Being part of a two-week mission trip to Heredia, Costa Rica ... and was preaching and leading worship services at night. At the weekend break between the two weeks, I decided to stay behind and not go with the team into town, and instead focused on the sermons for the coming week. There was a beautiful large tree near the dining hall … Waved goodbye to the bus load of students and adult sponsors and my brother, and headed back to our cabana for Bible and pen and paper.
As I walked into our little cabin, I heard noises coming from our bedrooms and I announced myself to who I thought were camp workers fixing our shower that had broken a couple of days before, when out of one of our rooms burst a young man with a .38 revolver and he pointed it to my forehead and shouted at me in Spanish to lay down on the floor. I had a feeling that getting on the floor was not a good idea, so I sat on the sofa and said with serious tones, “Soy del pastor, soy del pastor” (I am a pastor). He lowered the gun from my head, breathed in a heavy sigh, and tapped my chin with the gun, to raise my head so he could look at me. As I raised my head, and our eyes met, he smiled at me, and we connected in a strange way, a way that I knew he was not a harmful person. At that moment, another young man, very short and angry, jumped into the room screaming at the top of his lungs, “Plata! Plata! Plata! Donde esta la Plata!” I am confident that in moments of high stress, your brain does not function well in another language and I reasonably translated Plata, as plates. When I figured out what they wanted in my mind, I was thrilled to help these gentlemen. So, I raised my hand to speak, as if I was in a level one class on criminal behavior and I needed to interrupt the teacher with the answer. So, I told them I knew where the plata was (just in the kitchen behind me) and I convinced the one young man with whom I had made a connection and who still had the gun, to allow me to get up and proceed with caution, my arms raised in submission, into the kitchen to retrieve the plates. When I came around the corner with a stack of plastic plates, the young man with the gun tried desperately to keep himself from laughing, and the more he tried not to laugh, the sillier it became, and the funnier it tickled him. I was so pleased with myself that I put my arm on the shoulder of the young man with the gun, and was now laughing hysterically, and handed the plates to the other person who was not very happy at all. He threw the plates on the floor and with a terribly patronizing tone and poor attitude he said, “Plata, plata es dinero, dolares, stupido,” which roughly translated means plata is slang for money, and is translated as silver, and I was simply an idiot.
Unfortunately, my joy turned to fear, and I sat on the sofa with my head in my hands. They returned to our rooms and took what they wanted. As they left through the back bedroom, breaking out a window and into the yard, I turned to see where they were going. The young man without a sense of humor grabbed the revolver, pointed it at me, and the other kinder young man reached for his arm and pushed the gun down as he fired. The bullet ricocheted off the door handle and went into the floor between my feet. I remember it being very quiet for what felt like a long time. Then I ran through the front door yelling for the camp custodians, who came running with machetes to my rescue, and as we were all running and hollering I kept thinking of that strange connection with the thief, the smile and laughter we shared, the touch, and I had to stop for a moment beneath the tree near the dining hall, and I laughed until I cried until I laughed again. And I said a prayer of thanksgiving, and then I called my wife. Funniest part of all is what they took. They stole all of my underwear and all of the other men’s underwear from their suitcases. I almost lost my life over my underwear?! Several hours later, as I was telling the story with passion and intensity, my brother leaned over to me and said with a deep Mexican accent, “Senor, did you know that these men were the notorious Banditos de la Fruita de Looma?”
It was good to laugh that day in spite of the violent actions and stress. It helped relive the uncertainty and put the moment in perspective, especially with the thief who smiled. These instances also put your whole life in perspective asking critical questions like, what is most important in life?
Who will you encourage to smile and risk connecting with this week? Inspire someone to smile, and you inspire the world!
Meggert, Sandra S. Creative Humor at Work: Living the Humor Perspective, University Press of America, 2009; pg. 11-12.