February 25, 2014

Dateline Moscow

An alternating beeping and buzzing jarred me from a sound sleep on a Sunday morning.

Half awake, I tried to place the sound. Were the upstairs neighbors refurbishing their apartment? No, it was not the right sound for a drill. Was the alarm ringing on my cell phone? No, the device was lying silently on the nightstand.

The whirring, beeping sounds were unlike anything that I had ever heard. When they refused to stop, I dragged myself from bed to find out where they were coming from.

I spotted the source on the hallway table in my Moscow apartment: my keychain. It was beeping and vibrating, apparently because my car alarm had been triggered.

No one had ever tried to break into my car before, nor had my car ever been hit by another vehicle in the parking lot. But I couldn’t look out the window to see which awful scenario was unfolding. Because of the poor parking situation around my apartment building, I had parked the car out of view of my seventh-floor window.

With a groan I groggily pulled on jeans and a sweatshirt (it took five minutes), called for the elevator and went down (three minutes), and walked toward my car (another five minutes). My keychain persisted in squeaking the whole time. I wondered why it didn’t automatically shut off. I worried about what theft or massive accident would greet my eyes.

But when I turned the corner of the apartment building two courtyards away, I saw my car all alone in its curbside parking spot, headlights flashing and siren wailing. With bewilderment I headed toward it to see what was wrong.

En route, a white-haired granny, shawl wrapped around her head and shuffling with a cane, stopped me and asked whether the car was mine. When I confirmed that it was, she told me that four groundskeepers had poked at the tires with brooms to purposely set off the alarm. When the alarm had gone silent, they poked at the tires again.

The granny said she had asked them why they were abusing the poor vehicle, and they replied that they were trying to get the attention of the owner. They wanted the car moved immediately so they could finish their work.

In the days before alarm systems, Jesus spoke about the need to be vigilant to prevent theft. “But understand this:” Jesus told His disciples during a private conversation on the Mount of Olives, “If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into” (Matt. 24:43).

Granted, Jesus was underscoring our need to always be ready for the Second Coming.

But the principle He outlines also applies to sin. If I had known at what hour temptation would come, I would have watched and not allowed the devil to break into my house.

It’s easy to forget to watch and pray at all times. So when the devil pokes our tires to tempt us, God sends warnings through our conscience, the remote control. We can ignore the warnings, or we figure out what to do, perhaps by removing ourselves from a situation conducive for sinning.

With a smile I removed my car from the parking spot on that Sunday morning.

In addition to a spiritual lesson, I learned two other things. First, car alarms are not only meant to spook thieves; they are also used by groundskeepers as a way to finish their work more quickly. Second, grannies are the best source of information.