“Fuego! Fuego! Fuego!” we all screamed in the dark of night. My husband, our four kids, and I were frantically trying to get our neighbor’s attention by yelling fire.
We were in Bayahibe, a small fishing village in the Dominican Republic, not staying in a resort but an average apartment in town. There was a roughly identical two bedroom home to the left of ours, not connected, but a few feet away. During our week stay my kids had played joyfully with the two children who live there– Leyla (8) and Mario (6)– and their dog Milo.
Our cries woke their mother, Maria, and we could hear her yelling back. In Spanish we hastily explained that robbers with guns had broken into our apartment. “Call the police!” we yelled.
It was just minutes earlier at 3 AM that I had been woken by sounds on our front porch. Rushing to look out through the living room window, I noticed that the front part of the two part glassed window was missing. It gives me chills now–it didn’t even register to me then that someone also had physically removed the strong iron bars that enclosed the window. All the homes in the Dominican Republic (DR) have those bars.
Immediately, I went back to wake up Thomas. With a flashlight he looked out through the front window. Peering down on him was a masked man, pointing his large-barreled gun right at him. Thomas pulled back and told me, “He has a gun.” My response was just three words, “Get the kids.”
Silently, we dashed to the bedroom where Kyrie (10) and Avian (8) were sleeping. Evidently, I carried Avian and Thomas carried Kyrie to the next room where Manaen (14) and Elena (3) were sleeping. Just a few minutes later, we couldn’t tell you clearly who carried whom. It happened so fast. I shut the door to this bedroom and locked it, keeping my hand on the handle.
During those quick moments, the robbers broke the window with a rock and entered the apartment. Only seconds after I closed and locked the bedroom door, I felt one of the men jostle the door handle that I continued to hold, my body against the door. Of course, they easily could’ve broken the door or shot off the lock.
Eventually, we heard the robbers having a fire-fight in the street with the police. Both sides fired and it was a surreal sound, hard to comprehend. At some point the six of us had begun singing praise songs to Jesus. I really wanted to cloak the kids in a spirit of gratitude to God, rather than fear. Truly, we were terrified, but behind the close doors I wanted us to be as Paul and Silas in prison, praising God.
The thieves were not caught and the police returned to our apartment. I needed to use Spanish to explain everything, calling upon rarely used vocabulary. By the grace of God, I knew how to say, “And you know why the robber didn’t break down our bedroom door? Because Jesus Christ protected us.” The eyes of the first police officer lighted up. He said, “That’s right. You are Christians?” The other officer just looked at me, dumbfounded. Throughout the morning Jesus gave me the great privilege to speak to many police and others, testifying to His care and protection.
I told my kids and others that when we yelled “Fuego” we actually were telling truth. Earlier in the year, during my morning readings (lectio divina), I had been impressed by the words in Song of Songs 8:6, “Place me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death…It blazes like fire, like a burning flame.” I have asked God for months to help me see that surrounding me, like a ring of fire, is His love. With that ring of fire around me, nothing can harm me. And so it is.
Following Jesus is the safest place to be. Several months earlier, I had mouthed a simple prayer, not really knowing where it came from, “Lord, if we can get five of our six airline tickets with frequent flyer miles, I want to go to the DR to visit our Compassion sponsored children.” Amazingly, we got them, unaware of the adventure that lay ahead. And stayed tuned, because the incident with the robbers opened the way for the best to come.