Monday, August 23, 2010

Forgiveness vs. Consequences

Last month a dog from the village broke into our farm area and killed 4 ducks and 2 chickens. It was a mess! Feathers everywhere, traumatized poultry! Anyone who has lived on or near a farm may know that when chickens get stressed out, they can't lay eggs. It took a while for the chickens to feel happy again.

Then, the dog came back again. For the next few days the same dog kept pushing under our wire fence trying to get at the chickens and ducks. The last time Tom, our gardener, and 3 teenage boys chased the dog all the way through the village until it ducked into its home--a little mud hut.

When Tom confronted the owner later (he had not been home at the time of the big chase) he denied that his dog had caused any problems. He refused to acknowledged any wrong doing or make things right so Tom felt the need to take him to court. Every time we have hit an animal or our dogs have caused problems, we have made amends. We feel that everyone else in the village should be held to the same standard they demand of us.

In order to sue this man, Tom had to pay for a summons and then on the day of the court he had to pay a small fee. Well, small is relative. It is about $10--which is manageable for us but a fair amount of money for your average villager. All of the court issues could have been avoided with a simple apology but none was forthcoming.

The court day arrived and Tom showed up with his five witnesses and the defendant showed up with his three defendants. Tom said later that he really enjoyed the experience. In his words: "It was just like TV. I felt like Matlock or Perry Mason".
  Of course the legal and court system is a little bit different here and it was just a civil case so not quite the same as TV but, still.

Once all the testimony had been given and both sides had had a chance to question each other's witnesses, the court was dismissed for a week and told to come back later for the judgment. Tom felt confident in his case because the other side's witnesses had all contradicted each other and lied openly.

Court reconvened on a Thursday morning and after hearing the entire case read back to them--which took an hour, during which both parties had to remain standing--the judgment was read out. The defendent was found guilty and ordered to pay K300,000 ($75) to Tom and K40,000 in court fees. He proceeded to refuse. Not only did he refuse but he pointed at the judge and shouted that he would never pay and that Tom had lied about the entire thing and so he wouldn't pay a kwacha. The judge calmly told him that he could then go to jail. And the court officers took him away.

We don't know how long he actually stayed in jail but a month passed and the date grew near where this man would have to make the first payment of half the judgment to Tom. Sure enough, on the appointed day, he showed up at our gate--but not to pay, but to ask forgiveness. Tom's response was if the man had been truly sorry, he would have come immediately to apologize not waited until it was time to pay and then expect Tom to just set the whole thing aside.

Tom took the man to our 6 yard tall water tower and told him a story about a lady who had spread lies about a pastor in a small town, but later regretted her actions. She begged for forgiveness from the pastor and he said that he would indeed forgive her but that she would need to do a favor for him. She agreed and said she would do anything. He then took her to the belfry of the church, and ripping open a pillow, allowed feathers to drift down all over the town. He turned to the woman and asked her to collect all the feathers and bring them back to him. When she sputtered that surely that was impossible, he agreed and said that just so, our lies can oftentimes have far reaching consequences that are nearly impossible to undo.

After telling this story to the man, he understood completely and said that he wanted to make amends. Tom came up with a plan that would allow the man to show visible proof of his remorse:

Tom asked the man to carry this sign which reads: "I lied in the local court! My dog killed Thomas' ducks! Please forgive me!" He was to carry the sign all through the village center and then stand in the market all day. He readily agreed to do it.

There were mixed reviews to this plan: a couple of our nannies told Tom that he definitely shouldn't do this because as a pastor his is supposed to forgive. When he explained that he had forgiven but the man had to suffer the consequences they just got confused looks on their faces. All through the day as the man walked down the main road or stood in the market, Tom got phone calls from village officials--a community leader, a pastor, the police, the court--all wanting to understand what was happening. Each time Tom would patiently explain and then they would say, Oh, ok, and hang up.
  There was one very positive response from an elderly man when Tom went town to the village to pay for lunch at a restaurant for the penitent man. This older man came up to the sign and announced to the crowd that "Mr. Thomas is doing a very good thing! He has taught this man a lesson and even paid for his lunch!"

At the end of the day, the man walked back up to the orphanage with the two men who had falsely testified and he asked again for Tom to forgive him. Tom took back the sign and explained that in taking the sign he was relieving the man of his burden and giving him forgiveness.

What do you think about the whole forgiveness vs. consequences thing? Would you have taken the same course of action?


  1. I think that was a very brave, compassionate, just, and wise way to handle it!

  2. Forgiveness is great but there must be repentance as well and that does not happen without consequences. God forgives us all the time but He also lets us face the consequences of our sin, whether big or small. Without consequences, there is no need/reason to change or modify behavior or attitudes. That is the sinful human nature.

  3. Wow... since I was there the day Tom had court, I was very interested to read the finale of the story. I would never have thought of that punishment, but clearly it made an impact on the man while Tom showed concern for just punishment. This lesson is so very needed. There is no telling how many conversations took place in the village about this event. Surely it impacted more than just this man, but the entire village. ...and besides... it's so TOM-LIKE! LOVE IT!
    From - Debbie

  4. So proud of Dad! He handled it so well, and so wisely!

  5. I think he handled it perfectly. Now the village will know that Tom has not lied.


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