Two weeks ago, I was feeling like I had begun to get back on my feet. Things had been going fine, but re-entering life at the hospital and the university after nine months away definitely left me with the impression of needing to dig myself out a bit. There is just no escaping the accumulation of things that are waiting for you after such a period of time.
But it was going well. I had just given a lecture that I thought went off well. And now I was heading down to join everyone for a Chinese New Year party, where Grace was making dumplings, which are certainly a rare treat here in Burundi. Rare and yummy. I got there a bit early, and so I sat down and opened my laptop up (I had it with me since I came right from the lecture). I put the finishing touches on a first draft of a new educational program and was quite satisfied with how it was turning out.
We had some dumplings (I might have had more than "some"), and then as it was getting dusk, we walked out to the field next to the church. Our schoolteacher had miraculously procured a bunch of Chinese paper lanterns, and so for the next fifteen minutes, we were helping the kids get them lit and watch them sail off into the quickly darkening equatorial sky. Of course, there was the usual gaggle of young male onlookers, especially since we were doing something so conspicuously odd.
When we were done, we said goodnight to the observers, and headed home. About three minutes later, as I was carrying a tired Toby in our front door, it hit me.
I had set my computer down to help with a lantern and left it there.
I sprinted back, searching with my flashlight. The computer was gone, and so were the gaggle of young strangers. A swift multi-person search into the nearby area ensued, the local police took some details, and our good Burundian friend (who thought he had recognized a couple of those guys passing by) headed out into the dark hills to try and ask around.
It was my 6-month old MacBook Pro. It is password-protected, with no power cable, and about 20% battery life. I can't imagine what a rural Burundian is going to do with it (especially since Macs are utterly unknown in this country). I offered a substantial reward. Many friends were searching the hills for signs of its whereabouts. It was even announced in church.
Two weeks later, there is no sign of it.
Coping with this has been a multi-faceted experience. First, there are the logistics. It's a substantial financial hit. But we'll live. I thankfully had a back-up from three weeks prior, but still I had done a lot in those three weeks, and I am still annoyed by discovering yet another document that isn't on the back-up. It will be several months before I can get a new computer (though I'm borrowing an extra).
It was hard for a couple days to walk around and wonder at the people I was seeing. Was this unknown young man the guy who took my computer? Does he know who did? It's not a very fruitful lens for the world around us that we are called to sacrificially love and serve.
One of our teammates' first concerns was that, if they caught this guy, he wouldn't be subject to undue punishment. It's not impossible that local village punishment could result in him never being able to physically take anything ever again. So, we pray for our enemies. We pray for their repentance.
In a certain sense, I don't really blame whoever took it. These folks almost invariably live on the brink of poverty and even starvation. I am obviously wealthy. The rich white doctor can buy a new computer (and in fact, I can.) They might be able to easily sell this for (if they knew it's worth) three years of the average Burundian GDP per capita. I doubt he went out that night with an intention to steal. He didn't break into anyone's house. He just seized an opportunity afforded by my mistake and distraction.
On the other hand, it's stealing. It's not good for him, any more than it is for me. And if he would do it to me, he might also do it to others, and those other people might suffer a lot more from it. I've thought about this in the very gracious response from my Burundian friends. They have really exerted themselves to try and find this computer. I think that is because they care about me and value the work I do. But also I think they don't like the idea of someone in their neighborhood who is willing to steal valuable things from other people when the opportunity arises.
In the end, there is trust. God, I believe you have called me here to do this work. Why have it hampered in such an unjust way? I don't know. When we don't know, we are called to trust. Called to consider the possibility that there could be a reason beyond what we can figure out. At the very least, we are called to keep going despite the setback, trusting enough to release whatever hesitations and unforgiveness are in our hearts.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-20