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TO CATCH A THIEF

One day we came to work at the church and found that we had been robbed. Our sound system had been heisted; tape decks, mixer board, microphones, amps and cords. We were a week away from putting a security system into our building. We missed it by that much.

We immediately called the police who came out to examine the damage, take prints, ask questions and inform us that the chance of us recovering our sound equipment was ‘slim to none’. They said that there was a rash of daytime residence robberies in our area but ours didn’t look like the work of the same perpetrator because it was done at night and at a church, not a home. But they had no leads of anyone doing robberies like ours.

I thought…thanks for the encouragement.

The good news was we were covered by insurance and we replaced every stolen item within a week.

One morning about a month later, my assistant (Jim), who also handled our church finances, came into my office and asked if I had been making any long distant calls to Missouri. He showed me the phone bill and there were five calls to Kansas City and two of them were lengthy and costly.

I assured him that I hadn’t and he went back to his office.

A few minutes later he came back in and said, “I just did a back-check on the dates of these calls and the last one happened the night I chased someone out of the church kitchen. That was two nights before the church was broken into. I wonder if the break in to our church had anything to do with the phone calls this person was making from our church?”

Press the rewind button. Two nights before the break in, a Monday, Jim came into the office to do some work. When he sat down behind his desk he noticed that the light was lit on his phone indicating that the receiver was off the hook in the kitchen. So he went back to the kitchen to replace it. As he drew closer to the kitchen he heard a male voice talking, at which time he slowed his approach to a more cautious gate.

Jim carefully opened a door into the area where the kitchen was and called out into the darkness, “Hello. Is there anyone back here?”

At that announcement, a young man burst from the kitchen on a beeline for the back double doors of the church, through which he crashed and did not stop running. Jim quickly made his way to a window and with the help of our parking lot lights, watched the perpetrator run the 100 yard length of our lot at an award winning speed, turn the corner and disappear out of sight.

The next day Jim had told me about the intruder, but after the break in, we had never put the two incidents together.

Press the forward button back to the phone bill discovery.

Jim asked, “Should we tell the police about the phone bill? I wonder if the guy who used our phone that night was the same guy who stole our sound equipment. Maybe he was casing out the church and when he was caught using our phone, he figured he had better take our stuff before we secure the place.”

I said, “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t I call the number on our phone bill first? I’d like to see personally if there might be any connection.”

So I did. Sure enough, one of the numbers was that of a young man’s mother who lived in Kansas City, MO, and the other his grandmother. The young man had moved to Southern California and was calling his relatives on our church’s dime.

I gave the phone bill and the young man’s name to the police. They tracked the person down by identifying the color and make of his vehicle from his California driver’s license and put out a bulletin to police in the area. They stopped him when his vehicle was spotted and placed him under arrest.

As it turned out, he wasn’t only the person who had stolen our sound equipment. He was also the one who had broken into dozens of homes in our area during daylight hours and had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of valuables from residents around our church and town. It was the key clue to solving a major crime spree in our city. Before the discovery with our phone bill, the police had no idea who was responsible for the dozens of robberies that had taken place in our area.

I wish I’d been given a chance to talk to the young man about Christ. That would have been an awesome miracle. But I wasn’t afforded that opportunity. I was asked to testify in court about the incident; but there was no contact with him permitted beyond that.

The miracle of this event was God’s care and protection of His people and church. I did have a chance to pray over the phone with the mother of our robber for her son. Who knows what God might have done in her life from that prayer? We received all the equipment back which we gave to another ministry in need of those items and emerged with a better sound system than we had before. But the sense of faith and assurance in God and His faithfulness that we took away from the whole experience was worth it all.

“Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”  — Psalm 91:9-11

I would love to hear from you! Email me: chris@chrisschimel.com or Facebook.

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