I woke and began dressing and began to look for something in my backpack. Noticing that the backpack was not in my room, I went to the front room to ask Sylvain and Franck if they had borrowed it for some reason. What I saw on the table was someone’s worst nightmare. The backpack lay opened, and most of the contents were removed. Wallets containing all of my American and Congolese cash were empty. I asked Sylvain what was going on. He explained that the backpack had been strewn in the neighbor’s yard. The loud “bang” we had heard at the front door last night (which we thought was Franck’s early morning trip to the outhouse) was actually a thief who had broken into the house. He took my computer from the table in the front room, and had come into my room to also steal the backpack and any valuable items that were in sight. The list was extensive- passport, immunization card, camera, phone, portable hard drive, i-pod, some electronics accessories. Over $2000 in cash was also gone, most of which had been designated to contractors for their work within the next few days.
My initial reaction was typical. I was angry at my son Franck for leaving out the computer after he borrowed the night before. I was angry at whoever took what did not belong to them! Each of us blamed ourselves for not being more “curious” about the door banging so loudly in the middle of the night.
After the initial anger, I began thinking about “what could have been”. It was only “things” that were taken, and someone could have been there to take my life instead. Sylvain came to me in the hallway, tears streaming down his face. Without words, he was sharing my pain, but I know that he was also hurting deeply that he was not able to protect me from what had happened. I hugged him and told him that it was going to be OK, that these were just things, and that God would be victorious in this battle with Satan as well. I hurt so much for Franck, Sylvain and Dorcas who were feeling responsible for my protection.
At about 6:30am Franck and Sylvain went to notify the police and make many other phone calls/ contacts in order to obtain as much assistance as possible to locate the perpetrator. In less than 30 minutes, we had the full force of the police in town for the day, setting up road blocks at the market. Calls were made to neighboring villages, particularly Kasomeno, as it is the next “largest” village before Lubumbashi.
Knowing that there was nothing I could do personally, I decided to spend time with the Lord and pray. I walked to the church with my Bible about 9am, half-hour before the service began. I began praying the Psalms and quickly settled on Psalm 3, praying it many times in Swahili before the service. It brought me peace, and I felt God’s presence with me in the waiting. At some point during the service, Sylvain received a phone call that they “thought” the responsible party was being detained in Kasomeno, about 1.5 hours from Kasenga. Even though Pastor Marcel was in the midst of an infant baptism, most of the church members went outside the church to hear confirmation of the news. They slowly returned inside. Only a few minutes later, his son brought news that they had indeed found my computer and other items. As the news was announced to the church, a huge cry of joy erupted and the congregation started clapping. I was happy, but at the time felt I needed to stay at the church.
About 10 minutes later, Franck came to the door and told me that the police needed the truck in order to go to Kasomeno, interrogate the prisoner, and bring him to Kasenga. I agreed, since it was the only way that he would be brought to justice. I went home to drop my things, and we proceeded with the truck back to the church to pick up the police officer and an armed guard who would accompany the prisoner. Many people from the church rode with us, and so the truck had 6 inside and 4-6 others in the back of the truck! The officer wanted me to drive faster, as they wanted to find out answers to many questions, however there were only certain parts of the road that allowed for a speed of 50mph. Some parts were still wet from the rains and very slippery, so I knew that I would shoot off the road if I had to apply the brakes. I did not keep track of the time, but we arrived as quickly as possible and were escorted inside the jail. The driver who was carrying the thief was being held in an outside room, and the thief was in a small inner room. Packed inside the interior room were the passengers in the truck, as well as Pastor Mutanti and 4-6 police officers. An officiant was also present, typing notes from the conversations.
Approximately $800 of the total $2025 was missing, however the thief confessed to carrying only $1800 from the house. He was asked some questions and indicated that there was a second thief by the name of Chola who had also been given some of the money. (We later learned this was a lie.) He was asked what he purchased with the money, what he knew of the other thief, etc. I was more interested in his character and demeanor than the answers to the questions. He seemed to smile as he answered them, and it was beyond my comprehension as to how someone could be proud of taking so much from a missionary. I was told that he was from Kasenga, a habitual offender, and had actually escaped jail from a 5 year sentence in Zambia! All he could see was that I am an American, and therefore assumed to be very rich. He had no idea that I had given up all that I had in order to tell him that Jesus loved even him. I was not allowed to speak to him directly, however a picture appeared in my mind of Jesus hanging on the cross, with a thief on either side of him. One thief asked to be with Jesus in heaven that day, and the other did not. I thought about how this man, who was only 20 years old, had a choice every day to choose Jesus or to choose hell. I wanted to ask the young man if he knew that story, and give him the opportunity to know that he had other options for his life- to know that Jesus could change his life if he allowed it.
After the questions were completed, I had to verify my possessions and sign a statement. We were allowed to go outside, however could not leave until 10% of my recovery was paid. This would have been about $300-400; the policeman had also seen a “muzungu” (white) and dollar signs. Two UM pastors were allowed to go back into the station to negotiate on my behalf. I was told these bribes were common every day and were taken from everyone and not just Americans. But of course the assumption was made that I would have much more money! As the pastors pushed to lower the amount, the question was raised as to where the $600 was that had not been accounted for during interrogation. The police left to search the thief one more time and “suspiciously” returned with another $300 they had found. When I was informed, I was anxious to leave because I knew the rain was coming and the roads would be bad. I asked if the $300 could be split between the police in Kasomeno and Kasenga; the pastors returned to continue negotiations. Approximately 45-60 minutes had passed. When all parties came outside, I was told that the Kasomeno police would be taking $200 of the $300 that was “found” on the thief. (This means that the Kasomeno police had a “take” of $500 that day…Can you imagine??)
I questioned Franck on why something like this was happening to me again, and he replied “Only the Lord knows”. His answer had to be sufficient for the time being…
The car was loaded and we began our return trip to Kasenga with the taxi driver’s motorcycle and the thief in the back, accompanied by the armed guard and the other passengers. As we approached Kasenga, the rain started. We stopped and pulled out a large tarp from the tool box for the passengers in the back to be protected.
As we drove into town and near where I was staying, a mob of 1500 people began running toward the truck. The officer inside the truck told me to “split” the crowd, and to keep the vehicle moving at all costs, for the crowd was there not to welcome me, but to kill the thief. Franck told me that he knew of an incident where a thief was taken under such circumstances, placed inside a truck tire and burned to death. I was afraid at that moment for the thief, and told myself that I could not be the one responsible for his death. I split the crowd and discovered a large tree branch blocking the road in front of me. I decided to veer to the left of the branch and hit it (if necessary) in order to keep moving. The crowd surrounded the truck from all sides, but somehow God allowed the truck to keep moving. Franck and the officer were shouting directions to the jail over the roar of the crowd and showed me where to park. The officer and guard immediately yanked the thief out of the truck and across the yard into the jail. Because we had been unable to stop and pick up Sylvain, he followed us to the jail on the motorcycle and came to meet me as the thief was released. I scooped him into my arms and began sobbing for all of the stress and tension of the day. As I released him, his face was also wet with tears.
When the thief was out of sight, the emotion of the crowd changed from anger to celebration. People were jumping into the back of the truck; once I had to stop in order to pull off those hanging on the bumper. They were cheering and chanting from the truck and from the street. Some wanted to buy me a drink. Others wanted to shake my hand and thank me for bringing the thief to justice. Those who had not yet seen me just wanted to see the now-famous missionary!
By the time we arrived at the gates of Sylvain’s house, there were still hundreds of people surrounding the truck and the house. Those who were waiting at the house were those who had been praying all day when we were in Kasomeno- not just Methodists, but Catholics, evangelists, Pentacostals- all faiths!! Sylvain had stayed in Kasenga, and was telling me that it was a sight that was incredible to him. Various pastors had been leading prayers, and hundreds had assembled from the time to the arrest was announced until our arrival. It was difficult for me to comprehend. Sylvain was sharing that many had recognized what God was doing in our midst. They were making comments to him such as “this is truly a powerful God the DS and the missionary are serving, for no one could have ever recovered this thief who was running for 5-6 hours!” The people in the yard were shouting and glorifying God, and for this we were so grateful. As with each of our previous challenging adventures, this was my sole desire.
I said quietly to Franck, “do you think this is the reason why the thief came today?” And he smiled.
As I write this, I am still missing my passport with my DRC visa that cost dearly at $2000. But we are posting and announcing a reward if it is returned, and praying for God to work yet another miracle. The thief did not want it, and threw it on the ground near where he emptied the money. We are praying that someone picked it up as a curiosity and will return it for the reward. We ask you to pray with us, too.