I have always loved New Zealand because of its friendly and welcoming society. As such, it was really disappointing to hear in recent news statistics of the most violent hotspots in New Zealand. The highest number of assaults, sexual attacks and robberies which took place last year in Auckland were recorded at more than six-and-a-half times the national average.
I was not too surprised, therefore, when victims of violent robberies responded to these statistics by calling for tougher penalties upon the offenders as a measure to protect themselves. While tougher penalties felt to me at first a logical response to prevent crimes from reoccurring, recent events have left me pondering on how effective they really are in not only protecting the victims but also helping the offenders.
Victim versus offender
Easily empathising with victims of these situations as their stories are told is my forte. I am known as the cry-baby who will tear up when I watch scenes in movies of people being victimised, even though I know it is just fiction. It is in my nature to want to help victims and their families recover through the whole ordeal.
It is natural, on the other hand, to condemn and scorn offenders including their families. I never like the antagonist in any story—much less in real life. Any reasons given for their actions often sound like excuses to me.
Society in general is perhaps like me—more inclined to care for victims but having little regard or concern for offenders. After all, the latter by their own wills commit crime and put victims in situations one does not choose to be in.
Knowing the offender
My three year old son, John, started attending kindergarten recently. At the end of his first week, I received the heartbreaking report that he was pushing and hitting other children with toys. My son was not a victim—he was an offender.
When this happened, it totally altered my view of dealing with offenders. As the mother of John, I not only knew the offender but also had much love for him. While I worried about the wellbeing of the other children, it came to my attention that the problem which needed solving was John being unaware of who he is called to be in God. Not knowing this results in him behaving in a manner that hurts others.
My pastor pointed out plainly that the only way to cure dysfunction is by surrounding it with enough functional people. I decided we needed to shower my son with more love so he would in turn love his friends and not hurt them.
Offenders need us
Don't get me wrong; it is non-debatable that there should be penalties for offenders. Firstly, we need to protect the victims—especially from such trauma. Secondly, the offender has to bear the responsibility of their action.
What an offender does is inexcusable, yet everyone deserves a second chance. More often than not, we ignore the people who need this chance the most—offenders. Jesus set an example for us in Mark chapter 2, verse 17 when people questioned why he dined with tax collectors and sinners: 'On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."'
I am not saying we should abolish fines and imprisonment. The authorities do a great job upholding justice for victims. What I am suggesting is that we could also do our part as individuals by being there—not only for the victims but also for the offenders.
Called to love
Offenders might be prevented from committing their offences by being physically jailed but unless we deal with the core issue of dysfunction and lack of love, they may eventually recommit their crimes upon release.
Discipline and punishment need to be coupled with love. This love should come from us, family and friends of the offenders, by showing kindness and concern. John's case pales in comparison to the major crimes recorded in the statistics shared but I do believe that our actions are God's example of love to all people, notwithstanding their crimes.
We need not approach every offender or visit prisons—although some of us are called to such a ministry and do it with much wisdom—we just need to have a smile or hug for anyone we know who is guilty of a wrong. We can spend time doing something they enjoy or dining together in a group. Perhaps, give a word of encouragement or applause for anything praiseworthy.
I am thankful for people who continue to include my son John in their life, despite his mistakes, and nurture him to be kind and loving as God would have him be.
Would you too care for an offender like Jesus did?
Esther Koh is a stay-at-home mum living in Wellington with her husband and three year old son. She loves people and has a passion for helping others find their purpose for living.
Esther Koh's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/esther-koh.html