While those of us immersed in special needs ministry aren’t the investigative arm of the NYPD, there are times that we must secure information from our members.  There are several things that we know. 

  1. You may not open, examine or search any personal items without the permission of your member. 
  2. You should never, ever, in any way, touch a member without his/her permission. 
  3. You cannot accuse any member of lying, being a thief or any other form of skullduggery.
  4. You must not show anger during a critical or crisis situation. 

All that being said, it pretty much leaves you to rely on God’s wisdom to find the answer to a situation that occasionally erupts during the times your members are under your charge at any activity involving your program.  Years ago at my first year at camp which is a four-day event, a member rushed up to me and said, “Devin stole my new cassette player.  I want it back.”  Tina had proudly shown me her new, expensive cassette player before we left town. 

Devin, a street-wise teenager with a police record and  minimal financial resources, was sitting in the activity room contentedly listening to what looked exactly like Tina’s new cassette player. I was new at this game; therefore, I marched up to Devin and said in my most stern voice, “Give me that cassette player.  It belongs to  Tina and you know it.”  Fortunately, a more seasoned staff was also present.  Calmly, he walked up and said, “How do you know this doesn’t belong to Devin?  You can’t take this cassette player with no evidence that it doesn’t belong to him.”

I was stunned.  At first, I was shocked that the other staff person would take the position that I was wrong; and Devin was right.  However, within seconds, I was horrified at my own unjust and impulsive behavior.  Mentally, I backed away from the situation to collect my thoughts, trying desperately to recoup and reevaluate the entire recent events.  In equal desperation, I prayed that God would give me wisdom. 

Almost instantly, Tina came up.  “I still have the box it came in at home.  I can prove that it’s my cassette player because it has the serial number on it.” 

Quickly, we called her home and found that the numbers on the cassette player did match the numbers on the box.  Reluctantly, Devin turned over the player while still vehemently proclaiming that it was his cassette player. 

From this incident and others, I’ve learned several things.

  1. Whenever anything is missing, the impulse of the person who has lost or misplaced an item will be to assume that it was stolen.  Because of their mental immaturity, a member may be quick to yell, “Somebody stole my towel!” 
  2. Your first assumption should be that the item is misplaced, not stolen.
  3. Ask the person to examine their belongings and offer to assist them.
  4. If you come to believe that something may be stolen, you may ask everyone to look in their belongs to insure that the missing item has not been misplaced.  If there is someone whom you know has a history of taking things, you may nonchalantly stand over him/her as she examines her luggage or purse.
  5. Check areas where that person may have been and left the missing item, such as restrooms.
  6. Ask others if they have seen the missing item.
  7. Try to find an ID mark.  That doesn’t mean an ID number but a mark that has been made on the missing item that will help to identify the item.  It can be a name written on the item or even a large scratch that the owner can verify.
  8. Remember that our members become very attached to their stuff.  Therefore, even the things which may not seem important to you will be hard to lose for our members.  Over the years, I learned to not devalue their losses.  If it is important to a member, it should become important to you.

These are only a few things.  What have you learned?  Share with us.