It was just after 4 am on April 2nd when the vibration on my Fitbit woke me up. It is linked to my cell phone and I quickly saw that Ann Marie, my sister-in-law, was calling. The words I hate hearing were the first ones out of her mouth: “Don’t freak out, but . . . ”
My husband had been arrested. This wasn’t some some situation where I could run down and bail him out. He had been arrested in Bolivia, at the airport, trying to leave to come home to me.
Bob and Ann Marie had been in Bolivia helping a cousin with the sale of some property. They had all been born and raised there, and were together again to pack up the last memories of decades gone by and grandparents long deceased.
Old papers and photographs were sorted through. Relics were examined and some were tossed into a suitcase, while others were only fit for the trash heap. Among the treasures that were packed to take home, was a non-functioning antique pistol, rusted and degraded with time. It was this that led to Bob’s arrest.
While it’s easy to think what a silly misunderstanding this was, and how any sensible, reasoning person would see this error for what it was, the gravity of what happened must be expressed. In Bolivia, you are guilty until proven innocent. The penalty for having a weapon in your luggage is a 2-5 year jail term. This was no joke, and anything but silly.
When I hung up the phone that morning, I began to pray with intensity. After a few hours had gone by, I asked a small group of family and friends to join me in prayer. The day seemed to drag on for weeks. Updates were limited and serious. I knew that our future was on the line.
Bob spend that night in jail. There would be no sleep for him. Ann Marie was a fierce advocate for her brother, and there is no one that I would have rather had by his side. There would be no sleep for her. By the morning, news came that Bob would have a hearing before the judge at 3 pm local time.
Carefully considering the ramifications for posting the news about my husband online, I knew that we needed the prayer support and put the information on my Facebook page. By that afternoon, it seemed as though the news of what had happened to Bob was all over Albuquerque. The phone calls, text messages and social media contacts began to flood in. Someone knew a prominent pastor in Bolivia they could call. Someone else had a contact in the State Department. Others offered help and support, genuinely wanting to know what they could do for me and my girls.
I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life where I have witnessed the Christian community come together so selflessly. One of my co-workers described it as mimicking the scene at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life where the whole town shows up to support George Bailey and his family. Indeed! Our family was in crisis and our town showed up in a big way.
Family and friends were praying. Small groups were praying. Whole churches were praying. It didn’t matter the denomination or affiliation. The community of Believers was acting in one accord.
About 90 minutes after Bob’s appointed time to see the judge, I got a text message from Ann Marie that simply read, “He is free.” My heart soared with relief, and I cried a new kind of tears. Days later, when we were all face to face again, the facts of the case and gravity of the situation were reiterated to me and I was awed with just how much of a miracle this truly was.
It’s taken some time to deal with the shock and trauma of the situation and I’m sure there is more processing and healing to come. As much as I want to put this event behind us, I want to make sure that we don’t go back to “normal”. It’s not that I want to constantly relive the painful parts of this event, but I do want to bask in the unity that I felt as the community of Christians rallied together.
What if we always lived this way? What if it didn’t take a crisis to bring us together? Imagine the power of living life where there is no infighting or turf wars. What if we didn’t care who got credit, so long as everyone rallied to Jesus? I wish I could say that my experience from 10+ years working in ministry demonstrated that type of unity. Unfortunately, it has been quite the opposite.
I know it is possible for us to act as the unified Body of Christ. I witnessed it in my time of crisis! The sweetness of brotherly love was poured out on my family as Pentecostals and Catholics, Non-Denominational and Church of Christ members all stood with us and interceded in prayer together.
Church, let us not need a crisis for us to come together. We are a community, united by our love of the Savior. He didn’t give His life for your church building. He gave it for you and me. Together, we become His Bride. Let us not soil our gown with the stains of territorialism or self-promotion.
Brothers and Sisters, thank you, from the bottom of my heart for your prayers for my husband and family. Will you now join me in the sweet after-glow? Beyond the delight of having my small family back together, I desire for us all to enjoy the genuine fellowship of being united as a community, as the family of God. May we together impact our city, our nation and our world as we demonstrate what true love really looks like.
To read more from Birga, please visit: www.hungrytolearn.com