Thursday, August 4

Dis-armed Robbery

*I emerge from the vast nothingness of writing no man's land to bring you this piece written by my husband many moons ago. It's a story worth telling - long but miraculous, literally. Enjoy.
If it weren’t for Divine intervention there would be an article in a newspaper somewhere describing my death in an armed robbery on December 18, 1998.  Fortunately, I am still here to record the details of this story because of God’s powerful presence among His people.  In early December of 1998, I left for Africa to do some volunteer Missionary work with my brother and his family in Guinea, West Africa.  My brother’s name is Ken, he and my sister-in-law Britt have two daughters named Kyra & Megan.  Britt had just delivered Megan in early November, Kyra was 2.  Having experienced complications when Kyra was born and the fact that there weren’t any real high-quality hospitals in Guinea, the family had traveled to Abidjan, the capital city of Ivory Coast to have their second daughter.  I flew into Abidjan to meet them and travel the 2-day journey by vehicle back to their home in Guinea.
When we arrived at the border between Ivory Coast and Guinea near the town of Man, Ivory Coast, we found it to be closed due to elections in Guinea.  We found a cabin nearby and waited for the border to reopen.  We found ourselves waiting for about two weeks.  In that 2 week period we were getting a little bored, and began looking for things to do.  We heard about a waterfall that was a tourist attraction nearby.  We made plans to stop there on our way into town to check e-mail that coming Friday.
The day that would forever be etched in our memories actually began early.  Around 4 a.m. I was awakened out of a deep sleep.  It was one of those instantly wide awake situations with no possibility of dozing back off any time soon.  This is not a common occurrence for me, so I thought God might be trying to get my attention.  I prayed for a while, and then felt led to get up and do some reading and meditating.  I came out to the kitchen of our cabin and began reading the book that Chuck Swindoll wrote called “David: A Man of Passion and Destiny”; I was reading chapter nine, about a conflict between David and Nabal.  If you need a refresher (I never remembered hearing that story before!) read I Samuel 25.  The main point of the story was that David became enraged at Nabal, and justly so, but took his men to exact revenge on Him.  He planned on killing Nabal and every male in his household.  Nabal’s wife, Abigail, heard what was happening and went out to meet David and his men with gifts and to talk some sense into him.  She said “My husband is a fool, but don’t take your own revenge, don’t kill anyone, you will regret it for the rest of your life.  Let God deal out the revenge.”  David listened to her wisdom and turned back.  I read the chapter and reread the story in the Bible and processed it for just over an hour.  I finally got tired again and went back to bed.  I had no idea at that time that the story had a specific purpose and God had directed me to do it for a specific reason.
Later that morning everyone woke up and had breakfast as usual.  Jeff and Laura Wilhoit, another missionary couple waiting for the border to open, joined us for the day, making seven of us, including my two nieces.  We gathered our computers and other necessary things together for the trip to town and headed for the waterfall.  The road to the attraction was dirt and ran about half way up and along the side of a very large hill. (People from Indiana would call it a mountain)  We came to a huge set of cement stairs leading down the hill to the waterfall.  There were a few men there who served as tour guides – for a small fee – to show us down the stairs.  We went down and saw the waterfall, which was nice, but not really that impressive since it was dry season. Dry season lasts about six months and there isn’t one drop of rain the entire time, so the rivers are quite low.  All that said, it was nice to get out.
We then headed back up the massive cement staircase to continue on with our plans for the day.  As my brother, with 2 month old Megan in a seat strapped to his chest, unlocked the door to the vehicle, we heard a noise in the jungle on the hill above us.  This is not uncommon so we all looked to see if it might be a pack of monkeys passing by.  Instead of monkeys, a man dressed in army fatigues with an AK-47 came out of the bush.  This also is not that uncommon because soldiers go out hunting and what not, so we were still more interested than alarmed.  As we all looked at him, he proceeded to rack a shell into the gun and fire it into the air and all the tour guides took off running.  We may not all be super intelligent, but we figured out immediately that the situation had just become unfavorable.  
We all instinctively ran behind the vehicle to use it as protection.  He didn’t like this move and began to tell us as much.  The problem for me was that he spoke in French.  I had tried quite unsuccessfully to learn French before my trip, so I was in the dark as to what he said during the entire incident.  He ran to the vehicle and began shouting and waving his machine gun around attempting to get us to come out from behind the vehicle.  I was standing at the very back and realized that he had gotten around to where my nieces were and was waving the gun right in their faces.  Without a lot of logical analysis, I determined that behavior to be dangerous and thought I should probably distract him away from them.  The only thing that came to me on the spur of the moment was walking out into the middle of the road.  So out I walked and the distraction tactic was quite effective!
I now found myself unarmed and squared off, at about twenty paces, with a man carrying a loaded AK-47 and yelling at me in a language that I didn’t understand.  I referred back to my vast experience in negotiation – which amounted to a couple movies I have seen.  I began speaking in a calm voice, motioning with my hands for him to calm down, looking intently at him to see if I could pick up any body language or sign as to what he was instructing me to do, and moving slowly towards him (I have no idea why).  He followed suit and moved toward me yelling louder with each step.  We came to a stale-mate at about 3 feet.  He was screaming at me and I still had no idea what he was saying (much of which I found out later was “stop looking at me”).  At this point I was hit with a realization, every adult there, except me, knew French.  I looked back at my brother to solicit a translation for what the man was telling me to do, but before he could get a word out, his eyes got as big as saucers.  I took this to mean that something bad was happening on the road in front of me.  I immediately changed my attention from my brother back to the armed robber, just in time to see him aiming the gun at my chest.  The next thing I heard was the report of the gun as he pulled the trigger.
In moments like these, time tends to go into slow motion.  I remember my ears ringing from the shot, I remember feeling the impact of the wind from the shot on my chest, and I remember thinking something to the tune of “Oh Crap!”  The next thing I did kind of baffles me still – I looked down at my chest.  I really didn’t want to see the bullet hole in my flesh, and yet that was my first reaction.  To my surprise there was no hole – no bullet had hit me.  I was left in a state of shock and turned slowly away from him, heading back to where everyone else was standing wide-eyed like they were looking at a Ghost.  I did not have a chance to see what kind of reaction the gunman had when I didn’t die. (In Africa they have dark spiritual explanations for this kind of thing, so it wouldn’t have necessarily baffled him like it would a Westerner)
The man then had us all lay face down on the road behind the vehicle.  He proceeded down the line asking each of us to empty our pockets of whatever money we had.  Someone forgot to tell him in his scheming that missionaries don’t typically have a lot of money, so he got more frustrated with each person down the line.  As fate would have it, I was last in line.  Having started off on the wrong foot in our relationship so far, I thought I would be very cooperative this time.  Having no money on my person, I thought I would quickly show him my current financial status.  I assumed the international sign for “I’m broke” is to pull your pockets inside out.  I got up on my knees and did this and I think it was quite clever – but I made the unknown mistake of looking intently at him again to see if he understood my international sign language.  I still wasn’t aware that he didn’t enjoy my gaze, but he didn’t seem to be stricken with compassion over that fact.  This time he didn’t try to shoot me.  He tossed his gun into his left hand and swung at my face with his open right hand.  I ducked and the blow landed in the middle of my back, leaving me with a bruise in the shape of his hand that stuck with me for a good week.
Now at this moment my feelings of fear and shock began to undergo a metamorphosis.  I was suddenly introduced to my initial experience with rage.  I began thinking “you can’t do this to us”.  At the moment he hit me I actually remember thinking “I can take this guy, right now; his gun is in his weak hand”.  Logic prevailed, though, with my recognition that if I failed, he may take it out on all of us.  I stayed where I was, but with a new found emotion that wanted revenge – as immediately as possible.
About this time, he seemed to want to make his getaway.  So he had us all stand up and herded us back toward the staircase.  He motioned for us to go down.  I still don’t understand his next move, but he ran up behind my sister-in-law, who was carrying Kyra, her 2-year old, and was last in line.  The gunman stuck the barrel of the gun within a foot of her back and pulled the trigger.  My niece started screaming because of the noise of the gunshot in her ear, Britt felt the air from the shot on her back, but once again, no bullet hit.
We all proceeded about half way down the stairs and then huddled up to discuss the situation.  We all, in our great faith, determined that the only explanation for bullets that don’t hit had to be blanks.  With this realization, I was instructed to go back up and get him. (I think I won the election because I was the only single person)  I headed up the stairs and he wasn’t gone yet.  He was rummaging around in the vehicle looking for more things to steal.  Once he saw me he came running towards me yelling and waving his gun.  My bravery failed its initial test – I turned and ran back down the steps to the group.  I reported my findings and we waited.  
Things got very quiet up around the vehicle, so my election survived the recount and I went back up to check things out.  As I got to the road this time I saw him and another man, who had mysteriously joined him, rounding a curve down the road on foot carrying all our stuff.  I shouted down to Ken and Jeff that he was getting away.  They ran up and the three of us jumped in the truck and took off after them.  My brother was driving (with Megan unfortunately still strapped on his chest), and as we came around the curve we met them.  Ken drove straight for them, intending I think to run them down. (This had my vote at that moment!)  The man dropped our things, pulled his gun off his back, and aimed it at my brother through the windshield.  Ken slammed on the brakes, as any rational human being would have done at that moment, and we found ourselves in another standoff at about twenty yards.  The man didn’t waste much time in pulling the trigger.  To our amazement, nothing hit the entire vehicle, let alone the windshield and my brother.
At this point I was completely convinced he was shooting blanks and voiced my opinion.  Ken jammed the truck back into gear and renewed his efforts to run them over.  The man ran to the side of the road and jumped down the hillside about 10 feet or so.  The truck came to a sliding halt and I jumped out and headed for where I had seen the man disappear.  My rage had now reached its full extent and I was truly seeking vengeance.  I ran full speed up to the edge of the road and jumped towards the man.  With the momentum of my run and dropping down the hill 10 or 12 feet, I added my best impression of a WWF drop kick with both feet to his chest.  It was quite a collision!  He went sprawling, the gun went flying, and I hit the ground forced then to consider my next move.  He was a little dazed from our latest encounter and it afforded me the time to get him in a head lock.
I thought the situation was over because at the sign of any trouble, I could always squeeze harder.  We were on a steep angle on the side of the hill, and he must have understood physics better than me because he began pushing his behind into the air and raising our center of gravity.  Suddenly I realized I couldn’t stop us from commencing into an uncontrolled tumble down the hill.  The two of us then had a chance to begin getting to know one another up close and personal.  We struggled to fight one another while tumbling downhill; hitting trees, vines and other things common to the jungle.
At one point in our descent we came to a pause.  He was upright and trying to run down the hill and I was lying on my back with my head downhill, holding on to one of his shirttails trying not to let him run away.  The tension was resolved with the ripping of his shirt.  He sprinted away downhill.  I sat up and thought “OK, it’s over.  He’s headed away from us”.  That is when I saw a pair of our binoculars around his neck swing out from his body as he ran.  My rage was mixed with a level of adrenaline I had never known possible.  My flesh screamed within me, “You can’t have anything of ours!”  So I took off after him again.  This time I was able to apply a simple football tackle from behind him and pin him to the ground.  As I began to take the binoculars off his neck my rage found its full force.  In my flesh, I truly wanted him dead.  I wrapped the binocular strap around my wrist, put my knee in the back of his neck, and began to choke the man, pulling with all the strength I could muster.  After some time (indiscernible to me) I felt his body go limp and the rage did not relent.  The next thing that happened is hard to describe in physical terms.  As I assisted in the expiration of the breath of life in him, an invisible force brought me back to my senses like a good physical slap across the face might have done.  I realized with sudden awareness what I was in the process of doing and stopped immediately.  I took the binocular strap off his throat with a shudder at my own violent potential.
Now, you can interpret this how you choose, but I believe an all-knowing God was aware that I needed to be awakened at four o’clock that morning to spend about an hour studying a lesson from King David’s life about the tragedy of taking someone’s life in retribution.  I believe this was the very thing that stayed my hand and allowed me to snap out of my rage a mere six hours later.  I will forever be grateful for that divine slap that has saved me from the regret which would have haunted me for the remainder of my days.
I headed back up the hill with the binoculars.  My adrenaline rush had left me in a stupor much like superman around kryptonite.  I had very little energy in me so the progress up the steep hill was slow.  About half way up I heard a noise and turned to see the man staggering off in the other direction, so I knew he had lived through the ordeal.  Near the top of the hill my path happened to bring me to where the gun had landed after our collision.  I picked it up and carried it with me back to where my brother and Jeff were waiting with all of our things they had gathered up while I was distracted.  I knew that blanks in a gun can still be dangerous, so I took the clip out of the gun for safety and was shocked when I looked down to see live rounds.  I ejected the round left in the chamber and it also was a live round.  With my mouth open in shock, I turned and revealed this newfound truth to my brother as we contemplated in awe that if it were not for the intervention of an all-powerful God, he, my sister-in-law and I would no longer be alive.  1 John 4:4 “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” has new depth of meaning now that I have personally seen a showdown!
The Police force in this area of Africa is not what would be assumed in America, but we thought it would be a good idea to go report what happened and turn the newly acquired AK-47 in to some kind of authority.  A machine gun is not commonly accepted on the tools of the trade list for missionaries.  It afforded a good and immediate opportunity to testify to what the Lord had just done.  As we described the ordeal, the first question they asked me (through a translator) was “Why did you go after him?”  It’s a good question and one I probably would have asked.  Common sense says “Let the bad guy go and be thankful for your lives”.  Well, I attempted, through the translator, to explain the logic in my assumption that he was firing blanks.  This answer didn’t compute because the translator didn’t know what a blank was.  We had one of the missionaries who was very good in French attempt to explain it.  He was actually drawing out a picture of one when a captain walked through and said he knew what that was because he had used blanks on a training trip in a different country.  He explained to us that the other men wouldn’t know what they were because they had no blanks in the entire country!  There was no way the robber could have had any blanks in his possession.
During the course of the event our God made 6 bullets disappear into thin air.  He protected me and gave me strength as I fought the attacker. The fact that not one of the seven of us was injured, or killed, in an armed robbery where the criminal was not afraid to shoot, is an amazing account of an all-powerful God!!  God intervened in a way that has increased all our faith and given us cause to testify to the mighty power of our Awesome God!!!
I must say, though, that looking back on the situation I only wish I had done one thing differently.  I wish I would have brought the guy back up the hill and taken him to the police.  Who knows, though, that very easily could have meant the death sentence for him in the primitive justice system that exists in Africa, and God may have a plan to introduce himself to this man before his time on earth is up!  We can pray to that end!
In the aftermath God demonstrated that He is so concerned about even the little details of our lives that He went beyond just miraculously saving us; He ministered to us on the way home!  When we got into the vehicle on the way back to the Cabin Ken popped in the tape that was in the radio.  The first song that came on was truly a gift from God.  It is on the Hillsongs album “All things are possible” and the song is called “So Close”.  Here are the lyrics:
I’m so secure, You’re here with me.
You stay the same,
Your love remains here in my heart


(Chorus)
So close, I believe You’re holding me now
In Your hands, I belong, You’ll never let me go.


You gave Your life.
In Your endless love You set me free
And show the way and now I am found


All along You were beside me,
Even when I couldn’t tell.
Through the years You show me more of You.

The things I went through in the days after the event and how God continued to use the ordeal in my life are a different story altogether.  I hope this blessed you and brought all the glory to God alone!

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