This is an account of an event we experienced in 2007 while serving in Ecuador, South America. It impacted us greatly.
Recently three farmers from a nearby town were murdered in a cattle-buying scam. They were lured to a distant field to look at the cows they thought they were buying, but instead were shot and killed in cold blood and robbed of the $4,000 cash they had brought. They each left behind families, and one left a wife due to give birth soon. The community was saddened and shocked at such a brutal and premeditated act in this small town.
On Sunday, about a week later, the accused criminals were caught and put into the local jail here in Gualaquiza. They turned out to be 2 local boys, brothers in fact, ages 17 and 28. Most people agree the scam involved others than just them, but they were guilty of pulling the triggers.
Within a few hours a lynch mob from the town where the victims were from showed up, broke into the jail and took the prisoners back to Pangui, about 20 minutes away. We heard the young men were going to be burned alive! In a country with very little reason to trust the justice system, and where sometimes people literally get away with murder because they can pay a bribe, some people take the law into their own hands. Our hearts were heavy as we prayed for their souls, and tried not to think about what they were going to suffer. What was most disturbing were the trucks full of people leaving our town to go watch the gruesome spectacle.
The next morning, we heard the most extraordinary news, which still strikes awe in our hearts to this day! As we suspected, the accused men had been beaten and abused, but to an extent beyond our worst imaginings. They were tortured mercilessly by an angry mob of relatives and friends of the victims, and one of the young men was even hung for a couple of hours until his neck was only raw flesh, but he was still alive.
But as the crowd poured 6 gallons of gasoline over them and then doused their broken bodies with black motor oil, the town’s new Catholic priest from Poland, Father Andrew, fought his way through the violent crowd, fell to his knees and embraced the two young men, sheltering them with his own body, and told the angry mob, “If you burn these boys, you will have to burn me too”!! “Another in the crowd shouted, “Whichever of you is without sin, throw the first match! ” “And,” Father Andrew added as they started to back off,”… if you try to kill them in the night, I will leave this town and make sure no other priest serves here ever again!” To make sure the crowd didn’t change it’s mind, he had to hold onto the accused men all afternoon in the town square until the police showed up to escort them to a town about 10 hours to the North, where they were treated in the hospital and later transferred to jail to await trial.
In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Romans 5:7
What Father Andrew did in risking his life for two unknown criminals was indeed a rare thing. The accused men’s own parents later were asked if they had gone to Pangui when their boys were being beaten and they responded, “Why would we expose ourselves to possible abuse as well?” Why indeed?…………… The higher law of LOVE is the only possible answer. Father Andrew later told us, “If we don’t live what we believe, then our Faith is worthless.”
Yet the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us Romans 5:8
“Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all it’s horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness; and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.” ---C.S.Lewis Fern-seed and Elephants
Zac and Melody Steimle