…In mysterious ways

By Jim Taylor

Northern Alberta is in flames. Southern Manitoba is under water. On Parliament Hill, they’re playing musical chairs. And B.C. is bracing for renewed conflict over the Harmonized Sales Tax.

With all that potential for gloom and cynicism drifting around, I thought a bit of good news might go down well.

It happened during the winter. Mona Paradine arrived to unlock Binscarth United Church in Manitoba and found an envelope lying in the snow. Inside, she found $400 in cash.

There was also a note – handwritten, unsigned. It said, in part, “Me and my brother did some damage at your church a long time ago. I was the one who wrecked a door and I stole a knife, and 50 cents from the collection tray.

“My brother was the one who sprayed the fire extinguisher upstairs and caused the majority of the damage….

“Here is $400 for my share of the damage.

“I sincerely apologize to everyone at your church, and I apologize to God for what I have done.”

Brenda Ferguson was minister at Binscarth 23 years ago. The caretaker, Eva Barker, had come to the church to clean it before the Sunday morning service.

“As any good caretaker would,” Brenda recalls, “she immediately started cleaning the mess. Then she thought further, and called me.”

The office door had been kicked in. The vandals had sprayed fire retardant all over the dark wood pews. “There was wax on the carpet from candles they had burned,” Brenda relates, “and choir gowns with burn holes in them.”

“Brenda was really shook up,” remembers Roy Graham, chair of the church board. “She thought it was aimed at her.”

“Yes, I felt personally violated,” Brenda agrees. “I think others in the congregation felt that way as well. We didn’t know if the church was being targeted, or if the vandals were part of our community or even our church.”

After some discussion, the congregation prayed for the vandals.

And now one of the vandals has offered restitution. “I don’t know who sent the cash,” admits Roy Graham, “and I don’t care. We forgave them, 23 years ago.”

The letter inclines me to a couple of assumptions.

First, that the letter writer is male. Although, to be fair, nothing in the message itself excludes a female.

Second, that at some point he got involved with an evangelical Christian church. He prefaced his letter with biblical quotations: Luke 12:58-59 about settling one’s debts, and Romans 10:4, about believing that Jesus is Lord.

He also explained, “An angel or something came to me and said that if I didn’t pay you back… there would be a curse on me and my brother and that I could not go to heaven.”

As regular readers will recognize, I don’t endorse a theology founded on fear and/or retribution. I could pick holes in his motivation. But why? Whether I approve or not, the teachings this person absorbed led him to make amends. And, I hope, helped him to make peace within himself.

I doubt that my theology would have been any more effective.




Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; rewrite@shaw.ca