"Justice is not our responsibility"
By: Teri Newburn and Myriam Lecha
Over 3 years ago, my friendship with a beautician named Alejandra led me to start a reflection group/Bible study in my home. When I deliberated how to lead a Bible study in Spanish for an audience of “seekers,” I was drawn to the stories of God’s word in their simplicity and depth. I read the story from a simple translation and then ask open-ended questions. Each week we would read and discuss a new chapter or portion of the story. No topic was off-limits, because the stories include adultery, murder, intrigue, grief, hatred, love, forgiveness, betrayal and trust. Myriam attended our group from the beginning… and this is how God’s story has impacted her journey:
“I have a premonition,” Lida said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I think … something bad is going to happen.”
Her mother’s words struck Myriam. Many of Lida’s premonitions had come true in the past. But what harm could come to her kindhearted mother? Lida was beloved, a modern-day Dorcas: always sewing, drawing, crafting and cooking for others. She had no enemies. In fact, Lida had generously opened her home to a young pregnant woman, Camila*.
Myriam was not happy about her mother’s new roommate. A couple weeks earlier, at Lida’s 73rd birthday tea, Lida had confided that she was uneasy. The situation with Camila wasn’t going as well as it had begun, and she wondered whether there was a way out. There were no easy answers; Myriam and her sister did not live nearby, and Camila had nowhere else to go.
That night, Myriam hung up the phone with a troubled heart.
Early the next morning, Fernando*, the father of Camila’s unborn child, jumped the fence and banged on the door. He was seething with rage. Camila had threatened to tell his wife about their affair if he didn’t start providing for her and the baby; he did not intend to give her the chance. Oblivious to his fury, Camila stepped outside to greet him. She found Fernando on the porch clutching a duffel bag. At the sight of his pale face, she hurried inside to offer him a glass of water. When she came back, he snapped. The glass tumbled from her hand as he lunged for her throat. Camila screamed, and Lida ran to help. “Call… the… police,” Camila begged her, straining out the words as Fernando strangled her.
Fernando was startled when he saw Lida at the door; he had thought Camila was home alone. As Lida ran for the phone, he forced his way inside to stop her, leaving Camila on the ground. Camila, gasping for breath, stumbled over to their neighbor’s home to hide.
When the police arrived, they found Fernando in the living room, bleeding from several self-inflicted knife wounds. The duffel bag carried evidence of a premeditated attack. Then they found Lida. She was lying still; 12 stab wounds in her chest.
Myriam rushed to the hospital, but her mother was gone. Myriam was numb, shocked. Their phone call the night before would be the last time she would ever hear her mother’s voice; her mother’s birthday tea, the last time she would see her alive. Her generous, gentle mother -- taken. Myriam’s shock soon turned to anger. If God was good, why would He allow her mother to be brutally stabbed to death?
She knew that her mother would have gladly given her life to save another. Lida would have told her daughter that everything happens for a purpose. But Myriam couldn’t accept that. She raged at God for taking a good woman who didn’t deserve to die. Chains of anger and bitterness imprisoned her soul. She wanted Fernando to die; he deserved to die.
Fernando was convicted of Lida’s murder and sentenced to 28 years in jail without Myriam ever seeing his face. Several years later, a local news report featured a new low-security prison to rehabilitate prisoners. Myriam was cooking at home when she happened to glance up. At that moment, the screen flashed a photo of a prisoner with his compete name: Fernando Sanchez. She knew that name well. For the first time she was seeing the face of her mother’s killer … and he was on the news because he had been selected to be rehabilitated. After serving just 7 years, the man who had brutally murdered her mother was released. Fernando was free. But Myriam was captive to her thoughts of revenge, unable to escape her unquenchable need for justice.
Around that same time, Myriam’s beautician, Alejandra, invited her to a new Bible study meeting in my home. Up until then, Myriam’s only experience with the Bible had been through catechism as a young girl. She felt compelled to attend the reflection group because of Alejandra’s persistence. From that first week, she was captivated by the simple way we approached the Scriptures and how we lovingly accepted her as one of God’s children.
Over the next two years, Myriam joined us in discovering stories from God’s word. We were encouraged that God loved and forgave the adulterous assassin King David. We triumphed with Esther at Haman’s defeat. We identified with the parables Jesus’ taught. We wept with Joseph as he forgave his brothers. One day Myriam said offhandedly, “You know, my co-workers will want to know what happened to Joseph tomorrow.” I asked her what she meant. “Well,” she said, “the day after reflection group, I always tell them all about the latest chapter in the story.” Her face lit up. “They always ask me as soon as we sit down for lunch, ‘Well? Tell us! What happened next?’ Then I tell them everything we talked about.”
I was thrilled to see the word of God flood Myriam’s heart and spill out to those around her. Over time, as God filled her soul with His love, Myriam began to understand that God’s forgiveness was for her too. For years she had been living with guilt for a youthful mistake, certain that God would never forgive her. But King David’s sin was much worse… and God had forgiven him. God would forgive her too.
Myriam was living with a newfound hope and peace. She felt close to God for the first time in her life. His forgiveness was transforming her soul. Yet part of her remained trapped with Lida in that house. She held tight to her hatred of Fernando… still captive to the quest for justice.
At reflection group one week during a discussion on forgiveness, Myriam said, “I can accept that God forgave me. And I can forgive a lot of people … but I will not forgive the man who killed my mother. I cannot.”
Someone replied, “Justice is not our responsibility. One day, God will carry out perfect justice. God is just.” Those words seared Myriam’s heart like a lightning bolt. For years, she had repeated the mantra, “He has to pay. He has to pay. He has to pay for what he did.” But in that moment, she fully accepted the truth … justice is God’s job! She was powerless to bring true justice to Fernando. Perfect justice is God’s responsibility. That day, God broke the chains that had strangled Myriam’s soul for so long. She could finally rest completely in God’s love. She could finally forgive.
And so it was: God forgave Myriam. Myriam forgave her mother’s murderer. And Myriam is finally free.
Myriam continues to attend reflection group and grow closer to God. This year we are meeting every Tuesday night. Often we use the method of orality to share stories from God’s word. Myriam has always wanted to read the Bible on her own, but struggled to find the time between the demands of her job and family. Recently, someone suggested that she listen to an audio Bible during her 45-minute commute to and from work. She loves hearing God’s word every day! Pray that others will join us and then multiply God’s stories into their own groups as Myriam has done in her office.
*names have been changed
Teri and her husband Keith live in Montevideo, Uruguay. They serve as the Regional Financial Accountant couple for the Latin America Region. They enjoy serving alongside the Rambla team of international workers in Montevideo.