Travel! I hadn’t done that in ages it seemed, and I was so looking forward to the days that were fast approaching. I had made plans to attend a Jubilee! Gift Basket trade show convention in Boston in early September, and later found out that modifications had been made for me to accompany Mom on her return home to Jamaica after her brief one-week stay with my sister, Heather, in Fort Lauderdale. This would be a whirlwind of a trip for me but I was anticipating every day to be fun- filled with friends and family.
On Sunday, September 11th, after completing my Boston trip, I picked up my car in the remote parking lot of Fort Lauderdale’s airport and made my way to my sister’s home. It was late evening when I arrived, exhausted. I spent the remainder of the night getting Mom’s gear in order, ensuring that she had everything ready for her early morning doctor’s appointment at 9:30am. I had had little time to peruse my own things, so I had ended up taking almost everything I had with me, from my Boston trip, to Jamaica. I would not have had the opportunity to return to Heather’s after Mom’s appointment but to go directly to the airport and board the 3:30pm Air Jamaica flight into Kingston hours later.
Leaving my car once again at the Fort Lauderdale airport’s parking lot, Mom and I hopped a shuttle to take us into the terminal. We apparently made it with a few minutes to spare before boarding time. It was a bumpy ride into Kingston but we arrived safely at approximately 4:30pm (5:30pm EST). After making our way through Customs, we picked up our luggage and exited to the spot where Dad would greet us. In minutes, he arrived in the Toyota pickup and, after helping Mom settle comfortably in the back cab and throwing my carry-on bag onto the seat next to her, I climbed into the passenger’s seat while Dad loaded our two suitcases onto the inner bed’s storage compartment.
It was a hot evening and we felt as if we were melting under the blazing Jamaican sun that was bearing down on us. Dad turned the A/C on and we slowly drove through the lanes of cars, which were at gridlock at several stages enroute home. It was after 5pm (6pm EST) and this was rush- hour Jamaican-style. With the price of gas at $51.88 per liter, I wondered at the volume of vehicles that were on the roads. And they say Jamaicans have no money! The sun was sinking fast and instead of the normal hour or so that it usually took us to get home, it was taking almost double that time to do so. Dad made mention of the fact that he had not turned any lights on at the house because he figured we’d be home before dusk. Not so. This was not anticipated.
We eventually pulled into the driveway’s entrance to the house, after noting the total darkness in which the street had plunged. The house next door to ours was also devoid of lights so the entire area looked desolate. With only the pickup truck’s lights on, I jumped out of the passenger’s side to open the gates, waited for Dad to drive in, and closed them. I walked along the truck as it was driven in to its resting spot at the back of the house (a new carport that was constructed alongside the original garage, which housed the car itself). As we all alighted from the vehicle, Dad made his way to open the grilled door to enter the house to turn on both outside and inside lights. While he did so, Mom waited outside with me as I took the luggage out of the truck’s compartment. The dogs, that were all tied, were barking. They always barked when unfamiliar people were around and, as I was not that familiar to them, I reasoned they were barking at me so they were ignored.
Mom had taken her handbag with her, while I had both my handbag and the larger carry-on strapped over my right shoulder. I had taken her suitcase down and placed it on the ground and as I was beginning to take my own luggage down, I looked up and saw a young man saunter in from my right side and walk around to the passenger side of the vehicle. Before I could say a word, I noticed that as he turned, a flash of the light had outlined a dark handgun held upright in his hand, and immediately I was accosted from behind by another young man who pulled me back against himself and said: “Don’t make any noise… don’t make any noise; all we want are the bags… all we want are the bags”. I raised both hands upright and said, “Okay”, as he slowly, yet not forcefully, lowered both my bags from my right shoulder. The other man apparently had taken Mom’s handbag, and they both turned and began to walk away, leaving the luggage with our clothing behind. At that point, all I heard myself saying was: “God bless you! God forgive you! God save your souls!” I then remembered that they had taken my travel documents, including Mom’s passports, which were all enclosed in an envelope in my handbag. At that moment I stepped out into the driveway and yelled out to them, before they cut across the front lawn: “… and don’t forget my passport! I need it to get back home!”
I checked Mom to make sure she was okay and ran inside to tell Daddy that we were just robbed. He was still turning on the lights. Everything had happened in split seconds it seemed, and he was stunned. “What do you mean you were robbed? Where? How? When? You should have yelled, screamed… something!” Of course, that was not my intention since that may have created other problems I was not willing to face. Dad hurried outside with phone in hand and immediately dialed our next- door neighbor, Mr. Taylor, to see whether or not he had heard or had seen anything or anyone heading in his direction. Nil. The next call was to the police. While Dad was on the line, I leaned with my right hand against the wall of the carport where I was accosted, looked up to the sky and from the pit of my belly, cried out to God. I don’t know what I said because I was speaking in another language (tongues), which I had done before in private communication with Him. There was a sense of urgency, a request for quick answers, and a meaning behind all of this. In all honesty, I was never ever afraid during the entire scenario. I felt such peace… a calm…. and I wondered if this truly was that ‘peace that passes all understanding’ about which the Bible mentions.
From the garage wall, I made my way around the entire house, following the steps of those criminals: down the driveway, across the front lawn, around the side of the house where the fruit trees are located and to the back. One complete circumferential walk, all the time praying and praising God in the midst of it all, saying: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do; God you’re in control in all of this”. Some things I can’t recall because at times when I look back in hindsight, it was not Michelle that I saw, but someone else, someone who was being led by another force. God knows, if it were really me, I would have lost it, but it seemed I was out of my mind to have done some of the things I did, or even say some of the things I said. Scripture mentions: “He has not given us the spirit of fear, but of love and a sound mind”. Also, “He gives His angels charge over us, … to cover us with feathers”. I sincerely and wholeheartedly believe that He did give me boldness as well.
Three police detectives arrived a few minutes later to who I gave a detailed account of the evening’s events. I found out that the corporal who penned the report was a past schoolmate of both my sister and myself, and his Dad had gone on fishing trips with my Dad. Small world. During our discourse, the telephone rang. It was Heather who was calling to inquire about our flight and our safe arrival. When I mentioned what had happened, it signaled a series of screams from her end. I said: “Calm down. What you’re doing is not going to help any of us at this point”. I had to cut her short to continue the police report, so I handed her call over to Daddy. At that point, the next-door neighbor had arrived and the cops made their way back to the station after circling around the area to see what, if anything, they could uncover. Mommy had gone inside and I followed shortly after. Finding her in the bedroom, I heard her sniffing. I asked: “Mommy, what’s wrong; why are you crying?” In all the night’s drama, I never for a moment thought about how she had taken all this. She kept repeating, while folding and unfolding clothes on the bed, “something’s wrong, something’s wrong; I don’t know, something’s wrong”. I told her everything would be okay, that she should eat something and get some rest. I then fully realized what had been stolen.
In Mom’s handbag, were her glasses, social security card, photo identification card and a couple other cards I didn’t know about. My handbag had had the envelope containing both Mom’s, and my, US passports, Mom’s Jamaican passport, plane tickets and boarding pass. It seemed I had everything in that bag: my house keys, car keys, work badge, cellular phone, my purse which contained approximately $200 in US currency, bank cards, driver’s license, social security card, AAA, library and auto insurance cards, medical insurance card, and even my car registration. In the larger carry-on bag were Heather’s camcorder, a bag of Mom’s Alzheimer’s medications, audio CDs, my undeveloped disposable cameras containing all my Boston photos, and my address book. Both Mom and I had no identity!
That evening, from 7:00pm (8pm EST) until almost 1:30 am (2:30am EST) when we all went to sleep, the house was like Grand Central Station as the phone kept ringing off the hook. Apparently after Heather had spoken with us, she notified a few relatives and friends, which spawned a snowball effect reaching many ears that evening. Everyone wanted to know what happened. Dad had asked one of his workers to stay with us as ‘protection’, but amazingly, we all slept soundly that night. When we awoke early the next morning, we set out on a mission to tread the property and surrounding area to see what we could find. The search brought up nothing. I made calls to the Jamaican Embassy to see what could be done to replace the stolen passports. I was told to go into the offices in Kingston and take it from there. It was around 9am and we had only a couple hours to get ready to make it in the time they stated we should be there, by 11:30am. I was due to return to work on Wednesday night and it seemed apparent that that might be impossible. On the night the crime occurred, I had notified the hospital where I worked of the events and the possibility I may not return by week’s end. I was placed “Absent Until Further Notice’.
One outstanding thing about the island’s telephone system is that one cannot make but three international calls per day. Because of that, I was unable to notify any companies with which I was affiliated, of the crime. I could recall none of my account numbers right off the bat, and neither did I have any actual telephone numbers for contact. I felt helpless. Heather did her best to access as much information as she could but it just was not enough. Eventually, there was nothing else to do but hope that those criminals didn’t really want those documents but the cash instead. We began getting ready to make the trip back into Kingston to see what the Embassy could do to assist us. It was during those moments of readiness that the telephone rang. It was after 10am on Tuesday morning.
Heather was on the line, screaming again. This time it was good news.
“God is good! God is good!” she shouted in the earpiece. Okay, yes I knew that.
“What?” I asked, “What happened?” And this is what she said:
“Someone from RJR (Jamaica’s local radio station) just called me and said they found everything!”
I was stunned. “Everything? How? Where?”
Apparently the person who found the stuff called the station to report it. The radio announcer then notified Heather in Florida about the breaking story, as there was no contact information other than her business card, which had been in the envelope containing the travel documents. We later found out the amazing details as it unfolded.
Daddy took the telephone number of the radio announcer, dialed and explained to her that it was indeed our property that was discovered. The announcer, Mrs. Crawford, then divulged the founder’s telephone number, which Daddy immediately called. The person he spoke with was a secretary of a church and this was her tale: She had seen an envelope on top of a garbage bin that was located on the premises of the church at which she worked. She stated that what drew her to it, and perhaps it was the way it was thrown which resulted in the US passports peeking out through the opening, was the dark blue- colored passport, and the gold imprint itself. She noticed that ‘something wasn’t right’ so she picked it up, and flipping inside, she realized that these documents were stolen. Beside the envelope, with all the travel documents, was the bag with Mom’s medication. That was all that was found.
We were happy to know that God was yet working! He made it possible for me to return home and for Mom to safely take her tablets without any upset to her health! Although we had hoped that everything would have been found, apart from the money, the most important thing was that I could return to the States and have those stolen things replaced. Dad and I forgot about driving to the Embassy and made our way over to the church where the recovered items were left. I still marvel, to this day, at how good is the God that we serve. I had yelled to those young men to leave my passport alone… and they did! They either had a heart to actually listen to my last request, or… God simply hit them upside the head in some way. I’d love to hear their side of the story.
We found out that the church where the thieves had left our stuff was located on property on which a cousin of mine, who had passed away years before, had worked. The once-thriving cable company had closed its operation and now had given way to a newly- constructed church building called The New Testament Church Of God. Later when we chatted about it with a friend, she said: “it’s nothing but Maureen (our cousin) who was watching out and slapped them and said, “drop it right there!” It’s silly but funny when you think about it.
We met Susan, our ‘angel/ discoverer’ who immediately said to us: “You guys must have been really praying hard!” For something like this to have happened, I knew without a doubt that God had heard and answered that very night I vocalized my heart’s cry to Him. I also knew that there were others who had been lifting us up in prayer as well. Susan contacted the pastor, who was in his office at the time, to inform him that we were there to claim the items. The pastor, Pastor Vernon, called us into his office and asked us to retell the story, and then led us in prayer, thanking God for His protection, peace and blessing.
The next morning, I made my way back to Fort Lauderdale. All I had in my hand was the envelope containing my passport with boarding itinerary, and my luggage with my clothing. I had to deal with what was to come in replacing everything else that was stolen, but the one thing that could not be stolen was my life. God is the only One who forever has that firmly held in the palm of His hand.
The night after this incident occurred, I made a simple promise to the Lord: That I would use this as a testimony to give Him glory in whatever way I can. I’ve told it to everyone I know, wherever I’ve gone and wherever the opportunity presents itself. I am using my voice, email and this printed material to do so.
What the enemy meant for evil, God has turned it around for good! He is worthy!