As I wrote in my previous post four days ago, local cattle thieves stole another one of our young dairy cows for the second time in 10 months, and the entire ordeal left us feeling discouraged, on high alert, and at a loss as to what our next move should be (or as to who the thief could have been).
Well, today I will write about the events that ensued after the initial shock we experienced on Sunday morning upon realizing that our foster daughter’s cow was no longer among our small herd. This is definitely a story worth telling, and I hope it encourages you to believe in God’s power if only we would cry out to Him.
My husband Darwin and our daughter Jackeline left home Sunday morning and spent the entire day out looking for our lost cow, asking our neighbors if they had seen her and reporting the robbery at the local police station. Monday was spent in similar fashion – Darwin made many phone calls, returned to the police station, consulted with more neighbors and took several trips out to the far end of our rural property to see the extent of the damage done to our fence and take pictures for evidence.
All our efforts seemed futile, especially in Honduras where police investigations are few to none and we had no real lead onto who might have taken our daughter’s cow. 14-year-old Jackeline, who had saved her money for a long time in order to buy the cow two years ago and hoped it would help get her through college, spent great amounts of time sprawled out on the couch in our living room, her eyes puffy from crying. On more than one occasion I sat down to listen to her as she anguished over the lost cow, which represented both a financial investment and a pet to her. Jackeline reminisced about her cow – hoping against hope that it might still be alive – and all the other kids told her to get over her loss. But she couldn’t.
One day passed, then another. By this time everyone knew rationally that the cow must have already been butchered and sold on the black market, because cattle thieves almost always act quickly so as not to get caught. Our other two cows that were stolen last November were butchered immediately upon being stolen. At dawn we found their bloody hides and severed heads thrown out in the field by our front gate. To think that this cow could still be alive several days after being stolen would have been naïve.
Monday night rolled around, and the details cannot be shared of the encounters but I will say that two key eye-witnesses came forth with fear and trembling (both of which are Christians). They saw who cut our fence and they knew who had our cow. Darwin shared with me in a hushed voice late at night in our bathroom as a huge spotlight was then suddenly illuminating the entire case before our very eyes. Adrenaline ran through our veins and we prayed together after discussing everything at length. What to do? Our eye-witnesses were too scared to come forth in public, and there would be no way to confront the thief on our own.
Then Tuesday came. That is generally my day to leave our rural homestead and spend 8-10 hours doing management, computer work and errands in town, so I left without a second thought. In my mind, it was all a closed case: the cow was already dead and we had to figure out what proactive steps we would be taking to assure the safety of the rest of our herd while we would wait in vain for the police to act upon our suspect.
About 3:00pm on Tuesday Darwin called me, informing me in an unnerving tone that he had gone with the local police again – hoping to bother them enough that they would act on the case just to get him off their backs – and they actually came out to our property and picked him up in an effort to go chase down the thief, who an informant had told Darwin was stationed in the pineapple fields right behind our property with the cow still alive. Darwin asked me for immediate prayer and as my heart raced faster I pleaded him not to get out of the police car or get directly involved in any kind of armed confrontation that might occur between the police and the thieves.
I hung up the phone, my heart now racing even more than before – in part from the adrenaline of knowing that against all odds the cow was still alive three days after being stolen and that there was a real chance that the police might capture those who had her, but even more for the danger that my husband would be diving into upon confronting the thief directly.
My car sped down the highway, the windows rolled down to let fresh air in because the A/C stopped working several months ago. Light droplets of rain landed on my arm as I prayed harder than I have in a long time. I prayed for protection for Darwin and all involved; I prayed that the thief would repent; I prayed for God’s favor and His justice in our hour of need. I felt God undeniably close, and I sensed that we were on the verge of some colossal battle, much of which would be fought in the heavenly realm. I continued to pray as I zipped down the highway that parallels the Caribbean Ocean and neared our rural property with my heart and head ablaze. Let Darwin live; may there be no blood shed today; may You utilize these police officers as true agents of justice; may the thief admit his deed and seek forgiveness and new life in Christ. If Darwin should die as a result (as his brother did two years ago when he spoke out against local cattle thieves), please give me the grace, perseverance and faith to continue onward in his absence, however hard it may be…
In Honduras, many such encounters with thieves result in someone’s death – either that of the thieves or those who try to confront them, so my emotions were rightly understood to be on edge. Our old pickup truck jostled up the long gravel road to our property as I found all of our kids to be doing just fine. Darwin had left them alone as he had to leave unexpectedly with the police officers, so I checked on our local tutors with their six after-school students and our seven foster kids to make sure everyone was on task as I then unpacked the car and waited anxiously for a call from Darwin.
After exchanging several phone calls with him to ask what progress had been made and to see if he was okay he finally arrived at home several hours later. The police had done the stake-out and had identified the area where they had been holding the cow but came up empty-handed. It was a bit of progress (or at least a scare for the thieves), but it wasn’t enough. Darwin and I felt frustrated, as we knew that was probably the only real attempt the police would be making to try to catch the culprit.
That night several additional phone calls were made in the stillness of our little bathroom as we sought to communicate once more with our eye-witnesses to see if they would have the courage to come forth and make another police report with us, but all were frozen with fear. We ended up talking to a local community leader who is a friend of ours and happens to be feared by many (and has recently become a Christian and attends the same church where Darwin is involved with a men’s group). We hesitantly shared with him our situation, certain that if anyone could do vigilante justice it would be him but at the same time unsure that he would believe us. The thief, after all, is a family member of his and he could very easily turn on us for having accused his kin.
The whole ordeal – holed up in our bathroom late at night, door shut and floor-fan turned on high speed to cover up our voices so that our 7 foster kids wouldn’t be able to hear our conversations – seemed like something straight out of a movie. Darwin and I sat on the little grey rug on our tile floor, alternating between making phone calls, praying, and discussing the matter between the two of us.
What had initially seemed like a lost case in which we would simply have to throw up our hands and try to turn lemons into lemonade had suddenly turned into a hot chase in which we might fall into grave danger if we made one wrong move.
While communicating with the local community leader whom we get along very well with as neighbors, Darwin shared with him who the thief in the matter was, and our neighbor fell silent. He wasn’t sure whether to believe us or defend his family member, whom he thought to be innocent. His reaction: he went to his relative’s house (the accused), and eventually put him on the phone with us. Darwin put the conversation on speakerphone, and chills ran through my body as the thief talked smoothly and casually, assuring us that he was a man of great morals and values and that he would never steal from anyone. He called us both by very respectful titles and assured us that we were local leaders in our community and that it would be a disgrace for anyone to steal from us. His flattering and reassuring words came rolling of his tongue so smoothly and so confidently that I glanced over at Darwin and wondered in my heart of hearts if we had gotten it all wrong. After all, I wanted desperately to believe him. It had all been a big mistake.
But the two eye-witnesses? The two people who know first-hand that this is the thief?
This man is an expert liar with years of experience. My body turned semi-cold as I contemplated this fact and the spiritual ramifications: does not Satan approach humanity this way – smooth, reassuring tongue, saying beautiful, promising things, but it is all a lie? Oh, he promises happiness, pleasure, eternal youth and more, but it all turns out to be nothing more than a breathtakingly beautiful mirage, not reality. He is persuasive and attractive, but in the end leads only to death.
We essentially got nowhere with our phone conversation, as the thief did not allow Darwin to get many words in. He even offered to come up to our property the next morning to peacefully smooth everything out in person, to which Darwin responded: “Better yet, let’s meet tomorrow morning at 7:00am at the police station to smooth everything out.” That definitely tripped up his previously-seamless speech as Darwin continued, “Look, I have an eye-witness who saw you cut through our fence. What I want is my cow. Tomorrow morning at the first hour I will be going to the police station again. What I want is my cow.”
The phone was passed back to our friend, who was more perplexed than before as to who might be telling the truth, and he assured us that he and his family would be praying.
The conversation soon came to a close, and Darwin expressed the fact that he was not blind to the fact that all of this might get him killed and that he truly had nothing against the thief and wanted what was best for him (an honest life lived in God’s light, not a lying life of thieves.) We hung up, both our hearts racing, and prayed. It would be a long night, and whatever would unfold in the next 12 hours would likely decide the fate of our cow, this case and possibly even our lives.
Wednesday morning (yesterday) we got up at 5:00am as is our custom, and I entered the three bedrooms where our kids sleep and jostled them awake, informing them that we would be having a family prayer meeting in our living room before beginning the day’s chores.
Everyone came shuffling out into our living room, from our eldest who is less than a week away from turning 18 to our youngest, a 10-year-old boy with special needs. We sat around our wooden table – everyone wishing they were still asleep – as Darwin and I tried to begin explaining as best we could (and without instilling fear or directly implying who the thief was) the progress of the case and the imminent danger that might be facing us if the thief tries to silence us or take revenge. It was a very heavy conversation, and in a very real sense I feared that it might be our last family meeting. Jackeline was overjoyed to hear that her cow was still alive, and she thanked God repeatedly for having heard her cries. Each person prayed, and among the many words I shared with my Lord, I said: “If it pleases You that we parent these children and youth and continue along in this work, then please protect our lives…” Our children gave thanks to God and prayed that the thief might repent, that he might return the cow voluntarily, and that God would protect Darwin and me.
After about twenty minutes or so around our wooden dining room table, we all stood up, enveloped in a very real heaviness, and began moving about our house doing our daily morning chores. We opened our front door to go out on the porch (where our kitchen is), and we immediately heard the call of our night watchman’s wife who was standing out by our front gate.
“The cow is back!” She called out in the still, dark morning.
We all froze.
The moon still hanging in the sky above our large, grassy property, we all began to glance at one another, some with incredulity in their eyes and others with raw joy.
Our neighbor continued, “She’s loose right next to our back fence!”
Darwin quickly got into action, sending two of our night watchman’s teenage sons to shuttle her onto our property quietly. I was still frozen as all of our kids began staring at me. God had answered our prayers, and rather immediately. The thieves had untied her and sent her back home. Justice had won out. No blood had been shed. God had won this victory – not with guns, hatred and violence but rather with prayer and unity among Christians.
I felt as though I was walking on holy ground as I made my way silently toward our cow pen. I was still dressed in my old baggy pajamas the light of day was barely creeping over the horizon. Was this all too good to believe? I looked on as our precious Jackeline rushed out to meet her cow and began checking her over from head to foot. Her snout and neck had deep marks on it were she had been roped up too tightly, and her body had scratches all over it. Jackeline stroked her large white cow who quite literally had come back to the land of the living by the mighty hand of God. She should have been slaughtered three days ago.
One of our night watchman’s young adult sons came up the path rather quickly on his bike. By Darwin’s instruction, he had gone out in the wee hours of the morning to keep a lookout on who might be coming or going along the road. He informed, “She didn’t come back on her own. They drug her across the pineapple field. There are tracks to prove it. The thieves brought her back.”
Darwin and I smiled and nodded. We had already figured that out – God had led the thieves to return what was never rightly theirs. This was something that only God could do, and He did.
This all seemed very surreal, and I stood for a long while under a tree in our front yard looking out over our grassy property and contemplating this mighty work of God. I felt that I didn’t even have words for my Lord – only admiration.
Darwin made several phone calls to inform our witnesses that the cows had come back, and they all rejoiced with us and commented that they had been praying fervently that God would act and return the cow to us (something that is unheard of in Honduran cattle culture). Our high-profile friend who had facilitated our phone conversation the night prior with the thief confessed that he finally believed us, and he apologized for his family member’s hostility toward us.
The morning moved quicker than I would have liked, and suddenly all of our 40+ local students and teachers were arriving for what (to them) would be a normal day of classes and Christian discipleship. I still felt like I was recovering from the intensity of the last several days and the fact that God made everything work out just as it should. I vowed that later that morning upon getting out of math class I would write a long, reconciliatory letter to the thief, assuring him that we don’t want ongoing wars with him and that we earnestly hope that he will seek God’s forgiveness and the new life offered to all through Christ.
It ended up being a 4-page handwritten letter written in Jesus’ name, and later that same day (yesterday) as I was running through our neighborhood for exercise I left the letter with a family member who promised to give it to him. I even saw the thief on my way back home as I jogged past his house, baseball cap on my head and tennis shoes on my feet, sweaty from head to toe under the hot mid-day sun. I glanced over as I saw him working on his front porch. I raised my hand hesitantly to wave, and he greeted me by name for the first time in the five years that we’ve been neighbors.
That was yesterday. Today has been a normal day, albeit somewhat sticky with the divine residue of all that God orchestrated in these last few days. We are still getting over all this, processing the implications, and giving thanks to God for His mighty hand. Our daughter Jackeline commented to me yesterday afternoon as we were preparing dinner that she would like to write a letter to the thief (although she still doesn’t know who it is) to let him know that she forgives him and hopes he will seek God’s will for his life. I smiled as I informed her that I had already done the same and that I could deliver her letter if and when she writes it. She seemed content with my reply, and we kept cutting broccoli and onions for the spaghetti sauce.
Please thank God with us for this mighty turn of events in these last few days, and I encourage you to recognize that this was, in fact, God’s justice entering into our fall world. Thank you to all of you who prayed for us in these last few days. We continue to hope for the thief’s salvation and transformation and would appreciate your prayers for him. God bless you.
Glory to God!