Saturday, 20 October 2012


Several years ago, in September of 1982, I was at the airport in Lima, Peru. I didn’t want to bother my host by asking him to stay with me at the check-in area at the airport. So I asked him to drop me at the departure area and go home to have some rest.

I stood in line along with the other passengers, holding onto my briefcase and pushing the suitcase forward until it was my turn. When I got to the counter, I requested a good seat, as it was a night flight from Lima to Los Angeles. I handed the agent my tickets, passport, and the ten-dollar airport tax. All the other documents- my health certificate against yellow fever, Bible, notes, glasses, items for personal use, and money-were in my briefcase, which is allowed as a hand- carried bag.

Then disaster struck! During the few seconds I was talking to the agent at the check- in counter, someone stole my briefcase! I thought I had been watching it carefully, but apparently I hadn’t been careful enough.

I approached the airline staff and the local police. They responded in Spanish- probably telling me that I would never see my briefcase again. Finally I decided to telephone my host so that I could at least block the traveler’s checks from being used. But my glasses were in the briefcase, and I couldn’t find the telephone number because of the small print.

The airline staff showed some sympathy, and offered me a cool drink to quench my thirst. As I sat and sipped the drink, I began to wonder how, without the certificate for yellow fever, I was going to enter the U.S.A after visiting South America. Thankfully, an airline official gave me a letter explaining the loss of my health certificate, which would be sufficient.

Travelling empty-handed was a strange experience for me. I knew that anxiety and frustration could lead to fear and depression, and could even cause me to get sick. So I didn’t want to get bogged down in worry, even over the loss of valuable documents.

Although my hand was empty, my heart was full of assurance and hope. Bible verses like “Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4), and “Always give thanks for everything to our God” (Ephesians 5:20) kept coming to my mind.

I began to see that I have to rejoice and praise God even for losses. When we praise God in the midst of loss, we acknowledge that He will compensate us for the loss. God never takes away the good and desirable things from our hand unless He is going to replace them with something far better!

Once I made it home, I had to replace the Bible and practically all the materials I used for travel, including the briefcase itself. Of course, the Lord taught me to be more careful, and I told my traveling friends what had happened & cautioned them against overconfidence.

Several days later, I thought I would be able to trace the thief when the bank informed me that a traveler’s check was cashed through an account holder in a South American bank.  I was surprised to see the copy of my forged signature. The thief must have copied my signature from the health certificate. I corresponded a great deal with the bank, but they weren’t cooperative in tracing the thief. I was just grateful that my air ticket (all the way to Trivandrum, India) and passport weren’t in the briefcase when it was stolen.

God worked on my attitude toward the thief. Thieves are needy people. We have to love even antisocial elements of our world. We must always remember that Jesus came to save sinners. Yes, our Lord hates sin, but He loves sinners. Whether someone commits sin as a victim of circumstances or does it willfully, Jesus still prays the prayer: “Father, forgive these people …..for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

God reminded me that Jesus is praying not only for people who steal, but for me also. I need to be forgiven for my wrong attitude that I show in my responses. In God’s mercy, we all receive forgiveness. But confessing our faults and sins and receiving forgiveness isn’t  a license to do it again.

I was told of one boy who lived in a community hostel. He confessed to the warden that he had stolen three apples from the kitchen store. But the kitchen staff found only two missing. The boy was questioned about the third apple mentioned in his confession. He replied that he would steal the third one, the following week – and so confessed in advance!

Admit before God your desire to avoid sin, and confess your sins. The apostle Paul said:”-I used to scoff at the name of Christ. I hunted down his people, harming them in every way I could. But God had mercy on me because I didn’t know Christ at that time.  Oh, how kind our Lord was, for he showed me how to trust him” (1Thimothy 1:13-14).

It’s easy for us to think we really don’t do anything that needs forgiveness. But we are all human, and we all sin. When we are lazy or waste time at our job, we are actually stealing from our employer. When we do personal things during office hours, we are stealing from our employer. If we aren’t giving a certain portion of our income to God’s work, we are stealing what belongs to God. Here too, we may have to get right with God.

God used this experience and my feelings about the thief to help me see that I need forgiveness. None of us are blameless. But we all can be forgiven!

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