Mistaken Identities

Word list

Muy mala/malo very bad Somos constructores de la paz We are builders of the peace.

When we arrived at the school and got Dad into our room and onto his mattress, I slung the Pocahontas backpack over my shoulder and Guy and I paced rapidly toward the girls’ dorm.

We knocked at the familiar door, and Victoria herself answered. She had a little worry wrinkle between her brows, but that vanished when she saw her backpack.

“Thank you,” she said, reaching out for it. “I wanted to come with you, but the nose of one of the children was bleeding. I–”

“Do you have a minute to talk with us?” I asked slowly.

She paused, and then nodded. “Is there a problem?”

“Is this your backpack?” he asked her in a low voice. “Why does it have this camera in it?”

Victoria’s jaw fell. “How did you–you looked in my bag!” she said, accusation in her voice.

“No,” answered Guy, “I did not look in your bag. I reached down to pick up the pack when it fell in the van, and the camera fell out.”

Victoria’s eyes were hard. “You think I am una ladrona?” she snapped.

“Victoria,” I said, “Guy is not calling you a thief. But Dad’s been missing his camera. Why do you have it?”

Victoria looked sullenly at Guy. “I do not like being called una ladrona.”

“Look,” I said, trying not to sound frustrated, “we aren’t trying to be rude–we just don’t understand.”

“I am not una ladrona,” Victoria repeated.

“OK,” I said, but probably didn’t sound real convincing.

“The old lady is una ladrona!” she blurted out.

I stared at her. “What old lady?”

“That old Norteamericana lady in your group. The one with the bag with all the–the pockets.”

“Mrs. Ziegler?” I gasped.

Victoria nodded. “She came over to the dormitory to take pictures of orphans today. She had this camera. She left it on the table. I remember how you say your father’s camera looks.”

I swallowed. “Mrs. Ziegler?”

“When I heard your father was hurt and at the hospital, I asked if I could go along with you when you came back from the vacation school to give your father his camera.”

“We thought you were going to give it to Bundo,” I blurted out.

“No!” answered Victoria in a hurt voice. “The academy principal gave me a letter for him.”

“So Mrs. Ziegler has had Dad’s camera all along?”

She nodded vigorously. “Una ladrona muy mala.”

Guy just shook his head in disbelief. “Mrs. Ziegler? But why? And how?”

“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” I turned to Victoria. “Thank you for rescuing my father’s camera,” I said, putting its strap around my neck. “Thank you very much.”

She shot a stern glance at Guy, then at me. “Remember, I am not–”

“We know,” I said hastily and humbly. “You’re not a ladrona. Please forgive us.”

“OK,” I said to Guy as we walked back to the boys’ dorm. “Let’s do our right-to-the-horse’s-mouth routine one more time.”

“Mrs. Ziegler?” Guy asked.

“Mrs. Ziegler.”

We found her painting one of the inside walls of the new orphanage.

“Why, thank you, boys,” she said, spotting Dad’s camera around my neck and reaching for it. “Did I leave that lying around somewhere?”

“Uh, Mrs. Ziegler,” said Guy, “this isn’t your camera.”

She peered at it. “Are you sure?”

“Look at the bottom,” I said, turning the camera over.

“P.K.,” she read. “You’re right. It’s not mine.”

My stomach dropped to my ankles, and I tried to sound respectful. “Mrs. Zeigler, if the camera isn’t yours, why did you have it at the orphanage?”

She frowned thoughtfully. “It’s the camera I’ve been using this whole trip.” She paused, then suddenly snapped her fingers, saying, “Wait here.”

When Mrs. Zeigler returned, she held up her own camera.

“Now I remember what happened,” she began to explain. “I put my own camera in my backpack the second day we were here. I was so frustrated with it that I decided to just pack it away and not use it again.” She paused, obviously embarrassed. “Please tell your father I’m so sorry I mistook his camera for mine.”

I nodded, relieved. “I’m sure he’ll send you the pictures you took with his camera.”

Guy and I said goodbye and walked away.

“Are you as confused as I am?” he asked me.

“Maybe not. I just thought of something.”


“You know how we tried to reconstruct all the events that happened right around the time the camera disappeared? Remember last Friday night at supper when everybody was yelling, ‘Come out and see the bats’?”

He nodded.

“Dad had set his camera down on the supper table and told me to take care of it. I told him I would put it in my backpack. But I must have forgotten too. Then Dad left the table, and guess who showed up.”

His jaw dropped. “Mrs. Ziegler.”

“Mrs. Ziegler in the flesh, as Mr. Denton would say. She came over and asked me if I needed any sunscreen. She set her backpack on our table and started digging through it, and suddenly we heard the yelling about the bats, and you and I dashed outside. I don’t remember her having a camera around her neck as she stood at the table. But I do remember her taking pictures of the bats.”

Guy gasped. “With your dad’s camera!”

“At that point,” I said, “she’d already packed away her own camera in frustration. But the news about the bats startled her so much that she temporarily forgot and grabbed for the closest camera. And from that point on she assumed that camera was hers.”

“You’d think she would have noticed that something was different.”

“Remember, she doesn’t know hardly anything at all about cameras. Her husband had owned one and given it to their son. But if I remember right, the son had brought that camera right to the airport at the last minute, and had given her a few quick lessons. Dad’s camera and hers are probably about the same age, and they’re both 35-millimeter, so it’s not like you’ve got a point-and-shoot versus a more complicated one.”

“But what about your dad? Wouldn’t he have seen it around her neck?”

“He would have seen that she had a camera–but there was no reason to suspect that another missionary had taken his. Even if he had noticed it was a Pentax, he would just assume that she had one something like his own. And there’s something else, too.”


“Remember when Mr. Kinney announced that Dad’s camera was missing? Mr. Denton grabbed for his camera pouch, and I saw Mrs. Zeigler grab the camera around her neck.”

“Right,” Guy said thoughtfully. “She said something like ‘I’m going to keep this camera with me all the time.'”

“That must have been Dad’s camera she was grabbing onto.”

“But wait,” said Guy. “The camera switch happened Friday. The next day we went to that botanical garden. Didn’t your dad have his camera then? He took a picture of us there beside some cactus, remember?”

“You’re right,” I said. “Whoa!” After doing some quick thinking I said, “I’ve got it. Dad must have borrowed Mr. Kinney’s camera, because he said that Mr. Kinney wanted pictures for an album he was making. Dad’s camera had slides in it, not prints.”

“Mystery solved,” said Guy with a sigh.

“Mystery solved.”

* * *

The last few days went by much too quickly, but our group managed to accomplish its mission to El Salvador anyway. School computers were installed, walls and roof of the new orphanage were completed, and Vacation Bible School was finished. Wow! I hated the thought of leaving those friendly little kids–they’d really grown on me.

Then the following Sunday morning found us standing with Victoria and Bundo at the huge airport east of San Salvador.

“Goodbye,” said Victoria, smiling. “Will you write a letter?”

We nodded.

“Adios, Norteamericanos,” said Bundo soberly.

I suddenly remembered something. Pulling out my brown notebook, I opened it and showed it to him. “What does this mean?” I asked. “I saw it painted on the wall of a military base.”

“Somos constructores de la paz,” he read.

“It means,” he said, looking me straight in the eye, “‘We are builders of the peace.’” And then Bundo smiled!

I glanced at Guy, and suddenly saw that he was having the same problem with tears in his eyes as I was.

“Be sure you don’t leave anything,” said Dad, hurriedly slipping his camera strap around my neck. “They’ve just started the boarding for our plane.”

I nodded and looked back at our new friends. Clearing my throat so my voice wouldn’t catch, I quietly said to Guy, “I have a feeling this won’t be our last mission trip to El Salvador.”

He nodded his head. Then after one last wave we turned and followed Dad into the crowd.

The End

* * *

Be a Real Missionary!

Can you find the following countries on a globe: Mali, Myanmar, Belize?

Did you know that the Seventh-day Adventist church has more than 2,000 missionaries in more than 200 countries around the world?

Much of Danger in El Salvador is based on a true experience. If you, like Mark and Guy, feel drawn to future mission service, you might explore several opportunities the SDA Church offers. These include: local school- and

church-sponsored trips (for Guide age), Insight magazine short-term mission trips (for teens), student missionary programs (college age), and denoninational mission service (adults).

Leave a Comment

Mistaken Identities

Guide magazine only prints true stories. However, we do publish some imaginative stories on the Guide website. If you want to share your story with our online readers, click below.

Claim Your Thumbuddy

See if you can add another Thumbuddy to your collection.

Enter your claim code*