Last week our TDF ministerial staff was targeted by a profession gang of thieves, surveilled, and robbed before we even knew it. The foul deed occurred at Imo’s Pizza at 1000 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis. We’d rented a brand new van in Nashville, driven to St. Louis for our spring staff retreat, parked in the restaurant lot for lunch, and gone inside. The place was cold, so I went back and retrieved my Patagonia jacket and eyeglasses from my backpack, for which I was later thankful. Locking the van, I went inside and sat at a table by myself to take a conference call. The other six guys were at an adjacent table.

A woman entered. I wasn’t paying much attention, but I did notice she sat at a table across from me, ordered nothing, opened her laptop, and looked at me. Jeff Nichols later commented on how she also kept an eye on him. Then she abruptly shut her laptop and left.

Finishing our lunch, we went back to the van to find it virtually empty. Gone were our backpacks and suitcases. A police officer came and took a report, and after a delay, a one-man crime lab showed up and dusted for prints. Meanwhile, Imo’s Pizza gave us a free round of colas, which, I suppose, was about all they could do at that point.

The police told us the thieves had jammed a tool into the driver’s side lock — which was out of our view while we were in the restaurant — and they opened the van like it was butter. The whole operation was over in a flash. The bandits used gloves with little rubber nodules on the fingers.

All the ministers except me lost their laptops. I hadn’t taken mine, but I did lose my Eagle Creek backpack along with its contents: my iPad, my Bible, my billfold with cash, credit cards, and ID, my overnight clothes, a couple of books, all my keys, and — most grievously — my prayer journal with over fifteen years of prayer requests and answers. I told the Lord I hoped He had backed up all the prayer requests on the heavenly servers. My colleague, Dr. Garnett Reid, lost his study Bible with years and years of scribbled notes. Aaron Pontious hadn’t backed up his schoolwork at BIOLA. And Corey Hawkins said goodbye to the professional stage-set of earbuds in his backpack.

Later that day I learned that my iPad had been turned on at 1000 Hamilton Avenue. I hardly knew what to do with that information. I wanted to go retrieve it, but the location appears to be a park and I learned about it too late to apprehend the thieves. Having watched thousands of hours of detective and police shows in my lifetime, I felt I should have been able to figure out the link between 1000 Hampton and 1000 Hamilton, but my Sherlockian skills failed me.

Anyway, what did I learn?

  • The locks on cars are useless.  They might as well not have them.
  • Never rent a van that looks like a space shuttle; it’s a magnet for thieves.
  • God’s gives us the right prayers for the right occasion. My prayer that day was: “Lord, use my stolen Bible to convert the thief — that’ll teach him a lesson.”
  • Being robbed is traumatic; the sense of violation lingers long afterward.
  • Our possessions are not permanent.
  • We can rally quickly. Our staff discussions were useless that day, but the next day we have one of the most productive days of planning we’ve had in a long time.
  • And there is a lot of wisdom in the words of the old Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, who was also once robbed and who afterward reportedly prayed: “I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”