I've taken up a prayer of asking God for opportunities to show His love to people in meaningful ways. Sometimes, this has been as simple as giving a mom with her little ones a ride to the clinic. However, yesterday, this prayer turned into a much bigger adventure.
I was driving back from the airport in our JAC (little tap-tap). Miguel was sitting next to me in the cab and Cathi was in the back with the rest of our children and the 4 we had just picked up from the airport. We stopped at the first stop light on our route and, as usual, kids at the intersection began asking us for money. One came up to my window and I was looking at him. When I looked over at Miguel's window, the boy on that side had jumped in through the window into the JAC up to his waist and grabbed my iPhone sitting on the seat next to Miguel, then took off running behind us. I did what I felt any good Haitian would do... I put the parking brake on and ran after him. There was a street vendor behind our vehicle and I asked him, "Kote li te ale?" (Where did he go?) He pointed down the street and I took off in that direction. I ran by a man who started talking to me, asking, "¿Hablas español? ¿Que pasó?" (Do you speak Spanish? What happened?). I said, "Un muchacho me robó el telefono" (A boy stole my phone). He then took off in that direction, too as I was stopped by policeman on a motorcycle who asked me, "Sak passe?" (What happened?) to which I responded, "Yon gason te vole telefon mwen" (A boy stole my phone). He turned his moto around and took off down the street. I kept running up the street and the man and the police had caught up to him and had him off the road (we were literally running down the street). I thanked the Hispanic, who asked me, "¿De donde eres?" After I told him I was from Puerto Rico, he went back in the direction we'd come. (We are next to the Dominican Republic, so it's not all that strange to run into Spanish speakers.) The police asked me again what had happened and I told him, "Li te vole telefon mwen. Li ble epi nwa." (He stole my phone. It's blue and black). The policeman reached into his pocket and found my phone there. He proceeded to essentially spank this kid, who was about 13 years old.
By this time, we had quite a gathering of UN officers around us, inquiring as to what had happened. I was questioned by a UN officer from India, another from the Cote d'Ivoire, and various Haitian police. The police asked me to stick around so they could get my report. At this point, I asked if I could go and at least park my vehicle somewhere, since it was still at the intersection. So I ran back to the intersection, hopped in the JAC and drove it across the intersection to a gas station. I then ran back to where they had the kid in custody. He was now with his hands on a wall and legs spread apart, with a police officer holding him by the back of his pants. I waited there for another half hour before a police car showed up, in which they put the boy and then asked me to follow to the police station. I drove the JAC a ways to the station, where I parked it once again and went in. At this time, they had me give an official statement. As I was doing so, I noticed the jail cell adjacent to that room, where there were quite a few people, inquisitively looking on. They did not seem like very friendly people. The police then explained to me that they would like to press charges on this kid to have him spend a few nights in jail, but in order to do that, they needed my cooperation. I looked back at the cell and back at this 13 year-old kid and did not think that was a great idea. Instead, I asked the police officer if I could talk to him. He almost chuckled, but said fine. I then walked up to the kid and told him that the police wanted me to give them what they needed to keep him in jail. His eyes grew big at the realization. I then proceeded to tell him that I didn't want that to happen; I told him I forgave him and wanted him to be a better person because God had made him to do something better with his life. I told him he could be helping people instead of taking advantage of them. I told him that when the police let him go, it was his choice to do something good with himself, but only God would know if he did. I told him I believed in him. After I talked, the boy looked me in the eye and apologized.
I told the police officer I didn't want him to spend the night in jail and that he could let him go. He asked me if I was sure I wanted to do that. He tried to talk me into letting them press the charges, because otherwise, the kid was just going to do it again. I told the officer that there was a better chance of him doing it again after being in jail; nobody's probably ever given this kid a reason to do anything good with his life and I hoped that he'll remember this next time he thinks about stealing. The police officer actually did chuckle at me this time. First, he asked me how long I'd been in Haiti. When I told him 2 months, he asked how I'd learned Creole! I told him I learned by talking to Haitians, how else?! He then grabbed my phone, put his number in it and as he gave it back to me, he said, "My name is Reginald. You're a good person. If you're ever in trouble, you can call me and I'll help." I walked out of the station unsure of how to feel. It dawned on me that this was one of the most tangible ways that kid would understand God's redeeming love. And I prayed that this crazy afternoon would make a long-lasting impact on him.
I challenge you to pray, "Give me opportunities to show your love today, God" and see what happens...