Monday, February 28, 2011


Eighteen years ago in a land not so far away to our Northeast (Uganda) a skinny young Muzungu (me) drove into a roundabout. The events of that day almost forever changed my perceptions of justice in Africa. Thank you Rwanda for restoring my dignity and courage.

As I drove around the roundabout a large blue lorry entered. As he entered his bumper came behind my bumper and our vehicles locked. The strength of his lorry pulled my poor little Toyota Lite Ace around the roundabout. When he stopped we got out of our vehicles. The driver stood about 25 centimeters shorter than I. The first words out of his mouth, “What were you doing in front of me. I am bigger than you.” He was wearing the clothes of a mechanic. The vehicle that he drove had written on it in large white letters, “Donated by the British Government.” I assumed the driver worked for an N.G.O., and was accountable to international standards. We began arguing. Others began watching. Then my wise wife drew my attention to the lorry’s license plate. It was UP ________. A traffic police officer joined the discussion. I learned quickly that even if I was hit from behind when I had the right of way and drug around a roundabout; if the lorry was a police vehicle I, the Muzungu was at fault.

I learned my lesson well. I have had several accidents since then. I remember twice in which another was at fault and had the courage to admit their fault. In those situations wisdom abounded and we both realized that in order to practice expeditious justice and mercy we dare not involve the police. In several situations I was at fault and thankfully the other motorist was wise and gracious. Thus we did not involve the police. In several situations I did not believe I was at fault. As an argument began I realized that justice was not possible. Thus I negotiated before the police arrived. I had no confidence in African police to deliver expeditious justice.

On Saturday, 22 January 2011 I drove at night to CCR to put closing touches on a sermon on the relationship between followers of Jesus and the government. I stopped at a supermarket to purchase needed caffeine and sugar. As I entered the parking lot, Rwanda and the Lord gave me a gift. A motorcycle hit my vehicle. I never saw him until we knocked. I do not know if his lights were on. Parking lots can be confusing, but it seemed I had the right of way. I was going slow and could stop immediately. He was going fast and skidded for about 4 meters.

The first words out of the motorcycle driver’s mouth were full of the hatred of race. For some reason I was not in the mood to ignore. I sat in my truck and refused to accept responsibility as he gathered a crowd who seemed to not appreciate my race. A soldier walked into the crowd and most disbursed. A Rwandan customer of the supermarket approached and gave me the counsel I had given many others, “Negotiate and make this matter go away quickly. Just give him some small money.” For some reason I chose to hold my ground. I got out of my vehicle and began speaking to the driver and another who claimed to be the driver’s brother. I smelled alcohol on both their breaths. They asked for money to repair their motorcycle. I asked for money to repair my vehicle. We were getting nowhere. Without thinking I began making phone calls. I never reached the Rwanda Traffic Police. However, in the midst of phone calls and conversation with the driver I said something to the effect, “I will not give you money. I don’t believe I am at fault. I am calling the police. You are drunk. I believe when the police arrive they will take you to jail and you will need to pay for my vehicle repairs.” The message was not lost in translation. The motorcycle driver went away without a bribe from me.

A few minutes later I sat in my church office and released that five years in Rwanda had changed me. I no longer was an instinctual victim of a system unable to provide justice. I no longer accepted guilt that was not mine. Without great thought I had forgotten the lessons of Uganda and Kenya, and relearned Rwanda justice. We never actually saw a Rwandan police officer Saturday evening. However, his presence was felt. Justice was a matter both the motorcycle driver and I trusted.

On Sunday morning I took on one of the more troubling texts to apply in the modern world. Paul teaches that followers of Jesus must submit to government authorities as they are representatives of God. I told my congregation not to argue about Buvera. I told them my tale of two African knockings. The text fit our context. We live in a society that usually delivers justice.

However, life is not always that way. We remembered the words of Martin Luther King Jr., and Bishop Festo Kivengere. During some seasons we must speak. Rwanda, thank you for restoring our courage, dignity, and belief in justice.

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