This essay is about the family for whom we were praying recently, hoping they would be successful in getting permission to come visit Sterling. Arn and Carol Froese’s connection with this family began years ago when the Froeses visited Honduras on a mission trip. Manuel was a young boy then, and they have stayed in communication ever since. Now Manuel is married and has two children, one of whom is named after Carol.
What happened to Manuel and his family?
Essay by Arn Froese
When I was a child, I learned that stealing was sin. I learned that taking a candy bar from the store without paying for it was stealing, and I learned that if someone broke into your house and took things, that was stealing. As I matured, I learned that stealing could be far broader than simply taking some object that didn’t belong to me. I was reminded of broader theft recently in an editorial by Peter Marty who described an elderly man who had owned a favorite gnome for many years. One day he thought he should share his joy with others. He placed it in the front yard, and within two days, it was gone. The theft was far bigger than taking the object. The man was confused and distressed. The thief had robbed him of joy and comfort.
On a larger scale, we argue about international boundaries. Do victorious invaders automatically gain rights to the land? Think about this issue in terms of what happened in the early history of the United States. The native peoples had a very different concept of land. It was a gift to be shared and used; not parceled into titled segments, fenced, and guarded. But the invaders used their power to remove the natives from the land, killing many, and parceled and fenced those who survived into reservations.
Here is a story about two men. Both men wanted to travel, and their travel plans included destinations beyond the borders of the land in which they lived. In preparing for travel, one man went to a post office, had his picture taken, filled out a form, returned it to the post office, and paid a fee of $110. Within 6 weeks, he had his passport, and could schedule flights out of the country on any available airline. He traveled to Mexico and spent a few minutes in a line to have his luggage checked, and another few minutes to have his passport checked and stamped. He traveled to Honduras with the same ease, though in both countries, when he left, he paid a small fee to the agents at the airport for being a tourist. He traveled to Europe and spent less than a minute with the immigration officer in Amsterdam getting his passport stamped with approval to move anywhere in the European Union. He crossed from the Czech Republic into Germany without stopping at the abandoned buildings around the border. The gates that used to be there were torn down. The military no longer guarded the border. International travel presented no obstacles for this man.
The other man also prepared diligently for his travel. He went to a public office and obtained the forms for a passport. He had his picture taken, completed the forms, and returned them with the required fee. Within weeks, he also had his passport. But he couldn’t schedule a flight yet. Instead, he needed permission to enter the country he wished to visit. He obtained another set of forms and sent them to the country’s representatives, and they gave him permission to come for an interview. But the fee for the interview was $600. He paid the fee, and they scheduled an interview for him a few weeks later. To get to the interview, this man had to travel 10 hours on bus which cost at least $40. The return trip would double the time and cost. He arrived at the office and met the official who asked him four questions: 1) To which part of the United States do you wish to travel? 2) Which parts will you visit on this trip? 3) Do you work?, and 4) Have you visited any other countries? He answered these questions easily, and was prepared to show them documentation of his house deed, his business, his son’s school records, his financial account records, and his involvement on the board of the taxi cooperative of which he was a member. They didn’t ask to see any of the records. After he answered the last question, they informed him that his application was denied.
Two men, both with professions that sustained them, financial resources invested in local institutions, and significant leadership connections in their communities, had remarkably different experiences. You might have guessed that I am the first man, and Manuel is the second man.
Does this story tell us anything about stealing? Here are some of my thoughts. When I travel, what I experience everywhere is “you’re OK, you pass, welcome!” When Manuel tried to travel he was told, “You’re not OK, you are denied, goodbye!” Or consider the effort differences in preparing for travel. I complete minimal requirements and face limited time and expense in being questioned. Manuel completes the first requirement, and then faces stiff additional demands, and then is rejected. I think that Manuel has been robbed—of time, of dignity, of joy.
What is the difference between us that gives me a pass and Manuel a fail? It’s the countries in which we live. Those countries have different statuses—artificial assignments of value—that affect how their citizens are treated.
I explored that difference in another context with a group from Buenos Aires, Honduras some years ago when I was asked to give a speech in celebration of their obtaining title to land which they had farmed. I helped raise funds for the costs of purchasing the title and was pleased to participate in their celebration. But I had previously read Tolstoy’s short story, How much land does a man need? The main character hears of a golden opportunity. Someone has offered free land to people who are willing to claim it. The claim requires that they begin a walk at sunrise. If they return to their starting point before the sun sets all of the land encompassed by their walk will be theirs. This man gives everything he has to get a lot of land, but he tires from the effort as he approaches the finish line. He is racing the sun, and his chances look poor. So he gathers all his energy and sprints to the goal. He makes it . . . . and falls down dead. The people at the goal dig a hole to bury the man. And that’s how much land a man needs. I told the cooperative members this story and suggested that they use the land wisely, but never to forget that the birds care nothing for what their title means. The earthworms will not stop at their border to be approved to cross, and the rabbits will hop at leisure into and out of their titled property. I wish it were so for human acceptance across borders.