Nov 7, 2013

When Someone Steals From Us

Recently one of our clients stole our phone. We were using it as a music source during our prayer time, and they simply slipped out with the phone. Of course, at first that made me very angry. I hoped that perhaps it would be something the thief would repent of and return the phone.

First, I put the word out on the street, that the phone belongs to the ministry and that we needed it back. It would cost the ministry time and money that otherwise would be spent helping people; instead the money would be spent paying for a stolen phone.

Perhaps putting the word out on the street worked. Because in three days, the stolen phone was purchased by a local used electronics shop and they called me.  In the meantime, many people offered to buy me a new phone. I wrestled with what to do.

I decided to buy the phone back from the used electronics dealer. I paid $50 to get the phone back. Sure, it can be argued that the electronics dealer is in the wrong. But I decided that wasn't my principle calling. I wanted the "harm" to come back to the ministry. That's where it originated and that's where it should be dealt with.

I have since learned that one client stole it and hustled it to another client for $20. Obviously they were desperate. That client hustled it to the electronics store for $30. Clients normally involve a third party with a "clean ID" to hustle for them. So, I assume that accounts for the remaining $20. Or perhaps someone else got a piece?

I wrestled with what to do. I prayed a lot. I DO forgive the people who did this. And I feel deeply sad for them, that they are so desperate as to steal from someone who tries to regularly help them. I have continued to spread the word that I do forgive them, but that I hope and pray they will have the courage to admit what they did and repent of stealing.

Second, I decided that the ministry would absorb the $50 as a teaching opportunity. All theft has victims. Someone pays. And frankly, it usually trickles down, through higher prices, insurance costs, etc. to little people who can ill afford it. So as a demonstration, I have eliminated $50 from our food and benefits budget this month. That means no salsa on our donated breakfast tacos. It means no creamed cheese on our donated day old bagels. It means no sour cream on baked potatoes (also recovered from grocery stores). At each occasion, I will explain that the missing items were in effect stolen by whomever took the phone. I will make sure everyone knows the person is forgiven. When they say it's not fair, I will explain that even forgiven sins have consequences. And in this case, the consequence is that the limited resource, hard earned by donors and supporters, was wasted by the thief. And simply that is why there is less this month.

Third, I want to ask our clients to stop theft. I'm not asking for a community of snitches. I'm asking them to become a community of people who intervene, stepping in as someone makes a move to steal and say, "No... not here. There's another way."

Most of all, after soul searching through this, I want our clients to know that nothing that can be stolen would keep us from doing ministry. One person will not spoil the works. We don't need to offer food at all. We just like to offer food.

And if thieves make it so that we can't be trusted to go inside partner churches for fear that anything not bolted down might be stolen, we won't stop the ministry for that either. We can do our ministry outside on the sidewalk. It's just nice to offer the simple hospitality of being able to go inside a church.

Certainly I was  initially mad. I pray that this response is a strong Christian response, and one led by The Holy Spirit. We love all of our clients and nothing they can do will change that. But our love is an expectant one. We know they are our clients are capable of great things!