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Monday, November 30, 2009

On Stealing and Belief

Two moms on the pediatric ward were busted, for taking some of the food we give their malnourished children, and selling them it in the market.  An alert nurse noticed, and did some detective-work, uncovered the truth, and led us to tighten our distribution policies.  But the whole scenario raises disturbing questions.  What kind of mom takes food from her already-starving child and sells it?  Well, it could be a heartless or cruel one, but in my observation it is more likely a desperate one.  One who does not believe her child is helped THAT MUCH by our care, and one who is so marginal in her own existence that she is willing to take the risk of selling off her food to buy something else, one who believes that there is no other option.  Would I?  I know I had a hard time coming up with enough food this week for my family and visitors and team, and that there are times when my reserves of attention and provision and care are just plain depleted.  In what ways do I sacrifice my kids' well-being for my own survival?   What these moms did was wrong, and jeopardizes the program for others.  But I'm learning not to judge so harshly, to realize there are life circumstances which I can only guess at, and to avoid punishing the children for the sins of their parents.  I also saw a malnourished twin today, whose mother had for months claimed to be the aunt taking care of orphans, until we realized that she was actually the biological mother enrolling in our orphan program just to get some help.  I don't trust this lady, but I also respect that she was merely trying to make it.

Today was our first day of RMS school at the former Tabb house.  And Jack's bike was stolen, right smack off the front-door-stoop, in the middle of the school day.  Again.  In broad daylight, some kid must have slipped in the ajar gate and boldly come right up to the door to steal the bike.  Scott and I each went around to some of our neighbors to inform them and ask them to be on the look-out.  I'm a bit less sympathetic to this thief, a kids' bike is not quite so directly tied to issues of life and death and margins of survival.  I also heard today that someone's clothee-line (the actual wire lines) was stolen off the poles.  I'm sure it looked appealing for some practical purpose, and the thief rightly guessed that we missionaries could afford to replace it.  

Stealing is a way of life in Bundibugyo, perhaps in most places.  No one likes to be the victim.  When I announced our new policies and the reasons for them on the ward, there was much sighing, clucking of tongues, and shaking of heads.  When I made rounds to our neighbors, there was the same reaction of shock and dismay and sympathy and disgust.  EVERYONE in Bundibugyo has been the victim of a thief, and often suffered much more, losing all their clothes, or their only mattress, or the month's crops, or a goat that represents a significant portion of their net worth.  If a thief is caught red-handed in the market, he could be killed by the mob.  There is an innate sense of injustice that translates across cultures that can flare in the excitement of the immediate.  But usually the thief gets away with their crime, the victim is annoyed but must go on with life, the friends who may have witnessed the crime may respect the cleverness of the thief or just want to avoid conflict, and the culture tends to cover-up and continue-on.

At the root of stealing it seems to me there is the belief that we are on our own, that every person must scramble for what they can get, that a small gain at someone else's expense is justifiable if that person had more than you did to begin with.  In a spiritual milieu of a myriad of random and potentially malevolent spirits and relatives, cleverness, stealing, deceit, are all simply means of survival.  And so the kids around our neighborhood pedal off on one of our kids' bikes, believing that we don't deserve such riches all to ourselves, that their need for a Christmas set of new clothes trumps our claim to own six bikes in one family, and that no one else will help them if they don't help themselves.  And a few moms decide to sell off their food, believing that the resource is endless, that they can always get more for their child, or that their need for charcoal to cook food justifies their selling off some of their resources.  

And looking at most lives, I'd be challenged to believe that God cares for His children so completely that stealing is an act of unbelief.  

Praying for the bike to come back again miraculously.

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