The room was spinning. It seemed, all of the air was being sucked out. The walls of our lives suddenly came crashing in around us.
Denial immediately set in. My wife didn’t just now say those words over the phone, did she?
“He’s stolen our money.”
I had to wake up from this terrible nightmare. “Our money” meant the retirement money for which I had worked so hard for so many years. How could it all instantly be vaporized?
We had thoroughly investigated the man before we entrusted him with our retirement money. He was going to help us use it for our ministry in Malawi. His qualifications were excellent. An attorney with an advanced degree in tax, with investment projects and non-profit ministries in Africa, he was very well qualified. No ordinary guy, he had written a book on international tax law and had spoken before the United Nations. His board was comprised of Christian leaders, well-known and respected.
We didn’t just take his word for it, we thoroughly investigated him, drilling down deep on the Internet. Our mentor at the Iris missionary training school conducted at our church actually referred him to us, giving us his contact information.
Now, while we were talking with each other long distance, my wife, Debbie, had googled his name once more and found news articles that had very recently been posted on the web. These articles described allegations of fraud against the man.
My mouth was so dry, I could hardly speak. “Contact the lawyer mentioned in one of those articles”, I requested. Debbie did. The lawyer conducted a search and found out that the man had not set things up for us as promised.
We had a lawsuit filed.
Thinking that his board would force him to give back our money in short order, we had no idea that we were at that moment commencing a five year ordeal. Instead of living in the dirt of Malawi, ministering to the poor, we would be in legal hell for years.
As she lay on her bed, Debbie was agonizing before God. “We were going to serve You in Africa. We were giving everything up to preach the gospel and serve the poor. Why did You let this happen to us?” The answer came instantly.
“This has to be stopped and I’m using you to do it.”
Our church leaders were very sympathetic and supportive of us at first. Then one of them found out that some of the board members of the man were his friends. These board members would contact this leader and through him try to get us to drop the lawsuit.
Our Iris missionary school mentor called me. He angrily asked why I was suing his friend. He pressured me to drop the lawsuit, saying that this is not how missionaries should behave.
One of the passages used by various leaders to discourage us was 1 Corinthians 6. “Christians should not sue” is the usual rendering of the text.
Fraud is very easy to perpetrate in the Church. Christians are instructed to be trusting and to believe the best of others. Forgive and turn the other cheek, we are taught. Often a believer will “forgive” the one who has committed fraud against them and walk away without doing anything about it. This leaves the possibility of many others being victimized as a result because no one spoke up or filed a lawsuit.
In our case, thankfully, some were bold enough to have filed a lawsuit against the man. As mentioned above, because of our discovery of the existence of these lawsuits, we were able to quickly take appropriate action.
Yes, “appropriate action”.
Contrary to the popular understanding of 1 Corinthians 6, this passage refers to suits or grievances about matters of everyday life. Matters involving alleged fraud have no business being tried in the church. That is why God ordained the secular judicial court system. Paul actually calls them “ministers of God” (Romans 13:4). The secular courts were divinely instituted for our protection and deliverance. For a more accurate handling of 1 Corinthians 6 please refer to this brief excellent article written by a Christian scholar.
Turning the other cheek in Matthew 5:38-41 also deals with the arena of matters of everyday life. Shirts, coats, miles, and cheeks are all examples of such. When the level of alleged fraud is reached, turning the other check cannot and must not apply. Society at large is potentially vulnerable. Who is to say that the fraudulent one may not attempt to defraud once more? Others may needlessly have their lives destroyed as a result if the misguided “other cheek” is turned toward the perpetrator.
The aforementioned lesson was learned early in our ordeal. Before all of this began, we had believed that Jesus was going to use us to minister to people in the bush of Malawi. Who would have known that in our quest to get to Africa, we would be divinely swerved into the American judicial system to do His bidding there.
Those years were brutal. No battle is ever without casualties. We were severely damaged in so many ways. It was as if a tornado had ripped through every department of our lives. Years later, as we survey the scene around us, devastation still abounds. The decision to forgive is made in the moment and walked out from there. Healing, restoration, and the picking up of the pieces of one’s shatered world can take a lifetime.
God is faithful. Even if we are never fully restored, the lessons learned in this very expensive “school” of ours are invaluable. In the coming weeks, we will share some of these crucial discoveries. It is our hope that Jesus will be glorified as we share stories about His amazing hand at work…in the most unlikely of places.
Sometimes when things get difficult, we can hear the Holy Spirit, tongue in cheek, say “Get in, sit down, shut up, and hold on”.
Fasten your seat belts and hang in there with us for this really wild ride!