A few weeks ago Carrie and I–along with our kids–went down to Ischia, an island just off the coast of Naples, Italy. We went for a retreat with our staff team to mark the end of the ministry year and the departure of some of our team members. We were looking forward to the beauty of the Mediterranean and some good hang time with our friends and co-laborers. We had a pleasant train ride from Florence, through Rome, and on to Naples. We grabbed some McDonald’s in the Naples train station–then departed for a bus to the port to catch a ferry to Ischia. And that’s when our troubles began.
The number 1 bus is notorious for pickpockets–for that matter Naples is notorious for thieves of all kinds (and as of late–it is also famous for all of it’s trash). The con is common–several men will get on the bus at once and begin to block you when you attempt to step off the bus. Their purpose is to cause a distraction so that some of their cohorts can work behind you to steal whatever they can. The point is actually to make a lot of noise and make you as irritated as possible so that you forget about what they are really doing.
The bus was crowded–Carrie and I were separated by several people as we each tried to keep an eye on the kids and other team members. As we prepared to get off the bus at our stop–it happened–to Carrie. They blocked me so that I could not get to her and I could not get off. I felt really helpless–and really angry. I yelled at the men blocking me and threatened them if they didn’t get out of my way–I even raised my suitcase to hit one of them if they didn’t comply. The rest of the team and our kids had made their way off the bus–only Carrie and I were left on board. By the time we finally got off it was too late–they had sliced Carrie’s purse with a knife and unzipped it to grab her billfold.
Of course by the time we knew what had happened the bus was gone–along with all of the contents of her wallet. I was spitting mad–Naples was my least favorite city in the world at that moment. To this hour it is not one of my favorite places–it’s dirty and largely unfriendly. And the good citizens of Naples, while knowing all along what is going on and even warning you about the hazards, do absolutely nothing about this blight that leaves a scar on their tourism trade.
But honestly it was sheerly the evil nature of it that irked me most–the very sinful nature of what had happened to us. I felt violated. I replayed the episode in my mind many times wishing I could have done something different. We got on our ferry and made the 90 minute ride to Ischia where we assessed what they had really stolen–called our credit card companies–and canceled everything. In reality they had only succeeded in stealing a $20 U.S. bill and a 10 euro bill. Nothing else that could not be reversed. It was just the hassle of it all.
We stopped and prayed that the evil that had been done would be restrained. I thanked the Lord that we were all safe and nothing worse had happened. And God answered our prayers–as far as we know we haven’t suffered any identity theft–they got very little money–and we have new credit cards and working on a new driver’s license for my wife. Evil was restrained. It’s affect was limited–in my heart and on my life.
My emotions now are more of sorrow than anger–I feel sorry for those that live life this way day in and day out. See www.bobarno.com for some interesting insights to the street crime of Naples. At the end of the day I had to recognize that the same brokenness that is in them is also in me–I simply stand on the other side of the cross. God is about redeeming street thugs–and me. And God does hold back evil–otherwise I am confident that we would all be living in even greater chaos than we think is present today.