Lessons from a Thief
Since being robbed three weeks ago, I have been pondering the effects of a break-in on my spiritual and emotional state. Here are some missionary musings of mine:
The Danger of Danger
Besides the obvious physical danger that danger poses, it can also tempt your spirit to worry and fear, and secondly to discouragement, the latter being perhaps more dangerous than the first. After some of the adrenaline from the first rush of fear has subsided, discouragement creeps in to trap you in the Slough of Despond.
Maybe I should mention cynicism here as well, because when a missionary is discouraged, it is easy to be cynical about the people–all the people–around him. Whatever growth may exist in the handful of believers is easy to overlook, and the culture’s faults all magnified. David said in his haste, “All men are liars.” And a missionary in his discouragement may make similar negative universal statements.
“These people always… never…“
“This is impossible. A church will never happen here.”
“No one is trustworthy.”
Of course we know these statements aren’t completely true or fair; and in our meeker moments we remember to close our mouths when angry, because a man who can control his spirit is better than he who conquers cities.
So that’s the lesson I learned from danger–that we must remember to submit to God who allowed it, and not to “charge God foolishly.” That we must not forget all of the blessings of growth and the work God is doing in some people’s hearts, just because of personal attacks.
Which brings me to my next point. Some have mentioned that maybe God will use this to bring the thief (our neighbor) to the Lord. That sounds great, doesn’t it? I also long to see miraculous conversions–a well-known drunk turning sober, and the like. I know God can do that!
Unfortunately in this specific case, the above encouragement on seeing this boy enter the Kingdom was our consolation several years ago when he stole from us. We did attempt to evangelize him, and he came to church for a while, and we even baptized him! (Which if you know Seth, is saying something.)
He eventually quit church, however, and is no longer a church member. So while trying not to be complete wet blankets and unbelieving in God’s ability to save, we’re not getting our hopes up too high, lest we battle even more discouragement over this boy.
So the lesson learned here–well, one lesson that we’ve learned is to be even slower to baptize children and teens until we are sure that they have committed to following Christ.
Why Africa Is Poor
I have so much to say on this subject that I will try to do the opposite and keep it short. We lost money in the valuables the thief took and to install “burglar bars” afterwards. We lost a lot of time as well.
But we are not the only ones being robbed. Several church members and neighbors have been robbed, not once, but a number of times in their lifetimes. While it may not touch us as seriously because of our savings account, think what it means to a poor person who saved for a long time to buy a personal computer and cannot replace it easily.
One reason Africa is poor is high crime rates. Obviously there is so much more interconnected than that point alone, and certainly more reasons why there is poverty, but it is devastating to people already struggling with finances to have someone take the little they have–and then not have the money to either replace it or to buy the security to prevent the next occurrence.
Treasure on Earth
We love things too much. I was reminded of that when I read The Sermon on the Mount shortly after the break-in.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Missionaries may sometimes excuse their materialism by remembering what they left behind, and thinking that it’s okay to hold tight to the things they brought over with them–their consolation. But it’s not. Our heart cannot be in things! Does the extent of our frustration when we have to go without a luxury or convenience communicate how much we treasured that thing?
It’s almost as if I can hear Jesus saying, “Don’t you get it? Those things are temporary. It’s obvious that that’s why you shouldn’t love them! They can be stolen. They can get old and break. They will pass, so why would you set your heart on them?”
We are pilgrims looking for a city. Let’s travel light and not burden ourselves, or rather, our hearts, with extra lovely treasures. Tools? Those are nice. But each in its place…with its correct priority.
In heaven, our treasures will never fade or be stolen. That is a beautiful thought to someone who’s been robbed. That means that those treasures must be leagues better than the treasures here below! My “wanter” must be broken, for me to value things so highly here below that are useless toys from the Dollar Tree in comparison to the treasures that can be stored up in heaven.
The Generosity of God’s People
What makes me want to fall on my knees in humility and gratitude, though, is when American Christians sympathize and give to replace our things. This has been done already. Did we love our things too much? If so, no word of judgment from them.
In the middle of our discouragement over the depravity of some people, Christians reminded us of God’s grace and gave us just a glimpse again of the love and beauty that will one day be constantly present in God’s eternal Kingdom. Thank you. It eliminates much fear and discouragement to know that we have friends like you.
Having gone through these different stages of learning from our robbery, there are so many things to be thankful for.
Our children were safe.
We were safe.
They did not take more.
We have the money to secure our house better.
We were born as Americans.
What we love most cannot be touched, and what we love next most wasn’t touched.
But best of all…well, I’ll simply quote Matthew Henry after he was robbed:
“Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”