We stood at the gate fumbling for our keys. The secure community where we stayed in Harare was home for the next month while we volunteered with children there. It was a hot sticky January day. Attracted by a sudden noise, we turned to see a small white bakkie had pulled up, music blaring, loaded with several many young men in the front and in the back. I remember that the wee truck looked weighted down with its heavy load of passengers. Only one fellow jumped out and approached us. The chatter and noise from the truck ceased while all eyes fell on us. The motor was kept running.
The man was very sweaty with perspiration trickling a trail down his skin from his forehead to his cheeks on either side of his face. He didn’t smell very good either. If he hadn’t just jumped from a vehicle you’d have thought he’d been running. He approached us at a normal pace holding what looked like some sort of calculator in his hand. He held up the item to us and pointed to it mumbling something. I commented to my pal that I didn’t understand because the language sounded like mumbo jumbo. We looked at each other bewildered. I had thought when he approached us that perhaps they may have been looking for directions.
Quick as a wink, taking advantage of our confusion, he had grabbed both our handbags, one in each of his hands, and suddenly pulled downwards with a mighty hank! My friend’s broke free of its shoulder strap even though she had the strap over her neck too. Mine did not. I had instinctively held onto mine. He ran back to the truck, jumped into the back with one graceful swoop like a pronking giselle, and in what seemed like an instant, they disappeared down the road and around the next corner! My companion and I looked at each other utterly stunned, mouths agape with incredulity.
The next several days led to two very different reactions. My friend was totally discouraged, so much so that she wished she had never come to Africa she said. She hadn’t been sure in the first place so why had she come at all, she tearfully declared. Not only did she have a long red welt on her neck, she also had been relieved of her credit cards and other goods in her bag although thankfully not her passport. In a flurry of calls home she cancelled her cards and spoke to her husband about going home as quickly as possible. This incident had entirely thrown her off kilter and she simply wanted to leave Africa for good, never to return, she stated.
My reaction was totally different. I had not lost my purse and I am sure that indeed that did play into my response somewhat in all fairness to her. However, when she had said that she had not been sure why she had ever come in the first place, I could not at all relate. Going to Africa had been a lifelong dream and I’m not really sure if anything could have happened to me there that would have put me off. My view was that nothing would thwart this pilgrimage because to me that was exactly what this trip was, a personal pilgrimage finally fulfilling a calling after 52 years!
Over the years I have thought about this event many times. I have wondered why we had such opposing responses, she and I. Afterwards all she wanted to do was go home. Desperately marking the days until she could fly back, she lost all interest in going out anywhere at all, even to our volunteer work placement for a few days. I wanted, however, to carry on with all our plans including going to Victoria Falls, to see, and feel and hear all we could of this Dark Continent, my heart-home, and its people and places. I was still overjoyed to be there. She, in stark contrast, was miserable. Although I tried to be kind, comforting and understanding she would not accept it at all. She remained sullen and unhappy for the whole rest of our time there. Others tried too but nothing could lift her from her gloom. It was hard to be around her. Very soon I went my own way because I didn’t want her despairing mood to dampen my joy.
It took me a long time to reconcile my own feelings about this incident and understand her response. This happened many years ago so I’ve had lots of time to think about it. I never knew her before Zimbabwe and I never saw or heard from her again. Yet, I did ponder it over and over wondering if I had been as kind to her as I should have been and why we reacted so differently. I finally saw something huge and then I understood.
She had been unsure about going to Africa in the first place. I had never been more certain of anything in my life. She had been taken unaware. This was an assault, an assault on her person and it left her both physically and mentally marked. I had instinctively held onto my bag-why? I should have seen the reason earlier but I finally realized that it was because I was prepared.
The majority of my working life had been with people who could become, quite suddenly, very aggressive. In fact, we all wore crisis alarms. As the team leader, when an outburst occurred it was my job to ensure everyone’s safety and that the client’s subsequent treatment was done according to rules and regulations. To this end, I took countless physical safety training courses each year. Although I myself was never seriously injured, I had often been kicked, my hair pulled, spat upon and had wrenched my leg. Each shift was worked with a sense of preparedness, preparedness for anything anytime. That’s why my hand instinctively went to my bag when we were mugged.
We must be prepared for any and all situations that the enemy throws at us, anything that might suddenly and violently throw us off kilter. Our only defense is to be ready. When we are prepared we are firm, stable and well established.
“By faith, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, Noah prepared an ark…” Noah built the ark before the rains came. He was prepared. Hebrews 11:7
In Genesis 41:46 we learn that from age 30 Joseph prepared Israel for the soon coming famine.
In Proverbs 30:24-28, we are told of the wisdom of even ants who wisely store up food. In Chapter 22, “A prudent person foresees (possible) danger and takes precautions.”
But perhaps the most poignant validation for being prepared is found in Ephesians 6:13. The Armor of God is provided to us so that we will never be knocked off kilter by anything if we practice “putting it on” every single day. We will then be prepared for anything that may come at any time....but preparedness must be consistently worked on. It doesn't just happen with out continued effort and input.
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand….”
As seniors we are well aware of just how unpredictable life can be. We have no doubt seen how it can change in an instant, sometimes just for a season, but sometimes permanently. Yet if we live daily in this state of preparedness fully and continually armored up, nothing will throw us off kilter. We will remain standing and strong!