As I took in the stares of about 30 onlookers and felt their hatred towards me, I believe that I experienced a glimpse of the way our Heavenly Father sees us in our brokenness and sin.
It hasn't been a fear of mine, per se, but I've really wanted to avoid becoming known as or referred to as the 'missionaries with all of the car problems.' But it might be time to lay that down and let it be what it's going to be. The irony is that we've really been the victims every time. The first time there was perhaps a level of misjudgment or naïveté after the initial breakdown of the car-- but the last instance and this one were simply outside of our control. Perhaps that's why I don't want to have this 'car trouble' reputation.
I digress. Our car is still in the shop. On Saturday night we hosted a dinner for our latin american interns along with another missionary family. The dinner took place at their house. When it was time to go home, we were given the opportunity to drive their car back to our house in place of walking through town late at night. We would return their car to them at church in the morning.
It rained after church. So, we got lunch, ran the errands we needed to, and the plan was to drop off Suzy and the kids at our house, bring the car back to them, and walk home after returning the car.
I should mention that drunkennes is a problem in our town. I had commented to Suzy several times that morning how I had never seen so many people so drunk, wandering around and congregating in the streets of our town. We were a distance of about two blocks from our house when there was an impasse in the road. Several cars parked on the right side of the road, 2-3 cars parked on the left, and about 15 people clearly inebriated huddled right in the middle of the road. I give two short beeps of the horn, as is customary here, and the group started moving off to the side of the road, hugging the parked cars. I crawled forward, driving between a mile and two miles per hour.
|Our neighborhood, where the incident took place
And then we heard the noise. What noise, you ask? Well, a drunken individual who owned one of one of the parked cars on the right side of the road decided to get into his car. As we drove by. He threw his door open, directly into the side of our friends' car as we drove by. When it made contact, his car lurched forward about a foot or so and rolled onto the foot/ankle of one of the inebriated women that was hugging his car.
I was greeted by many, many drunk individuals saying things like, "Nothing happened," "be on your way," "Keep going." I should mention that this was a brand new car our friends had bought just about a year ago. It's in pristine condition. Also, the husband of the family was actually in the US, as his grandmother had passed away just days before. After calling the wife of the family, her/their desire was that we take pictures of both vehicles and write down names, phone numbers, and license plate numbers.
Let's return to where I started: the angry, drunken mob. After getting Suzy and the kids home, calling a couple of our Ecuadorian co-workers, and getting the police involved, tensions continued to rise and opinions on whose fault it was became more and more engrained. That, and if you've ever interacted with very drunk people, they're not the most reasonable to deal with. The owner of the other car took a running start with fists flying at me numerous times, every time getting restrained by the police. Many drunken rants, aggressive fingers being pointed, and very offensive accusations as well as comments about skin color were thrown about, willy nilly. I chose the very few words I used carefully, kept incredibly calm, and tried to maintain a controlled, neutral demeanor.
The panel that was damaged on our friends car will probably cost a few hundred dollars to replace at their dealership. If we take it to a local place, it could potentially be repaired for $100 or less. So that was the suggestion-- they pay $100 and we all walk away. Someone suggested a 50/50 split, meaning they contribute $50 and we all walk away. They were unwilling to try and gather this amount, saying that they had mouths to feed and didn't have $50 to their name-- which could have been true. I should mention that here in Ecuador it is customary and even expected for the parties involved to bring things to an agreement without getting insurance involved. With police present, they even stress and push for money to be exchanged on the scene for damages incurred rather than going to court or taking things to insurance.
As I looked at my neighborhood, all gathered around, drunk, I couldn't help but think of all of these individuals and this being where we live. These were our neighbors. Their relatives. Was my reputation worth the $50 (or less) that I would receive as compensation? The police sided with me, and wanted to help reach an amicable agreement, or we'd all go to court in a month-- incurring lawyer fees, fines, and more. I reached a moment of clarity where I really feel God was prompting me to do what I did. So I tried as hard as I could to get everyone to quiet down in order to speak and address everyone.
Here's more or less what I said: I've lived here for almost three years. We live in this neighborhood. I work just around the corner at El Refugio. I got the police involved because I am not the judge, and we needed a chance for both parties to present our stories and let the law act as the judge. In my opinion, I wasn't at fault. I was simply trying to bring my family home from church. And perhaps you should be willing to admit that some of this, or all of this was, in fact, your fault. Regardless of that, here is my decision. I am a Christian. Today I am choosing to extend grace to you. I am not going to make you pay for the damages to this car. We will cover the cost of the repairs, though this doesn't seem just to me. For me, it's not worth making enemies. You are my neighbors. I want to live in peace with you and maintain a good reputation...
At which point, the now 40 individuals gathered essentially cut me off, began embracing each other, me, shaking my hand, cheering, etc. He didn't deserve that grace. In fact, when he had to present his car registration and papers to the police, his car wasn't even insured, up-to-date, or in legal standings. They threatened to take him to the police station and lock him up several times.
Christ is love. He forgives us and extends us grace when we certainly don't deserve it. There was a whole lot involved in this terribly ugly afternoon-- and perhaps some of you reading this will think that I made the wrong decision. And perhaps I did. But Christ came to earth and extended his love to us. And sometimes choosing the loving response, even if undeserved, is best.
I am going to pursue relationships with the individuals that were involved in this incident. I know that God was involved in all of this. And though part of me wishes it simply hadn't happened, I know that God is in the midst of all of this and that He will redeem the situation to draw people to him.
So, maybe we'll never shake the reputation of being the 'missionaries with all of the car problems.' But if people can receive the love of Christ and come into a relationship with Him through events like this, a less-than-ideal reputation is something I can deal with.