Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

What I learned from being robbed

Posted by Chris on May 16, 2008

A little over a month ago a man stole a significant amount of cash from my wallet. The details aren’t important, except to say that, I was not robbed violently but it was very personal. I was in the room, but not looking, by a stranger for whom I was trying to do a favor.

There are different kinds of lessons to be learned: about being careful; appropriate reactions; whether or not to call the police; the truly fleeting nature of worldly possessions; etc… However for me it was really a reminder of a particular day in India and an entirely different lesson altogether.

There’s really only been one time in my life that someone tried to steal from me directly. One Saturday in Kolkata I came into the city in order to attend a gathering for Christians throughout the city. I was running a bit behind and planned to get some food so I bought 3 chicken egg rolls (not like a Chinese-American egg roll– much bigger). Two for me, one for a needy person I might encounter but did not want to spend the time to take them somewhere to buy them food. As I walked, I saw people who I’m sure would’ve liked the roll but because I was in somewhat of a hurry I was really just waiting for the inevitable person to approach me. (the rightness of this thought I am not defending– just re-telling the story).

At one point, I saw a destitute family of mother and children. Moments later, someone tried to grab something from me. I was surprised and in my reaction I jerked away my hand, whatever was in there, and turned around in a bit of shock/dismay. I saw a little boy from that family running away, with only a piece of paper from the covering of my egg roll. It was so frustrating, as I said to myself over and over, “All you had to do was ask! This was for you!”. I considered going back and giving it to him but I didn’t really think that I should reinforce the means by which he got my attention.

That event brought my mind to this particular day– the lesson learned came later. I go to the worship service. Right before it, I gave away the roll and had a guy come up to me with a baby and ask about something but I was right by the entrance and said that I needed to go there. More may have been said, I can’t remember. But, when I left later and was speaking with a man who worked at a call center, I noticed the same old man sitting on the sidewalk, looking at us. As I said goodbye, he came up to me again. Was he waiting for me?

He communicated to me that he wanted milk for the baby and toddler that were with him, so I followed him. This is about 8 o’clock at night, and I was never out in the city much at night. I was definitely not scared (I was never scared there– I was too big!), but, perhaps a bit more tense, which I feeling I usually had. The old man carried the baby and directed the toddler to grab my hand. There I was, walking down AJC Bose Rd, walking with my 3 year old friend wearing his rag around his waist, next to an old man with a baby. The preciousness of my 3 year old friend… I cannot describe. As innocent and guileless and undeserving as a human can be to be living in these circumstances. At a major intersection, we had to cross the road. Instinctively, I picked him up and he felt natural in my arms and even seemed to cling to me.

Across the street, we arrived at a small shop where there were about 5 men standing around. The old man asked for two cans of milk and the owner told me it costs 650 rupees, or something close to that. I was shocked! That is about $16, which probably wouldn’t be outrageous in America (these were pretty big cans of powdered milk I guess, which might be $1 for a small can?) but is a LOT of money there. That’s easily 80 meals. Not that I thought it all like this. At the time, I mainly thought “That is way more than I thought it would be”, “That is way more than I want to spend”, and “I really don’t want to get out that much money in front of these people.” I did have the money- I usually carried 2 Rs 500 notes with me at all times for emergencies. The first and third thoughts may have had some validity, but: “want to spend?” I told the man I could only spend $200. Another man there tried to explain– he seemed annoyed by the whole thing, that the guy would expect me to spend so much. The old man said okay and smiled and was very gracious. I gave him cash. He walked with me a bit further and pointed out a store and said he would buy some Mithai. I walked off alone to the metro, alone.

Mithai are sweets. Very sweet sweets. No nutritional value sweets. Milk is, like, integral to a child’s diet. What have I done? How could I screw this up? Wasn’t this the opportunity I was praying for? Wasn’t this what I lost sleep over the first time I went into the city and met a destitute woman who wanted milk for her kids, hadn’t I been brainstorming about how to do this in my state of ignorance?

I’m not saying there was one thing I should have done, either buying both cans of milk, buying two, running back to him after I walked away. But I did not love him like Jesus. I did not make Christ my treasure because to some extent I valued a combination of my safety, pride, and money above pouring myself out in love for others. I screwed up. I can’t get that moment back.

So what’s the lesson learned? Paul said in Acts 20:24: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” The gospel of God’s grace at that moment says, “Chris- what a privilege that you have this money to share– that’s grace! What a privelege that you have been called to walk in the wonderful light of Jesus, that you would have a heart that wants to help others!” I would also consider that one of the specific tasks the Lord has given me is to help the poor. I don’t want to waste those opportunities.

I cannot ignore problems that are right in front of me. If I don’t help, you can bet that I’m not ignoring it. I’m thinking about it and choosing to do nothing. While I’m glad I am not calloused and desensitized, my inaction speaks louder at times. Getting robbed reminded me of a moment of inaction. Getting robbed was what I needed to resolve to do more to help, to act. I really don’t understand how so many people, and specifically, Christians, can walk around ignoring things. My challenge to myself first, and to others next, is to act at least in response to the needs that are in our face. Being proactive is even better. But, the next time someone asks you for something, ask them what they need. Then, meet that need. Do whatever it takes within your power. Pray for them. Wait with them for the police. Don’t just let them use your cell phone, buy them a phone card. Buy them a meal and eat with them.

In that past month I’ve had opportunities. The Lord has been gracious to me, taking me from a temptation to be hard-hearted when I tried to help a man who would steal from me, which was the first needy person I had helped in some time, to softening my heart and placing me in the right places at the right times. The timing of some of these have been amazing, where a decision to go or not go to a store, or a matter of leaving a few seconds earlier would have led our paths never to cross. I’ve done better. Even when I don’t know what to do or I don’t feel like doing, I try to remember the man, the baby, and my 3 year old friend. May God bless them.


3 Responses to “What I learned from being robbed”

  1. Nice writing style. I will come back to read more posts from you.

    Susan Kishner

  2. mithai said

    […] violently but it was very personal. I was in the room, but not looking, by a stranger for whom I was a step closer to reality The Times of IndiaThe monorail and light rail transit LRT system […]

  3. Camille said

    Thank you for this post, brother. Something I need to remember daily.

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