Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Encounter with the Law

This weekend Daniel, Madeline, and I traveled with my cousins to visit my sister in Georgia. It was about 9 pm on Friday night as we drove down the two-lane highway an hour from Atlanta in the Honda CRV we had borrowed from my parents for the weekend. Then the flashing blue lights appeared behind us. I was sitting behind our driver Daniel, and I quietly patted his arm to reassure him – “It’s OK. Don’t worry.”

We pulled into a nearby gas station, and to our surprise the police office informed us, not that we were speeding, but that the light illuminating our license plate had burned out. She asked for driver’s license, insurance, etc. We waited and waited, and finally she returned with the unexpected news – our license plate did not match the vehicle that we were in. It belonged to a Ford. She questioned us suspiciously, said something about “willful concealment,” shined her flashlight all around to car to get a good look at us all, and asked us to wait, taking the car’s registration with her this time. Soon another set of flashing blue lights were parked beside her. She had called for back up. I have often passed cars on the side of the road with two or three police cars behind them and thought, “Ooooh! Whatever they did, it must have been bad! They are in big trouble….” Well on Friday night, that car was us.

We waited another ten long minutes before the police officer finally returned. We expected that we would be asked to get out of the vehicle so that they could search it for drugs or whatever it was it looked like we were up to. Madeline had finally fallen asleep only minutes before, and I was NOT happy about the prospect of waking her up. To our relief, she walked up to the car, returned our documents, and meekly informed us: there had been a mistake, everything was fine, and we were free to go. “Have a good evening, sir.”

So we happily drove away, already laughing about what a good story this experience would make

Later as I reflected on what had happened, it occurred to me that I never felt any fear. At the time I expected that the situation might have turned out to be a major inconvenience, but I knew that we had done nothing wrong. Eventually the police would figure that out, and everything would be OK. I take for granted that we live in a country that has a justice system that presumes that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. Not for a moment did I fear that I would be unfairly arrested, beaten, or even tortured when I had committed no crime.

I recently read Gary Haugen’s book, Terrify No More. In it he shares numerous stories from around the world of the International Justice Mission’s work to free slaves, rescue minors trapped in the sex trade in eastern Asia, and speak on behalf of people who have been unjustly arrested and mistreated by the authorities of their countries.

One such story was about a man named David, living in Nairobe, Kenya. David was a Christian who also owned and operated a video store. One afternoon a policeman barged into his store, grabbed him, and said, “You are one of them too!”, throwing David in the back of his truck with two other men. They demanded money from David, and he gave them all he had. Later at the station, they let David go. But as he walked away, one of the officers shot David in the arm and side. He managed to make it to a hospital, but five minutes later the police officers entered the hospital and demanded that the hospital staff withhold treatment from David. They courageously ignored them, and his arm had to be amputated. The police chained him to his hospital bed and took him to prison as soon as he was released. They charged him with an armed robbery, but David was clearly innocent. The victim stated that he had reported the robbery to the police after the time that David had been shot.

IJM lawyers heard of David’s situation and pursued justice for David. They were victorious, and David was soon released.

God used this experience to make me think about what it would be like if I lived in a different country. What if we had been taken to jail and not released for days because of the issue with our license plate? What if they took Madeline away from me, and I didn’t even know where she was? What if there was no on who could speak on my behalf to assure that I was set free?

The sad and sometimes unbelievable truth is that millions of people in the world today live with that reality. It's easy for us in America to forget that all do not enjoy the same freedom that we do.

“Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, please the case of the widow.” - Isaiah 1:17

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” - Proverbs 31:8

1 comment:

Susan said...

this reminds me so much of something that happened to a friend of mine in zambia. he was wrongfully arrested and left to sit in a tiny holding cell with other prisoners for 4 days. when i finally got in touch with him i was so upset about what happened but he assured me it was ok and that he was able to use the time to share the gospel with the other inmates. all i could do was weep as i listened to him share. it made me really question myself and if i could do the same thing in that position. just so humbling.