Once we realized they were missing, we quickly tried to figure out just how someone could have gotten into the vehicle. The doors were locked and there was no trace of forced entry. There's a history of robbery in this particular area of Costa Rica because of the great number of tourists who frequent it. More than likely the thieves were professionals and experts at stealing. They took our belongings quietly and swiftly as our backs were turned, without us even noticing.
My immediate reaction was shock and disbelief. All at once I was angry and heartbroken. I felt violated and disrespected in a way I've never experienced before. I found myself standing in the middle of the parking lot, sobbing. As the others circled around me to pray, I reached a breaking point. All I wanted to do was pack my suitcases, get on a plane, and go back to the United States.
Anyone who has met me knows that my camera isn't simply an inanimate object in my eyes. It is the source for my art-form, my voice when I can't find the words to speak. Both home and here in Costa, photography serves as my ministry. Through it, I am able to see the beauty in the world and show it to others. Each of the photos held within it had significance and meaning. My writing, too, is a way that I find and share God. Those journals contained a month's worth of thoughts poured out onto the pages; they were filled with memories and moments from here I'd hoped to never forget. To have both snatched away in one fell swoop was a hard slap to the face and spirit.
After we talked to the owners of the restaurant and went to the police station to file a report, we still had a two hour drive before making it back home. Amanda turned on some music and all of us began singing together and worshipping God. His presence was thick and tangible, even in the midst of a car crammed full of gringos who'd just had a long, discouraging night. In the middle of one of the songs, he told me to read these passages in Philippians:
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advancement of the Gospel, so that is has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is for Christ. Most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the message fearlessly.
For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus and do not put confidence in the flesh-although I once had confidence in the flesh too. If anyone else has grounds for confidence, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church;as to righteousness that is in the law, blameless. But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ.
I prayed that my attitude would mirror Paul's. A man who realized everything that he endured, including imprisonment, was not without purpose because it furthered the Gospel. More so, it increased the faith in those who looked to him for guidance. God used Paul's willingness to abandon his abilities more than the talents themselves. His works transcended worldly influence because he placed his hope in the eternal. I've never been thrown in prison for what I believe or persecuted for the same reason; but I have experienced the sting of loss and know what it means to feel helpless. I've had to learn to place something I hold dear into the hands of Christ, trusting that in the end it will amount to more than I could ever produce. I hope that my reaction to this circumstance ( and any other I meet) would encourage others to trust him more as well; to declare boldly that no matter what our faith requires of us, it is never done in vain.
I may never see any of my stuff again and there's a chance I will never know exactly why this happened. What I do know is this: God is still sovereign and worthy of my praise. He didn't cause the pain I'm feeling because he is not the author of suffering. He can, however, turn this somewhat bleak situation meant to inflict harm into something that accomplishes his purposes. I trust in the intentions of my Father because I realize they are for good and never for evil. I believe that through those individuals stealing the things I cherish most, he is going to do greater works than I can comprehend. I have forgiven them and I love them, in spite of myself. I pray they would see the love of Jesus Christ in the photos I've taken or read the words he's inspired and that somehow a seed is planted and a life is changed.
I have no idea what will come of this but I have faith it will be something beautiful. Even if having my camera stolen only results in my being drawn closer to God, it was worth it. For now, I am thankful for the things I've been given. I have food to eat, clothes to wear, and friends who offer endless support. Most importantly, I have a Savior who holds fast to his promises. This is enough.