It seems Wednesdays are eventful. Last Wednesday my backpack was stolen. This past Wednesday I got a text from the General saying they arrested Patrick, my thief. After work, the General came to the house to pick me up since he promised I could meet him. We got in the back of his land cruiser, picked up his heavily armed guards on the street outside and away we went, about a 5-minute drive from my house. We went halfway up this small mountain in Goma between my house and where I work; every guard stopping to salute us on the way. The road up the mountain was horrible. Eventually we stopped outside a shack; literally a shack with no windows. At least five guards directly out front, and another 25+ just posted in the immediate vicinity.
The General commanded Patrick be brought out. He was small, light skinned and petrified. His big toes were tightly tied with string, together. He stopped about 6’ from me. I told him in Swahili to come closer. Still petrified and shaking, he shuffled forward. My emotions where so all over the place in my mind, although on the outside I think I appeared to be pretty held together. I couldn’t help it; I smiled at him. A big smile. I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to listen. I asked him if he spoke French, he said no. So the General translated for me for the things I could not say in Swahili… which was most of what I said. I wanted to become a person to him, not just “a white girl in a Prado that he thought was rich” (his words, not mine).
I asked a lot of questions:
How old are you?
Do you have a job?
Did you steal my bag?
Why did you steal my bag?
Do you know what I do here?
Do you know why I’m here?
Were you following me for a long time?
Do you have a family?
What did you think when you saw my computer?
Do you realize you’re throwing your life away?
Do you realize you have choices in life?
I told him about me. I am a pastor here; a full time missionary. I don’t “make” any money and my organization doesn’t have money to pay me. When I have needs, God provides through donations. I told him “I understand why you think I have money, look at my clothes, look at my things”. I pointed out what was a gift… which was pretty much everything I had on. I gave away all my things to come here because God told me to. In the grand scheme of things, I really don’t have a lot. But compared to him… I get it. This man is desperate and poor beyond what I can imagine. He has no job; he’s 22 with a baby and a baby mama. He is poorly educated. Who knows what else has affected his life to make such dangerous choices.
But I told him; in this life, regardless of circumstance, what he does have is a choice… He didn’t have a choice to be born here or into a poor family, but he has a choice with what he does with the circumstances. This is not the life God wants for him. He’s going to prison now. He has thrown his life away and for what? He said, when he saw my computer he was scared. He realized it would be very hard to sell and very easy for people to find him. I asked him about the rest of my stuff and showed him a picture of my Polaroid cube. He replied, “there were two of those” (correct, I also had Camille’s cube in my bag) which only confirmed that he really was the guy who took my bag. He said didn’t know where my stuff was. He kept the computer and got rid of the bag. I remain confident and peaceful that I will get all my stuff back.
Goma at sunset… photo credit: unclear, but not me.
Through out this entire experience, I was praying in my mind. What am I supposed to say to this guy? What is the reason for allowing me this time with him? The entire experience was surreal. The view from halfway up the mountain looking out over Goma was spectacular. The sun was setting, the lights were going on all across town and the mountains of Rwanda were lit up with the glow of the sunset and the lavender sky backdrop. There were more than 25 other soldiers watching this; probably thinking “Who is this crazy Muzungu who is telling the guy who stole her stuff God loves him and wants more for his life?”
Lauren was with me. She asked me to translate for her… she said,
“I think God allowed this to happen because He wanted you to meet Jenn. To hear what He has to say to you through her. To understand that you can change your life. You have the power to make different choices. God has the power to change your life. I’m leaving, but I’m going to keep praying for you specifically”.
I was blown away to hear my friend say that. To see even how God has worked in her life through all this; for her to say something like that. She has been able to see me walk out this faith for the return of my stuff. Everything about this situation seemed impossible. All of it was and still is mind blowing to me.
He asked me for forgiveness. I gave it. But I also told him, really the person he needs to take this up with is God. Ultimately, he took the bag specifically from me because he thought he would find cash. He found none. However, he did find consequences. He will go to a prison built to hold 150 men. It actually contains 2400 men. He will get out at some point and I pray he makes different choices. I said that to him multiple times. Before I left, said “Nipe Yambi” which means “give me a hug”. If I claim to have given up a career in DC to become a professional hugger, I don’t want to discriminate. He looked scared. I leaned down, wrapped my arms around him and gave him a hug. He was shaking and limp. I said again as I hugged him, “you have the power to change your choices. You can and you must change your life”.
Finally, I asked if I could pray for him, he said yes. I prayed many things, but specifically over his hands and feet that they would be used for God, for serving others and not for evil; that he will encounter God and have the courage to make different choices to give God room to show him His hand on his life. I thanked the soldiers for all their devotion to their country and away we went… I still can’t believe that happened.
FARDC Soldiers in Congo. Photo Credit: Telegraph UK
BUT WAIT… THERE’S MORE. This just keeps getting better and better… episode 4 coming soon. And sorry, no pictures from my actual interaction… more soon.
Much love from Goma,