Protecting and ProtectedApril 24, 2012
March 2012 proved traumatic for our family. Yet, relationships with Christian colleagues and God enable one to discern much good from much heartache.
As a white male ordained minister, I am often in a position of power and privilege. I am therefore not so infrequently requested to lead and to protect others in need. One night in March proved no different.
At 10:30 p.m., a loud rapping at my wife’s and my bedroom window shattered our deep sleep. At the same time, the dear old man who owns the school’s security company, urgently called for my help. ‘What is it now?’ I thought. ‘Has someone been robbed? Is someone giving birth? Is there a domestic dispute?’ I have resources, societal power and, as is sometimes urgently needed, a vehicle!
As it happened, two plainclothes police officers were trying to arrest the school’s on-duty security guard. The security company owner was furious because one interloper seemed highly excited, unprofessional and even ‘mad’ under an influence! They were trespassing, not entering the school campus with permission. Were they even officers? They had no badges. Worse, they wished to kidnap the poor dumbfounded guard only on the basis that his first name began with the name letter as their suspect’s. Arguments ensued. The chaos absorbed other residents on campus. I rushed out, trying to discern the situation amongst all the yelling, pushing and shoving. It was getting out of hand, quick. The wild plainclothes policeman now declared he was arresting anyone who contested his original false arrest. Realizing that things could get violent and the situation uncontrollable, I organized those concerned to be arrested so that resolution could be achieved in a safe environment (in a police station with uniformed officers) and sanity restored. I volunteered to be arrested with the security company owner and the guard; there was safety in numbers and there was less likely chance of abuse if I was present. Everybody calmed.
Still not sure we were dealing with the police, I wished us to be arrested by uniformed officers. My wife called the police. They came in two vehicles, one a canine unit. In the confusion, I was asked to exit one squad car and enter another. I did as instructed. In the darkness and confusion, the unlocked car I chose had a loose police dog in the backseat. The dog attacked and I was badly mauled.
With warm blood pouring down my leg and pooling in my shoe, the seemingly crazed undercover officer still insisted I be detained and brought into custody. While wrapping a towel around my leg and applying pressure, the officer demanded that I first be booked at the station. Only after would the police take me to a state hospital. Such a scenario, I knew, placed my life at risk. My wife screamed, “He is going to hospital! He needs urgent medical care! He is my husband and I love him!” She persuaded him to reluctantly accompany us in our car to the hospital. I depended on my wife’s quick and careful driving through red lights with an irrational and argumentative antagonist in the backseat. My wife protected me.
On the way to the hospital, I phoned my friend, colleague and Chairperson of the UCCSA’s KZN Region and his wife. She phoned the hospital ahead of my arrival and organized my reception. As the former public relations officer at the same hospital, she ensured the trauma doctor was a good one and verified that the hospital did everything properly. Upon arrival, the Chairperson interrogated the police officer. The plainclothes officer kept me in custody, waiting behind a curtain in the emergency room while I received countless injections and was being stitched together. The hospital, understanding my plight, declared on medical grounds (and a wink) that I needed to be admitted. Now the police officer could not remove me from the hospital. The doctor transferred me to the surgical ward, without the officer being notified. The Chairperson and his wife protected me.
My wife phoned the Principal of Inanda Seminary and notified her of events in the middle of the night. She drove almost an hour south from her home to the school to care for our children should they awake. The Principal assured my wife and I that she would stay in our home that night. She would care for our children who we had to abandon for the time being. The Principal protected our children.
In the hospital, my friend, colleague and Moderator of the UCCSA’s KZN Region visited me in the hospital. He prayed with me and assured me of his concern and that of the wider church we serve. The Moderator prayed for God’s protection over me. The Moderator posted on Facebook the events and engendered the support and protection of the wider church. In prayer and through fellowship, the Moderator protected me.
A former student and current Chairperson of the Inanda Seminary Board of Governors (BOG) notified the Minister of Safety and Security. The Chairperson of the BOG is very soft-spoken, yet a very savvy and influential veteran of the anti-Apartheid struggle. Within five minutes, the Minister phoned me. Within five minutes after that, a Major General phoned me. I received fawning sympathies and assurances that the matter would be taken care of by the highest officials in the land. The officer in question now has criminal charges pending against him. The Chairperson of Inanda Seminary’s BOG protected me.
When our family finally returned to Inanda Seminary, the school’s very sensitive security staff provided us every assurance and confidence that we were safe. The owner of the school’s security company, almost in tears, expressed much sorrow for my hospitalization despite the fact that he and others spent the night in jail before all charges were dropped the following day. Now every time we pass though the school’s gate, we are greeted with a smile and a reassurance. The school’s security team protects me and my family with a unique concern.
After surgery and four days in the hospital, I was released. The next day, members of the rural iThafamasi Congregational Church that I serve as pastor visited my home. They shared scripture with my wife and I, comforting and reassuring her as much as me. Members of the church went to great lengths to organize the transportation to visit and to affirm us. Through scripture and Christian solidarity, the local church I serve protects me.
In an instance, I, the seemingly powerful white male clergy was made very vulnerable and highly dependent. The protector became the protected. My wife, the Chairperson of the region, the Principal, the head of security, the Chair of the BOG, the Moderator of the region and the members of the iThafamasi Congregational Church became my protectors. As I bled, none of them were dependent on me and I became dependent on all of them.
Such is the nature of the Christian community. We dare not fail to protect it through mission. For, ultimately, in solidarity, it protects us and connects us to our Creator.
Love always in Christ,
Scott Couper serves with the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) as a Development Manager of the Inanda Seminary. Susan serves with Inanda Seminary, Durban, South Africa as the chaplain.
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