Muggers with Morals

9 08 2010

A number of people have blogged about the video and article about Nayara Goncalves, a 20 year old girl in Florida who dissuaded a would be robber, by preaching about Jesus. Seeing it reminded me again of an experience I had a few years ago. So I thought I’d dig out an old newspaper article and post it here for all to see, just in case you’ve never heard me tell it one of the countless times it’s appeared as a sermon illustration!

In 2005, I was walking through a park on the way home from a church evening service. It was dark and late, as I’d stuck around to help pack up, and then walked my (now) wife home… Two guys came up alongside me, pulled a knife on me, and demanded that I give them my wallet, phone, keys etc – which I duly did! When they asked what else I had, I said the only other thing I had with me was a Bible.

One of them asked me if I believed in God. I said yes. They asked if I believed God could protect me from people like them. What on Earth do you say to that? The answer was a definite “yes“, and if you’d sat me down in a nice casual environment and prefaced the question with a gentle “purely hypothetically…” I wouldn’t have thought twice about answering in the affirmative. But with a knife pressed against my gut, in a dark and empty park, I wasn’t all that keen on them testing the limits of my faith!

But timidly I said yes.

There was no blinding flash of lights. No trumpet calls and cherubim with flaming swords… alas. But suddenly one of the guys panicked, and told his mate to give me back my stuff – which he duly did! They apologised, told me they were Christians too (though not practicing – no kidding!), shook my hand and sent me on my way.

I called the police immediately, and the two guys were picked up a little later, having mugged someone else straight after they’d left me.

Aside from the rather bizarre nature of the experience, a couple of facts particularly stick in my mind:

  • The sermon that evening had been on the faithfulness of God. To be honest I’d not thought a lot of it. Others were raving about it, but somehow it hadn’t really connected with me. This incident rammed home the truth in a way the sermon hadn’t. Application: be careful about which sermons you criticise!
  • I remember the confused look on the face of the officer who took my statement. There was a distinct moment at the end when he looked at me and said ‘are you sure this is what you want to say? You don’t want to change anything?‘ Probably a routine question… but I remember at the time noting a hint of scepticism in his voice and thinking that this really did sound like quite a tall story! I almost felt a little foolish describing what had happened; like it was so weird I almost had to apologise for it!
  • It’s funny – when you have an encounter like that, you can sort of end up wondering if you’ve made it up. Not totally, but the finer details. You wonder if you’ve embellished it by accident. You rationalise it. You explain it away. I was therefore thrilled to walk past a billboard a few weeks later to see the title ‘Bible Saves Rob Victim.’ I bought the paper and read the article (below). It was encouraging to have it in printed form, with comments from the court case. It reassured me I wasn’t crazy! Though I still maintain the headline made it sound like my name was Rob. And surely they could have come up with something a little more ‘tabloid’ and glamorous!
  • I remember meeting the other guy who was mugged, when we went to do an identity lineup. I remember how bitter he was; understandable, of course. But the way he referred to the muggers was full of anger, and in total contrast to the sense of peace I found myself with. It was a peace that came from outside of me. I’m not usually that calm. But somehow it didn’t affect me as it might have done. It ‘passeth-ed’ all understanding…
  • I remember being told a while later that the church I attended had previously had input into the life of one of the muggers. I believe he had attended a Sunday School the church had run for a while. Incredible how things like that pay off in unexpected ways.
  • Before this, I’d previously led worship at a couple of Alpha courses in young offenders prisons. I was told I wasn’t allowed to for a while, as I couldn’t be told where my attackers had been sent. That was fine… but I did often wonder where they were and what they were up to. Who knows what’s become of them?

So… here’s the article from the Kentish Gazette. It makes me chuckle to read it again – the way they struggle to comprehend and articulate the oddity of this ‘Christian’ mugger with a strong ‘ethical code.’ It’s a pretty prosaic article, but just so you know I’m not making it all up:

Christian robber hands back wallet
14/04/05

A religious youth carried out a knife-point robbery but then repented and handed everything back.

Mugger Sean Lismore, 18, a Roman Catholic, realised his victim was carrying a Bible and returned the stolen wallet and mobile, believing it was wrong to rob someone of the same faith.

The teenager had pounced on Liam Thatcher in February this year as he walked through St Stephen’s Park in Canterbury.

He asked “what have you got for us?”

But after taking the money and phone, Lismore and a 16-year old accomplice found Mr Thatcher clutching a Bible.

Lismore asked Mr Thatcher “Do you believe that God can protect you?”

After a brief conversation, Lismore then handed back the victim’s belongings, Canterbury Crown Court was told.

Prosecutor Alistair Keith said of Lismore, of Watling Street Canterbury, then apologised to Mr Thatcher, telling him he had only robbed him because he needed money to get home.

However, two hours later, the two teenagers attacked a second victim, Graeme Lawrenson, and stole £60 and a lighter as he walked through St Dunstan’s Street.

“It was an identical attack and again the lock knife was used,” said Mr Keith.

The court heard after taking Mr Lawrenson to a cash machine and withdrawing £100, Lismore handed back £40, informing his victim that £60 was all the money he needed for his train fare.

Mr Thatcher later told “detectives he has found the incident “very disturbing.”

Mr Larenson, the second victim, said he felt “in fear of violence” and found the attack “unreasonable and petty”.

The court was also told Lismore’s criminal record included 19 previous offences since June 2002 and he had a number of aliases.

But when he was arrested by police, Lismore had “admitted the offences, giving details of the circumstances”, Mr Keith told the court.

Katie Fox, defending, described Lismore as a “mixed-up kid”, adding “there were some bizarre features to the robberies because he has a moral code which he stands by.”

She said “as a Roman Catholic, he felt it was wrong to rob someone of the same faith as him, that was why he handed back all the items to his first victim.”

She added Lismore had also returned £40 to his second victim, together with a mobile phone sim card “because that was personal”.

Lismore, who admitted charges of robbery and attempted robbery, was sent to a young offenders institution for four years,

Judge Nigel van der Bijl told Lismore: “you think it is wrong to rob a fellow Christian… but then you go on to rob someone else the same night. I don’t know how you came to that conclusion.”

Sentencing on Lismore’s teenage accomplice, who admitted the same charges but cannot be identified for legal reasons, was adjourned until May 13 for probation reports.

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