“And if anyone takes what belongs to you …”

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From Jonathan Storment: The author of this blog is a missionary in North Africa with Pioneer Bible Translators. She, along with her husband and three little girls, lives on the outskirts of a refugee camp in a very politically unstable part of the world. There they are working to facilitate disciple-making, Bible translation and mother tongue literacy among two least-reached Muslim groups.

Despite the occasional craziness, they really love what God has called them to do.

So this past Christmas was a rough one. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but on Christmas Day fighting broke out in our area (and when I say “our area” I mean soldiers shooting at each other from our fence line) and we spent a couple of days on the floor before things were quiet enough for some brave bush pilots to fly in and evacuate our family safely to East Africa.

I distinctly remember a time shortly after we arrived in Uganda when Bryan and I were haunting the aisles of a big supermarket in a fog, feeling paralyzed by what cereal to buy while we talked about the implications of what we had just gone through. I remember being rather matter of fact in that moment as I said something like “This will all still be okay as long as we don’t get looted.”

Two hours later we got the call saying we had lost just about everything.

Flash forward to four months later: I am writing this here in Uganda while Bryan is in North Africa on his second trip back. Yesterday he called me and told me how he and some local friends had gone to the market for lunch and had sat down in the small mud and tarp restaurant for a bite to eat. And just like every “restaurant” does in this part of the world, a woman came out and set down a pitcher of water and some plastic cups on the table in front of them.

Only these weren’t just any plastic cups. They were ours. They were these tacky lenticular knock-off Disney Princess cups that I had found in some random shop run by a friendly Darfuri man a couple years ago and had given them to my two year old as a potty-training reward. Costly and sentimental? Not really. Belonging to us? Most assuredly.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 1.26.11 PMAfter months of coming to terms with the losses of having our homes looted, I was suddenly filled with indignation. “Did you demand to get them back?” I breathed hotly into the phone. But Bryan said no, not really. He had casually asked the woman where she had got the cups, and when she had awkwardly mumbled about them being hers, he simply told her that they had once belonged to his family and left it at that.

I went to bed last night mad. The dumb Disney cups reminded me that almost everything we once owned in South Sudan is now scattered to the wind (with the exception of the solar fridge that was too big to quickly get out the busted down back door and a trunk of stuffed animals we hid in the ceiling boards). And while it’s easy to say things like “Well, I am sure it all ended up in the hands of people who needed it more than we did,” – when confronted with the reality that someone else is using your stolen stuff, whether or not they need it quickly becomes emotionally obsolete.

However, at some point last night, through the haze of my feelings of frustration and general crapiness, the blessed words of Jesus came unwelcomingly to mind. “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:30) I’m embarrassed to say that after 24 years as a Jesus-follower, this may be the first time I have sincerely gut-wrestled with those words.

It’s easy enough to explain them away, isn’t it? Because of course Jesus wouldn’t want us to be irresponsible in our generosity. And he certainly wouldn’t want us to just get taken advantage of like idiots. Of course, he wants us to be kind and charitable to the deserving. But he doesn’t want us to be crazy people. Right…?

Except that’s not what he says. He doesn’t nuance it or give explanatory caveats. He just says do it. And it’s in the context of lots of other absurdly over simplified statements like “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you.” Ridiculous. But pretty straight-forward.

After years of awkwardly brushing over those words or toning them down just a bit (“because I mean seriously, if you gave to every single person that showed up at the gate, then what would happen?”) I was shocked to find that in the face of being literally confronted with people taking my stuff away, taking Jesus’ words at face value was incredibly and overwhelmingly freeing. Instead of obsessing over what in the world I’m supposed to do in this situation, choosing to believe what Jesus said – exactly as he said it – changes those words from vaguely uncomfortable to deeply comforting.

Because of course, it’s not about the tacky cups. It’s not about the solar panels or all the furniture and kitchen supplies or my grandmother’s quilt either. And in this situation, it’s not even about the people who took the stuff, their intentions or needs or experiences. It’s about my heart. And while Jesus meant those words literally, I don’t think he meant it because he’s primarily concerned about how much stuff I have or how much stuff someone else may or may not have. He said it because he cares about my heart. And as long as my heart is wrapped up with my stuff, with trying to preserve and protect and keep and find and save my stuff, I am missing out on things so much bigger.

It’s absolutely insane that at the end of the day, my family can lose everything in North Africa, and yet still be sitting in a “back-up” home in Uganda with more than enough eat, wear, play with and read. I don’t know if that is a sign of God’s great faithfulness to my family or a sign that I still haven’t learned this lesson yet. But I am working on it. And I am both thrilled and terrified of continuing to discover what freedoms lie in the hard, hard teachings of Jesus.

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