A Thief in the Night

Two weeks ago Sunday evening, exhausted from a busy weekend and a late night, Seth and I dropped into bed and slept heavily until morning. When Seth arose, he noticed the front door ajar, with the key on the outside. We always kept it on the inside and locked the door at night.

Footsteps led straight from the front door to our study. Frightened, Seth followed them and noticed his iPhone missing from the desk, as well as my cheap cell phone. He ran in to ask if I had certain other valuables. I noticed that the laptop was also gone.

We kept finding more clues of what had happened–an open window that hadn’t been opened before; footprints; the outdoor light had been dismantled. How could we have slept through a break-in?

And our next immediate thought–how glad we were that the children did sleep through it!

It's a lot scarier than the cute cartoons show.

It’s a lot scarier than the cute cartoons show.

We tried to think who it could have been. Residents of Joburg or South African cities know how common and frightening the more sophisticated hold-ups there can be, but we have never been burglarized while home here in the village. Every time we’ve been away on furlough, there have been attempted or successful break-ins, as well as on occasion while we were at church, but never while we were in the home.

Our first suspect was our neighbor, the culprit of several past break-ins. He was nine years old his first time to steal from us when we moved to the village in 2006. Now he’s older and bolder, stronger and more sophisticated. He did it this time as well, as we discovered. (I’ll call him T to aid the story.)

Seth went next door, but T was gone. His blind sister allowed Seth to search T’s room. Seth found several other items of ours from past break-ins that we hadn’t missed yet; or if we had, had no concept that it could have been stolen–things like a heart pen and rose-printed valance aren’t usually on a teen boy’s next-time-I-get-a-chance list.

We heard that sometimes stolen items got stashed by T “in the bush.” Seth then searched much of the overgrown areas around our house and found other evidences of past break-ins, but not our special items from this specific break-in.

Then we involved the police. We filled out forms by hand. They said an investigator would arrive to dust for fingerprints. He arrived hours later at dinnertime (right when we were hosting a team dinner). It was a trick to keep our kids away from the middle of our house all day!

By then, Seth had located T (about mid-afternoon) and delivered him to the police himself. “Here’s the suspect,” Seth emphasized. On the way to the station, Seth had tried to talk tough and scare him, but he denied stealing from us.

The police said to the boy, “Why are you stealing from the white man?” He denied it. “Aw, be quiet,” they responded, “we know you did it. It’ll go easier for you if you talk.” They put him in a cell.

Meanwhile we also got quotations for welding “burglar bars” on our windows. We had the back half of the house done several years ago, but the front of our house was usually too high or visible for thieves to break into; so now our entire house is “burglar-proof.” Those were installed Wednesday and Thursday. It seemed that our whole week was taken up with the burglary.

Makes you feel like you're living in a prison.

Makes you feel like you’re living in a prison.

T confessed on Tuesday and named two other helpers for his crime. One, a son of a tribal authority member, stood in court with his parents and was let free with no penalties because of his age.

After prayer group Wednesday night, Seth visited them. The tribal council member was ashamed of his son’s actions. Although not strictly apologetic, he and his son went that night to track down the third boy, the one who had been small enough to get through the window and let T in. #3 supposedly had our things but got away.

“I don’t understand why he does this!” Mr. Tribal Authority mentioned regarding his son. “He has everything he needs!” Seth noticed that the big-screen TV in the living room was chained down to the furniture… “I lost two days of work for this!” While we are glad to see someone who cares about work, Seth wasn’t very sympathetic. “I lost three days of work and R10,000 of valuables because of this,” Seth rejoined. “Oh, yeah,” he mumbled, chagrined, “Eish.”

So anyway, what happened to “T”? He got out after a few days in prison. He is of age now to be “punished,” but after confessing in court and bail being posted (of a minimal amount), he was let free because…aw, he’s a poor person! Poor person! (Say that with a kind of sympathetic, aw-what-a-cute-baby voice.) He can’t pay that amount! Okay, you can go.

So that’s what happened. We didn’t get our stuff back. He didn’t get his back-end stuffed. 🙂

Seth took some of his clothes and told him if he wants it back, he can work until the amount that he stole is paid back; then he can have his stuff. I’m afraid he’s not used to working… I’m also afraid that will give him another reason to break in.

But anyway to cut out more details, we’ve kind of imposed our own ineffective form of community service on him. He worked patching dirt roads around here one day of his week off of school last week. Well, “one day” is overspeak. Make that three hours. It was a hot day.

Today was the story. Next week are some thoughts that have been marinating about this situation over the last few weeks. Thank you to our friends for prayers and well wishes.

If you’re a missionary, share your break-in stories here! I know we’re not the only ones!

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About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and mother of four children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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7 Responses to A Thief in the Night

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