N. has been a neighbor of the mission for two decades, a needy man, thin, addicted to alcohol, looking for money, neglecting his family. When something is stolen he is usually suspected if not blamed, but culture is rather non-confrontational, and most people prefer to maintain some sort of coexistence even with a thief. Yesterday, however, he came to Pat asking for money. Only he made the mistake of wearing a rather unique sweater that Joanna had knit for Mark as a Christmas gift two years ago. This sweater had been a labor of love and Mark wore it proudly for a short time. Then one night, returning from a trip, they parked their car at the Massos after dark to eat dinner before settling back into their home. They emerged to find the car’s window broken and their suitcase gone. In the suitcase had been, among other things, the valued sweater.
Because of the sentimental value, we prayed for that sweater. I’m sure others remember praying for this. We asked God to show His power and bring it back. Just two weeks ago at team meeting we were celebrating the finding of Pamela’s lost re-entry visa and using that remarkable gift (it had been lost more than six months ago) to remind us of God’s answers to prayer. But in that meeting I recalled the sadness I felt that the sweater prayer had never been answered, when I had such hopes that God would return it.
So last night, when Pat saw the sweater, she alertly asked for it back. Today Michael took the police and in the house they found Mark’s bank card (with his name on it) and some computer discs. Rather incriminating. The community reaction has been: Michael has done all of us a great service. We missionaries are not the only victims of theft, in this case it is one of the ways we are treated as everyone else. Everyone around us had suffered the loss of many things because of this neighbor and his children.
Did we do the right thing to bring this man to the police? Is a sweater more important than the suffering he will no doubt incur?
I’m re-reading a great study of the life of Jesus by Paul Miller called Love Walked Among Us. That is what we want to be, Love, walking among the people of Bundibugyo. One side of Love is Truth. Jesus confronted evil. He did not ignore the moneychangers disturbing the worship at the temple, or the religious leaders oppressing the people with their hypocritical rules. It is not loving to enable a thief to continue stealing, to walk unimpeded down a road that leads to death. So my guess is that yes, Jesus would have called N. on this. But it’s a heavy responsibility and one which we as outsiders can easily misapply. And it is always easier to rejoice over the convicting Truth applied to another person’s life, than to rejoice in that same conviction in my own heart.
Truth can also be consoling. One of my students, M.J., is a true orphan, his father died when he was only 3 years old, and his mother when he was about 10. He’s one of my favorite kids, and I know his relatives well and know he has a hard life. He’s quiet, taller than most, studious, but with a smile that fills his face. Many people prayed last June when he was very ill with some sort of arthritis, fevers, joint pain and swelling. He improved over the summer but this weekend began to have a milder return of his symptoms. As we have built trust over the years, he finally conceded what was really on his heart. He hears people say that his parents died of AIDS. And he’s worried about himself. I knew his mother and frankly I do think it is likely that that was her diagnosis, but I’m not sure. I seriously doubted this boy could have been infected even if that was the problem his parents had . . And I wasn’t sure if he felt shame that he was being stigmatized by the gossip about his parents, or worry that he also could be dying. But I agreed to test him to put his mind at ease. When I brought him is negative results, I could just see his face lighten, his body relax. The truth set him free from that worry. We still would like to understand his sickness better, but his death sentence has been lifted.
Jesus is so much like these two stories of today: He convicts, and He consoles. He calls us on the way our hearts grab for life apart from Him, then He offers us life by lifting the death sentence.