International Ministries

The Cat and Rat

May 1, 2002 Journal
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Dear Friends:

Every house has its own unique "sounds in the night," so it was no surprise when we were warned.Sure enough: the pitter-patter of little "rat feet" were soon part of the normal background of our sleep patterns. Immediate action was taken to launch our cat into the attic each evening. To hear a scuffle after a long silence meant he had been successful in trapping his dinner. Besides the cat/rat dances, we became accustomed to other occasional thumps and bumps as the beams expand and contract under the tropical sun. But, we were NOT prepared for a new kind of "cat."

Our Easter break was filled with activity and research in Kinshasa, as well as joyous sunrise celebrations on the banks of the Congo River. Our Kikongo homecoming greeting included the news that our house had been entered by a "cat burglar" who had squeezed through the 19 centimeter space between the roof rafters and the walls - a space left open for cooling circulation.

When to enter the attic?Of course, during the Saturday afternoon baptismal service when everyone was heading down to the river to share in the joy of nearly 60 baptisms!! Fortunately, the "cat" was caught in the act of descending from the attic by one of our sentinels who had returned to the house.Pika, a bright young "cat" in the high school, readily admitted to entering our house, but everyone had to wait for our return to verify if in fact anything had been stolen.

So, our homecoming greetings included singing and hugs as we descended from the plane, AND broken ceiling tile all over the floor when we entered our house.Sure enough, a cassette recorder, Virgil's wedding ring (removed because of insect bites), a close-up lens, and about $100 in local currency had been taken.

What to do? The head pastor, the president of the church and other leaders gathered with us for prayer and discussion. It was decided that the president would first try to recover as many of the stolen items as possible before discussing possible consequences with Pika, the young man who was caught. Pika admitted that he had take the cassette player; in fact our workers had seen him using/flaunting it, and he returned it to the president with a small portion of the stolen funds.

We had/have no desire for punishment if someone is repentant, and it seemed that the normal course of events would resolve the problem: i.e., the church would have a formal censure of Pika in front of the congregation, and he would be excommunicated from the church for a period of time and forbidden to participate in any activities.Then, when he chose to ask for re-instatement, he would be interviewed to see if he was truly repentant, and re-instated.

In the meantime, we learned that Pika had entered the house of one of our doctors, in the same way, and had stolen a large sum of money. Sadly we heard that the day he entered our house was the afternoon of the same day he had signed his confession to stealing from the doctor's house. Repentant?Hardly.

We had returned home on a Tuesday. The following Saturday, during morning chapel, our house was entered again.Though we could not find anything missing, the ceiling tile, which I had so carefully cut and replaced, had been moved, as had the boxes where we used to keep our cash!

So, it seemed that this "new cat" knew where the "old one" had caught the rats, and we were suspicious that it might be the same young man. Sunday and Monday mornings we had set traps: leaving someone trusted hidden in the house while we went to church/chapel as usual. No catch.

Monday I went into high gear installing "anti-vol" devices: really "high-tech" protection equipment in the form of 25 cm. pieces of used saw blades nailed vertically between the rafter and the header.Whew! We could now rest without worries about rats or cats in the attic. Tuesday morning Pika was sentenced to excommunication from church activities, embarrassed by his thefts being made public in front of fellow students and the other 300 or so folks in worship, and told that he had to move to another community.Whew! We could breath easy.

Wednesday at 2:30PM our first MAF plane in a week had a rapid turn-around: leaving mail and picking up one passenger.When I returned home, things were different in the bedroom, but since Lynn and I had left at different times, I figured she had moved stuff.No! Some cat was back and in less than 25 minutes! Rat count: cash boxes again moved, and the Minolta automatic camera and Cannon calculators missing.

Thursday morning, again a trap was set, and this time the cat/Pika was seen by two persons approaching our house during chapel. When approached, he fled. When confronted later,he confessed to the Wednesday plane thefts.While only the valuable film was destroyed when he opened the camera, it was clear that he had NO respect for ANY of the persons or rules in our village. What to "do"? Short of any respect for local leadership I thought Pika might need some outside consequences—for example, a few weeks in jail to "get his attention" as to the seriousness of his thefts. His other thefts, of peanuts, manioc and other foods from local folk, (including his OWN family!), in our eyes had MORE SERIOUS COMMUNITY CONSEQUENCES than the theft of our "things."Villagers go HUNGRY when their food is stolen, and we don't normally eat our cameras.

I suggested calling in the police from Fatundu (25 km), but the consensus was that the police would turn into far BIGGER "cat burglars" than we already had. They would demand to come to Kikongo to investigate even though we had signed confessions; they would be "happy" to discover that one of the houses/families was a "richmissionary," and would raise all fees, invent new paperwork,and extend the investigation for months to guarantee their salaries, or "pay-offs," with the verdict going to "highest bidder."Plus they would demand to keep the stolen goods as evidence for the hearing, and then, 3 months from now, would conveniently be unable to find the evidence.So we would have been robbed three times: first directly, secondly in funds, and thirdly the very objects stolen in the first case would be stolen again, this time by the police. JUSTICE?Hardly!

We suggested a two week "time-out" period for Pika in a locally chosen room, isolated 24 hours a day from the community with only silence and a Bible to keep him company- aside from family members bringing food or emptying the honey pot. This suggestion was not well received.

Other options?A special church/mission council meeting was held: but how can we "get the attention" of someone who is "thumbing his nose" at the world? After HOURS of discussion, heated debate, and prayer, it was decided that since Pika is still legally a minor, and since his parents were unwilling to even try to control his behavior, that he and his WHOLE FAMILY would have to MOVE from Kikongo.This decision was enforced with the help of 4 local military/army men stationed here to ostensibly "guard" our tiny grass airstrip from invading rebel planes.

End of the story? Four weeks into the intense emotional involvement, I wish we could say there was a happy ending to this "attic cat/rat story." We hope and pray it will be written in the future, with word that Pika HAS repented, HAS had a change of heart, and HAS chosen to do something positive with his creative life energies.

WHERE DOES ALL THIS FIT IN THE "BIG PICTURE" OF LIFE IN THE CONGO? If a diamond were stolen in our village, we would hope that even more energy and effort would be expended than on our theft problems. Yet, in reality a diamond worth over $1,000 IS STOLEN DAILY from EVERY village in this country! Our personal loss of a few hundred dollars is nothing! And to think that these diamond thefts are also being made in "broad daylight" under the noses of international observers and perpetrators. Nah!?!?

One of the basic God-given resources to the people of the Congo is DIAMONDS, lots of diamonds, more than one a day for every village!Worth multiple BILLIONS of dollars a year! Meanwhile: the roads are in disrepair; no one can get produce to market to sell; teachers have not been paid for over 6 months; doctors earn $300 a month IF they work in the largest Catholic hospital in Kinshasa; there is random access electricity and water in the cities; much of the country is without potable water; AIDS is rampant; health care is expensive and totally inaccessible to most rural folk; and the schools lack a book for the teacher, let alone books, desks, or blackboards for the classrooms.This is to say nothing of the traditional problems of annual incomes under $400, malaria, or mal-nutrition. Meanwhile, high governmental and business leaders are racking up their foreign bank accounts and jetting around the world investing internationally.

Something is missing in this picture?Yes, JUSTICE!Those of us who believe in a "just universe" need to call our world's leaders, AND the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to task for their parts in allowing, fostering, even profiting themselves from the international "swap meet" of the sale of stolen precious gems, minerals, trace metals, and other resources, most any one of which would provide sufficient resources for rebuilding the nation!

Not an easy task! But nothing worth doing can ever be accomplished in just one life-time.So in the meantime, we are called to loving acts of kindness and mercy, AND bold non-violent loving actions demanding justice in our world.