Monday, 4 March 2013

Sierra Leone: Forgiveness

Emily heard the religious call while in high school, put herself through medical training and left Oregon to work as a nurse in post civil war Sierra Leone. This is how she reacted to a break-in:

I arrived in Sierra Leone on Jan. 21st but stayed near Freetown for about a week before I went up to the village where I work. While I was in Freetown I got a curious call from my neighbor, asking when I was coming back up. It seems that some people had broken into my house, stolen some things and were being held at the police station, awaiting my return.
When I dug around a little to find out who it was, my heart was a little bit broken. I had been pretty close to three of the boys before they left the village to go to Freetown. When I had girls teaching me to cook, I would call these boys to come help me eat the rice. After we ate we would all have game night. We had a scoreboard on my wall keeping track of how many times each of us lost at Jenga and they were often at my house when the lights were on so they could study. I’d thought we were close. Definitely NOT the first thing I wanted to deal with when I got back!
Since I had a couple days before I was going up (and they were still waiting for a couple more boys to be brought from Freetown), I started thinking and praying about how I was going to handle it. The neighbor who called me to inform me of this was devastated!! One of the boys was in his custody. When he called me he so angry he was almost in tears. He said that he was not raising a thief and wanted to take this as far as it could go in the court system. He was mad!
I understood. What happened was extremely shameful for him in the eyes of the community. He said that this boy was “trying to spoil my job here” and I later found out that this was because some people thought he should move on because if he hadn’t been there, the boy wouldn’t have been there and this wouldn’t have happened. It was serious!
But I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. One of my biggest pet peeves here is that it often feels like there aren’t any real consequences when a wrong is done. People show up late for work or don’t show up on time and nothing’s done. Security guards sleep all night….nothing. Policemen are constantly asking for bribes and everyone looks the other way. It’s just constant. And it drives me crazy. I tend to be a pretty black and white person (which can often be to my own detriment….I’m working on the balance) but this kind of thing is a never ending frustration for me.
What to do, what to do. Wouldn’t you know that the day after I found out what happened, I ran across this verse : “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”
I had a few things stolen from my house. The biggest item was a computer. I was an idiot and decided to leave my little netbook computer at the house since I didn’t think I’d need it while I was home. There were also a few missing headlamps, a bag, an internet modem and some notebooks. (These were the things that were recovered….I have no idea if there were other things missing. I’m just that organized).
When I was home, I saw Les Miserables for the first time. I didn’t know the story before I entered the theatre and I spent the majority of the movie near convulsions as I was sobbing so hard. It was weird. It was really weird. Even after it was over I was so affected that I couldn’t stop crying. So of course one of the first things I think about is the priest. (Slight spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it!) That beloved old priest who gave food and shelter to a man who later stole all his silver. When the police brought the man back with the stolen silver the priest said, “No. It’s not stolen. I gave him that silver. Here, you forgot these candlesticks. There was no crime here.” The man’s life was changed forever!
I don’t know what the right thing to do every time something like this happens. Obviously there have to be consequences when evil occurs. But in this instance, I knew what I wanted to do.
I arrived in the village and the next morning went to the police station with a couple of my friends. My stomach was in knots, knowing I had to confront these boys and not sure how the community was going to accept what I wanted to do. Bleh. I hate confrontation!

When I arrived I asked to speak to the boys. The policemen were a little surprised but agreed to bring them out. As everything here seems to go, there was very little privacy and I had about 20-30 people watching while I talked to them. Oh gosh.
As the six boys filed out, the three that I had been close with wouldn’t make eye contact with me. They stood in a line in front of me and I began talking. I was nervous because they wanted me to try and speak Krio and in vulnerable situations like this I always want to speak English!! But I whispered a prayer for help and started muddling my way through.

I started by telling them that when I’d heard that someone had broken in and stolen some things from my house, I’d been angry. I needed those things! I needed them to do my job, to communicate with my family back home, and to help others in the community learn about computers. But when I found out who was involved, I became more sad than angry. I reminded them of the times we’d spent together (imagine little gasps and “shame, shame’s”coming from the peanut gallery). We’d been close.
Then I told them about the verses I’d read right after I found out what happened and how this had turned my thoughts to Jesus. Jesus. My Precious One who has forgiven me of so much. How could I not forgive when I’d been forgiven of so much? It was inconceivable. I talked our relationship with God that had been broken until Jesus came to restore it. He showed us, he showed ME mercy and forgiveness when I was his enemy. And that’s Who I love and that’s Who I follow.
I pulled out the charger for the computer (that had been with me so they hadn’t taken it) and handed it over to them. I then pulled out the money that remained in order for them to be released from jail and gave it to the chief policeman. And I told them it was finished. They were forgiven. The things they’d stolen were theirs to keep. It wasn’t because I didn’t need them, but it was because I love Jesus and therefore love them and want our relationship to be restored. And as far as I was concerned, it was. We were fine and they were welcome at my house any time (this is where I got the biggest gasp from the crowd. Just goes to show you how they are more relationally minded than money minded).
I told them that I recognized that what I was doing was dangerous. There was a chance that they would come back and steal again. There was a chance that others would hear about the grace extended and would also come to my house and break in, believing that there would be no repercussions. But Grace is dangerous. The grace that God extends to us can be (and often is) not accepted, mocked or abused. But I trust that God will be the defender of my rights. If people keep breaking in and taking my things….God, who can do anything He wants, STOP anyone He wants doesn’t think I really need those things. And one day, God will make everything right. Until then, I will trust Him to defend my rights. So that was that.

I’m not really sure how the boys took it. They didn’t say anything. One guy piped up and said, “You see? This is the difference between you Christians and we Muslims. We don’t forgive like this. We would never forgive like this!” Of course that’s not true. I know many Muslims who are very forgiving*. But I was so so SO excited to see that they saw Jesus in this, and not just my white skin! So often the things I do are just attributed to my “being white” than to my “following Jesus”and I had been begging God to let them see Him. I was so glad that some did!
So that was that. My little bit of village drama to start off my third year. I was hesitant to share this because….it just feels weird. But I was so excited about Jesus showing up that I couldn’t resist. It’s such an adventure to follow Him!
(*Ed: as shown in this incident - and this.)

The above is a slightly shortened and edited version of the original, which is on Emily's blog here. Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

1 comment:

James Higham said...

Most interesting article for Sackers to run with. Well done.