Some stories are just too unbelievable to believe at first glance. Of course, coming from people who have stooped so low as to try to steal Passover glasses and church hymnals, I suppose cattle rustling is just another day of thievery. First, the announcement, and then the commentary:
The church’s home office was recently advised that some seven head of cattle have been tragically and wrongfully taken from members of United Church of God in remote areas of Zambia. This creates a terrible and completely unnecessary crisis for these members, and prayers from Church members for resolution and protection are urgently requested.
These stolen cattle were for the most part offspring of heifers that were given to these members years ago as part of a LifeNets International program to help United member farmers (and other beneficiaries) rebuild livestock lost to a devastating cattle disease a decade or so ago. This program of gifting heifers to needy people by LifeNets was patterned after the Heifer Project International headquartered in the United States with an office in Lusaka, Zambia. The cattle are the personal property of the individuals to whom they were given, not some other organization or group.
In Zambia, when these heifers become oxen they are not only able to produce calves to rebuild lost cattle and to provide dairy products and manure for fertilizer and fuel, but they are also the “living tractors” for these subsistence farmers to plow their fields. With planting season taking place just after the Feast of Tabernacles, the loss of these oxen will dramatically affect the members’ ability to plant their next crop. For them, this act of thievery could not have come at a worse time.
The unhappy report that we received and verified related that these cattle were forcibly taken away by former friends or acquaintances of these victim-farmers. These former friends now belong to a Church of God fellowship largely comprised of former members and former ministers of the UCG. It is also our understanding from this report that the leader(s) of that fellowship refuse to intervene to stop the theft of these cattle by their members, nor have they condemned the actions that their members are taking.
In any event, while United is doing what we can to recover the cattle taken and is working to prevent further confiscation of members’ cattle in Zambia, we know that God is aware of the entire scope of what is going on. He ultimately will provide resolution. Accordingly, prayers are now urgently requested by members in that country that God will immediately intervene and grant them protection; that their livelihoods will be sustained without harm or fear of want; that cattle that have been taken will be peaceably returned; and that this sort of unconscionable behavior will not be repeated or continued.
This is a shameless act of cattle rustling. For those of us that thought that the theft of cattle belonged in the Old West, here is an example of modern-day cattle rustling from people whose love of thievery has been well documented in this blog. Zambia is a little-known country in Africa that borders Zimbabwe and Congo-Kinshasha, and it is a poor country as are most in Africa. To have brethren’s survival threatened because their cattle has been stolen by thieves who claim to be Christians is unbelievable. I hope, unless there is a quick repentance and full restitution (about which I will shortly comment), that God’s mercy to His people is swift and that His judgment of the wicked is sure.
Let us remember that 1 Corinthians 6:10 tells us that thieves will not enter the Kingdom of God. Unless the thieves of Cogwa repent and provide restitution for their theft, they can expect nothing other than divine judgment for their flagrant sins. What was the biblical requirement of restitution for cattle such as those stolen? Exodus 22:1 tells us that oxen (cattle) are to be restored by thieves with fivefold restitution, the highest restitution penalty in all of scripture. Some religious thinkers of the Theonomy school believe that the fivefold restitution for cattle is because of the role of cattle as part of mankind’s dominion covenant (see Gary North’s Victim’s Rights, for example). Suffice it to say that if the people of Cogwa want to show themselves as being obedient to God’s law, they need to restore 5 oxen for every ox stolen by their cattle rustling members.
Let us ponder this matter in a fuller context, though. It is an act of base treachery to rustle the cattle of people, even those considered enemies, who used to be considered brethren. Clearly the people who did this brutal act, and those who support the thieves, are without shame or a repentant heart. For those who regularly practice and endorse theft, there is no proper understanding of the enduring relevance of God’s Commandments on our lives and conduct. To endorse or engage in such a behavior, clearly commandment-keeping is not a high priority either in messages or in personal behavior. Such members model the thieving behavior of their leaders, and so we should not be surprised at their lack of moral excellence. But we can, and should, expose it in the hope that it should lead to repentance, and so that judgment may be avoided while there is yet time for us to repent and receive mercy rather than judgment.
Let us hope, in the meantime, that God blesses the threatened brethren of Zambia and grants them an even better blessing than they enjoyed before for having to endure such theft at the hands of erstwhile brethren. For did not the Bible prophecy that parents would be against children and brother against brother? So it is in our lives. But God has promised us that none of His children shall fall from His hand and that all things will, in the end, work together for the good for those beloved brethren whom God has called according to His world. Let that be seen gloriously for our brethren in Zambia who are having to deal with the outrage of cattle rustlers from among those who previously fellowshipped with us, even if their current spiritual state suggests that they are no longer under God’s grace and blessing.