Robbery and Missions— a Generally Balanced Reflection

<I put this on my other webpage… the missions page of my wife and mine. But it is relevant here as well… so here it is.>

One of those things that is considered “normal’ in the mission field is getting robbed. It is simply presumed in many cases that since one is moving to a developing country one must be constantly vigilant because you know just know that you are surrounded by people in great need who will steal from you if they can. Moving to the Philippines, we had no reason to question that perspective. Most houses have bars on the windows, and when possible, there are courtyards with walls with sharp things (wrought iron commonly, but sometimes broken glass) embedded in them. I became so used to this I was afraid that I would feel freaked out by the windows and lawns in the US that welcome home invasion. In the Philippines, all but the smallest businesses have guards who appear to be well-trained and friendly, but have deadly-looking weaponry on them. Cashing a check is so difficult in the Philippines as almost any imperfection is a sign to the bank that it must be fraudulent. So much of the way things are handled in the Philippines just screams, “This is a place where criminals are everywhere.”

Despite this, in just over 17 years I have never been robbed. Well, maybe once or twice. One time I dropped my wallet without knowing it. Even then I got my wallet back. There was 500 pesos missing (about $10). Since that would be what I would have given the person for finding the wallet, it hardly seems like a robbery. One time I was shaken down by a member of the police for P2500 for some alleged traffic violation. Yes, I do consider that to be a true robbery… but thankfully the vast majority of my interactions with the police in the Philippines have been positive.

Not all have had this experience. One friend of mine, an American missionary who lived a few kilometers from us, got his house broken into numerous times. Since that individual had anger management problems (definitely a “No-No” in the Philippines) my suspicion was that the break-ins were not so much ‘we want your stuff’ and more ‘we want you to leave.’ Another missionary related how his house was robbed, and how the police put up obstacles in the investigation, only moving forward with an arrest after that missionary had actually worked the case and found proof of who the perpetrators were. Even then he actually had to go over the head of the ones assigned the case. His theory was that the local police received money from the gang who were doing the break-ins. No idea if that was true. Yet another missionary experienced a very well-orchestrated home invasion… and would have most likely suffered a second if one of the compound guards had not happened upon one of the members of the team during his rounds.

For me, my problems have not been in the Philippines but in the US. The only house robbery I ever experienced was in the US, as well as the only car break-in. Most recently, we had a different sort of crime here in the States. We had to buy a (used of course, does anyone actually buy new?) car. Knowing the reputation of used car dealers, I get pretty nervous. Renting a car was clearly out of the question. The cost of a decent used car was about the same as the renting the cheapest car available for around 3 months (a different form of crime I suppose). We started researching online. Eventually, we had narrowed things down to about four or five cars that looked good on Carfax. We went to the first place— I will call it “A Used Cars.” I will admit that the people who ran it (brothers) were pretty friendly and accommodating. However, I felt that there were some reasons to think that MAYBE I should not trust them. Anyway, there were a couple of cars that looked pretty good, but nothing that was PERFECT for us. Then we went to the second place “B Motors” (still protecting their names even though I suppose I don’t really have to). They were also friendly and had cars in our price range. One car, however, seemed about perfect for us. After a test-drive and a bit of research we decided it was just what we wanted. We got a loan approved with our credit union, filled out the paperwork, decided to get a used car warranty insurance for it, and within four days of first seeing the car, it was now ours with temporary dealer tags. We were told that we will be given a call when the regular tags and registration show up.

Thirty days later we heard nothing from “B Motors.” I give them a call, but their number was not working. I check them on the Web and it says that they are “Temporarily Closed.” It was Thanksgiving Weekend. I figured them may have shut down for a few days. After that weekend, I tried to call again, and the phone was still not working. I check the Web and now it is supposedly “Permanently Closed.” That is not good. Despite what Google says, their website suggested they were open, so we sent a direct message to them through their contact page, but got no response. However, now Google was back to saying that they were open. Between that and the fact that we were busy turning the new house we bought into a home, we did not take things too seriously. However, when December came with no permanent plates and no word from our dealer, we realized that we had to act.

We drove to the dealership finding, NOT to our surprise, that there was a totally different name on it— now it was, I shall say, “C Autoworld.” I went into “C Autoworld” and found, again not to our surprise, that the people running the place were entirely new. We talked to the lady who appeared to be in charge. She said that we are part of a whole stream of people who have been coming to their place about “B Motors.” According to her, “B Motors” had been owned by a guy who had a history of scamming. He would set up a dealership under a false name, and then steal from customers. It seems like the stealing was not in terms of actual cars, but in processing fees and DMV (department of motor vehicle) charges. Anyway, DMV shut them down. She did not know how to get hold of any of them, but gave us the number of the Virginia department that oversaw car dealerships. We called the number and then turned in a complaint. That department appears like it will be helpful, even though the timetable they gave us is pretty slow. Not sure if we will have to repay some of those fees. We shall see. That got us thinking. We bought a used car warranty insurance. We had actually carefully investigated before and found that this particular warranty insurance has a very good reputation (not all of them do) so we got it through the “B Motors” dealership. We went online to check on the status of our insurance policy and found, yet again not to our surprise, that they had never heard of us. The auto dealership had pocketed our money.

It does appear that we have a legal car and a car that works well. That is a blessing. However, we were robbed in terms of insurance money and the official paperwork from the DMV. It looks like this can be fixed without too much pain. It, however, is slowing down our return to the Philippines.

It is human nature to profile. Some profile based on nationality or race or economic status or others. Most of us, I think, feel that people who are like themselves are less likely to cheat them than people that are different. Over and over I have found this not to be true. Criminality is more a case of the heart than of other factors. Sure, desperation may apply pressure on someone to do wrong, but from my own experience, I have only been cheated by people who did it because of greed, not economic desperation.

The first car dealership, ‘A Used Cars,’ the one I felt a twinge of concern about, they are active, doing well, and on the NICE, not NAUGHTY, list at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I would say Lesson Learned, but some lessons one must learn again and again. I remember a guy who was in Brazil who had a pickpocket come upon him. The thief reached into his pocket but made a mistake and was caught as he removed his hand. Money went flying all over the place and he ran off. Immediately, other Brazilians hurried over to the where the American tourist was and began grabbing the money. Then they brought the money to the tourist and apologizing for what he went through. They want to be thought of as a safe and moral nation. It is all too easy to remember the pickpocket and see that as ‘the norm.’ However the REAL norm was the Good Samaritans (Good Brazilians) who sought to help the tourist in his time of need.

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