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This old Indian story, retold by Chilima Mweene from Zambia, is a parable (a story with a meaning)

Tortoise and his two eagle friends lived together by the sea. For many years they were very happy. Then trouble came – there was not enough food for them to eat. The two eagles flew to the other side of the sea. There they found plenty of food. Tortoise was not so fortunate because he could not fly. He stayed where he was. He had no food, only water, and soon he was very weak.

Dying from hunger

One day the eagles remembered Tortoise and went to visit him. They found that he was dying from hunger. They said to him, "Let's go together to the place where we now live. There is plenty of food there." "But I can't fly!" Tortoise replied. "We have a plan. If you do what we tell you, you will soon be well again," said one of the eagles. "We will carry a stick in our beaks, one at each end. You, Tortoise, must hold the middle of the stick with your mouth. But there is one very important rule. You must not talk or open your mouth while we are crossing the sea, no matter what happens."

Tortoise is flying

Tortoise agreed. The three friends began their journey. When they were half-way across the sea, the fish and sea animals were amazed to see a tortoise in the sky. They began to shout, "Tortoise is flying, Tortoise is flying." Tortoise heard them shouting and said, "You are making a lot of noise." At once he began to fall. The eagles reached their home on the other side of the sea, but Tortoise never got there. He did not follow the rule.

Life, not death

This story reminds us of ourselves. We have all broken God's commandments (his rules), so we cannot be friends with the Creator God. It is as though, right now, we are dead, just as Tortoise died when he disobeyed the rule. But God has made a way for us to know him. He sent Jesus Christ into the world to suffer the punishment for our disobedience (wrong doing). Jesus did nothing wrong – he was perfect. But he was killed by being hung on a gallows made of wood in the shape of a cross. Now, if we say sorry for our wrong doing and begin to follow God's ways, he forgives us. We can live our lives, knowing God as a special father. He gives us the gift of life now, and we will be with him for ever, in his special place – heaven