During the early hours of the morning one day, 81-year-old Richard Lillywhite — a new convert to the Adventist faith — was robbed.
“There were three teens and one adult. One of the young guys came through my ensuite bedroom window, passed the bottom of my bed, and let his mates in. While they were ransacking the house, I had to get up to use the loo. I went back to bed completely oblivious to the whole thing!” he said.
Rather than seeing this as a setback in his faith journey, Lillywhite sees it as divine intervention. Having suffered a heart attack in 2018, he thinks it’s a miracle he didn’t wake up.
“I normally wake up at the drop of a hat,” he explained. “Living on my own and in my eighties, I take note of everything at night. I can’t dispute that God was there in all His glory and love and tenderness, because if I'd seen someone at the bottom of my bed, I would have freaked out.”
The three boys — two 16-years-olds and another 14 — broke in on the morning of May 12, 2020. While Lillywhite slept through the incident, his neighbors awoke when a car backed out of his driveway, tires screeching, engine racing, and lights shining.
“Next thing I knew, they were hammering on the front door, which apparently, I took ages to answer,” he said. “They said to me, ‘Do you know your car’s been stolen?’ and when I saw the roller door up, I was just relieved. I’m not materialistic.”
Twenty minutes later, the police arrived at Lillywhite’s house, having found his car with the keys inside and one of the perpetrators. Police dogs then identified the boys’ scent and tracked it to a house two kilometers away.
Having been unharmed and had his possessions — car, iPad tablet, wallet contents, and a razor — restored, this could have been the end of Lillywhite’s story. But God continued to work through his situation, bringing greater blessings than he could ever have anticipated.
“It was so beautifully done by the Lord. Since then, I’ve gone leaps and bounds in my Christian walk, which was just a dawdle at that point.”
Lillywhite attended three restorative justice conferences, where the perpetrators apologized to him. He said it changed his perspective.
“As expected, I thought they’d probably come from difficult backgrounds. There wasn’t one parent present. They lived with their grandfather or aunties. When they apologized to me, there wasn’t one trace of arrogance. I said, ‘It’s your first offense, I don’t like what you did, but I don’t hold anything against you. I forgive you, and I hope you will learn from this. I don't want reparation.’ ”
But, reparation they gave.
“One made a cake for me and … removed all the black mold and moss from the south-side path of my house. He is a really nice guy!
“At the third conference, I made a beeline for the boy standing awkwardly in the corner,” he continued “I said to him, ‘They tell me you do well at school and you’re a great basketball player. You’re so blessed to have those abilities! Use them.’ And he hugged me.”
A couple of days later, a police officer came to Lillywhite’s house with an envelope.
“It had ten 50-dollar notes in it,” he explained. “I said I didn’t want reparation. But it was from the boy and his grandfather. It was a Koha — a gift. I wrote them a very long thank-you letter. And I congratulated the grandfather on his good parenting.”
Lillywhite said that following the restorative justice conferences, all three boys have been discharged and their crimes wiped from police records.
“I’ve never had any flashbacks or concerns at all from the whole matter. While it wasn’t a good experience, I’m glad I had it. It’s done all four of us good.”
Lillywhite attends Tikipunga Adventist Fellowship in Whangarei, New Zealand, and said joining that church was the first step in his new walk with the Lord.
“A lady saw me at the door and waved me in. At lunch, everyone was amazing. I could have cried,” he said.