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Trouble in Paradise

by Chelsea Mastrapa

The sight of our van almost ruined our trip to Italy

 My sister sat on the curb. Actually, she collapsed onto the curb. Tears fell down her face, and I quickly sat next to her and told her that everything would be OK.

My dad paced back and forth between looks of disbelief and anger. He rummaged through what was left in the ransacked van in an attempt to calm his nerves.
Fortunately, my mother kept her composure; she never loses her cool. I sat next to my sister, thanking God that at least a few of our belongings had been left behind, and praying that we’d be able to get back into the United States.
I’d always wanted to vacation in Italy. I wanted to see the Colosseum in Rome, where the gladiators had fought. I could only imagine how amazing it would be to ride in a gondola through the canals of Venice. I wanted to take those goofy pictures next to the leaning tower of Pisa with the rest of the tourists. My dreams finally came true in the summer of 2005. I was 15 years old and ready to see the world.
Italy was everything I thought it would be—rustic architecture, beautiful scenery, amazing food, and colorful people. With one stop left to go on the trip, we made our way to Florence. We flooded out of our rented van like water bursting through a broken dam, in anticipation of shopping and sightseeing the day away. We women took the lead, ready to spend Dad’s money.
The day went by quickly, and all too soon we were on our way back to the van. Once it came into view, Dad froze. We stared at him for a few seconds, trying to figure out why he had stopped in the middle of the road. Then we saw one of the worst sights a tourist—or anyone else, for that matter—can see. All the doors to the van had been pried open. Our luggage, or what was left of it, had been strewn across the sidewalk and street. We’d been robbed.
Now, it’s bad enough to get robbed on vacation, but it’s a whole different story when you’re robbed in a foreign country!
My sister began freaking out and yelling, “My books! My journal! My camera!

My clothes! They’re all gone!”
“Emily, please calm down. You’re not helping at all. Just go sit down on the curb so I can think,” Dad said in a voice that we knew meant business. “Well, Chelsea, looks like you’re the lucky one here. Good thing you’re a heavy packer, because you’re the only person who didn’t get their luggage stolen.”
That was small consolation under the circumstances. Trying to be helpful, I said,  “Well maybe we should—”
“Chelsea, please just go sit by your sister and let me figure this one out!” Dad interrupted. He paced back and forth for a little while longer. Then he shouted, “How are we supposed to get home? We have no passports, plane tickets, or confirmation numbers, and I’m the only one with proof of identification.”
Suddenly Jonathan, the youngest kid in our group (another family was traveling with us), started jumping around and laughing. His mom walked over to him and told him to stop because it wasn’t the right time or place. But he just kept doing it. I finally asked him what he was so happy about. From behind his back he pulled out all of our passports and plane tickets! The robbers had apparently dug through all of our luggage, taken out the tickets and passports, and put them under the driver’s seat, so we would at least be able to get back home to the U.S. without too much trouble. Then and there we offered our prayers of thanks.
Experiences such as this have really built up my faith in God. The life situations that we go through not only build our character but also shape our relationship with the Lord. Although nearly all of our luggage was stolen, we somehow ended up with the world’s kindest robbers, who were considerate enough to leave behind our passports and plane tickets!
That was no coincidence. For me, it gave new meaning to what God says in Isaiah 65:24: “It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer.”
Chelsea Mastrapa, a college student, is from the state of Maryland.

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