unit, the pilot had been forced to do a low-level pass before landing to scatter the herds of goats and the children playing soccer with their homemade balls on the airstrip. Today, all that greeted them was an eerie silence coupled with the bitter smell of burning huts.

Simon Love, head of emergency relief, stepped up beside her and tugged on the bottom of his Volunteers of Hope T-shirt. “Apparently the government’s statements that the rebel’s threats are nothing to worry about were exaggerated. It looks as if most of the villagers have fled this area.”

Except those slaughtered by the rebels. A lump swelled in Paige’s throat. She hadn’t wanted to believe the rumors. Seventeen dead in Mkondi. Six in Latasha. Fifteen near the border town of Marani . . . But if Simon was right, those deaths could easily be the tip of the iceberg.

Their pilot, Nick Gilbert, grabbed Paige’s medical bag from the storage compartment and handed it to her, temporarily distracting her from the haunting scene. Given another place and time, she’d have given his boyish good looks a second glance, but today all she could see was the smoky destruction in the distance.

“I’ll wait here with the plane, but we need to be in the air by eleven if we’re going to have time to visit the other villages and still make it back to Kingani before dark.”

The pilot’s strong southern drawl sounded out of place in the middle of the African bush, but to Paige it helped soothe the recent renewed pangs of homesickness. Tennessee had never seemed so far away.

She slung the bag over her shoulder and shot him a smile. “Then I reckon we’d better get moving.”

Nick’s reply was cut off by the loud rumbling approach of a beat-up 4x4, replacing any feelings of familiarity with the reality of the situation. Fighting between government forces and renegade Ghost Soldiers had escalated in the past seventy-two hours, with the villagers scattered across the base of Mt. Maja caught in the crossfire of the conflict. And while the government insisted that President Tau’s army was maintaining control over the situation, the senseless killings being reported only reinforced her helplessness.

As soon as the boxes of hygiene kits and medical supplies were loaded into the back of the waiting vehicle, Simon wasted no time in making introductions to their ground contact. “Abraham, this is Dr. Paige Ryan and Michael French, my logistician.” Simon turned to address her. “Abraham used to work with Volunteers of Hope but now is the full-time director of the four clinics here in the Mponi region.”

“It’s nice to meet you.” Paige shook the man’s weathered hand.

Nodding good-bye to the pilot, she stepped over a trail of ants crossing the dark red earth, then jumped into the back of the vehicle with her colleagues. Abraham slipped the vehicle into gear. It sputtered and sped off down the runway.

“What can you tell us about the situation?” Simon shouted above the roar of the engine. “We’ve had a hard time contacting you until this morning.”