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Saturday, May 30, 2009

on police and providence

Having spent a cumulative 3 to 4 hours at the police post in the last 24 . . . I've had some time to observe and reflect.  My purpose for being there was to support our younger missionaries and national staff friends as they filed their testimonies in regards to the two house break-ins in May.  The first day we were met by a tall thin older man who was teasing and brusque and craftily bordering on hostile.  But we greeted and sat patiently, adding our smoothing friction to benches worn smooth and shiny over the years of use.  While Heidi spoke slowly and concretely so that a subordinate could write out on an official form just what was taken from her house, and just how she found it . . I chatted with the in-charge.  We had invited him to a community security meeting last week and though he did not come, the gesture served us well.  We left with assurances of concern and action and official file numbers.  However they needed one more testimony, that of a mission house-worker who initially found the second breech and reported it to us.  However, when this young man compliantly reported to give his statement this morning, he was promptly arrested.

This is the dilemma:  complying with a system of justice that involves the slow and questionable process of local law, or giving up on reporting crime altogether?  No wonder lots of people opt for the latter.  We had no suspicion of this man's guilt and no intention of dragging him to jail just because he was the one who was first on the crime scene when he reported for his job one morning last week.  By the time I got to the post for the second time, emotions were high, with the police angry that we missionaries were interfering with their investigation, our worker angry with being treated as a criminal (they took his shoes which seems to be part shame and part collateral), some of us angry that this police force seems impotent to investigate crime and bring justice.  Picture the station:  a bare grimy office with one desk, one chair, one bench, and one locked cabinet; a closet-sized plank partition in the corner with no windows except the gaps between the slats that serves as the holding cell (about 5 men were in there judging by the shoes, but it was eerily quiet most of the time), two women apprehended for beating up a third girl sitting on the floor in the corner, two impounded motorcycles taking up the rest of the space, and a half-dozen milling on-duty policemen.  Their general mode of operation is to sit in this office and the porch in front of it and wait for trouble to come to them.  So a disagreement over an arrest was probably one of the more interesting things to happen that day, and drew everyone's input.

But a few hours later, we walked out with our worker set free, all the statement dutifully recorded and filed, and a plan for some preliminary arrests of more likely culprits on Monday.  God's grace in calming words, and in a providential accident.  While we were waiting, and tempers were cooling, there was a sudden crashing commotion just outside the door.  I looked up to see a girl Julia's size sprawl across the road, her green dress in a tumble of limbs, as a motorcycle skidded to a stop on its side and a young man tore off running into the market-day crowd.  In an instant a handful of policemen were chasing the hit-and-run driver, another group proceeded to impound the motorcycle, and only an old lady and I seemed worried about the girl. By the time I reached her side the off-duty surly policeman from the first morning was there too, and grabbed her, though I was trying to protest, stabilizing her spine and assessing whether she was alive or dead.  She was unconscious and limp and I could not see any effort to breathe but the policeman was not releasing her . . . and the crowd was telling him to take her to the hospital (which is a half-block away).  Off he ran, and after excusing myself from our other investigation I followed to see if I could help them.

By the time I caught up with them in the hospital a minute or two later, she was crying.  I was quite relived to see she lived.  She followed commands and a cursory neurological exam and inspection of all her limbs and head did not reveal anything more than bruising lumps.  I wanted to admit her for observation because of the head trauma, but no one else was too convinced that was necessary.  It turned out the tall rough policeman was her grandfather.  By the time we all got back to the police post, we were no longer enemies but allies.  The in-charge was also thankful and cooperative (admittedly I hadn't REALLY done anything for this girl, though my time at the hospital did allow me to evaluate and write orders on a few other worrisome kids . . ).  

So . . a morning of negotiating peace, strangely facilitated by near tragedy.  The little girl sprawled on the road formed a Christ-like picture, a cross-solution to enmity.  Tired but thankful for a reasonable ending, at least to this phase of the story.

1 comment:

harryk said...

Dear Jennifer, Scott, Heidi, and all,
I'm so sorry to hear about the thefts. Thank you for the unity in patience you displayed in the time at the police station (rather than displaying anger and demanding action). Even in this situation, I think the Lord used you as witnesses. And the opportunity you had to display mercy for the police official's grandchild is a reminder of the mercy of God to us all, who deserve no mercy.

You all may have heard of this already, but I think it was Matthew Henry (though someone told me it was another old saint) that offered a helpful prayer after being robbed. He offered thanks to God that though the robber took everything he had, it wasn't all that much. And though the robber took his goods, he didn't take his life. And that he was the one who was robbed, instead of being the one who robbed. May the Lord stop the thefts there and remind us all of the incomparably greater riches of being given the gift of knowing Him.