Sunday, April 28, 2013


 1. Your daughter is the first one to go barefoot. 

 2. You listen to Kinyarwanda music during the sale.

 3. You count money in Luganda. 

 4. You place sold items in kavera (plastic bags) and whisper not to cross the
Rwanda border with it.

 5. You advertise the sale by driving around the neighborhood with loud Lingala music. 
 6. The sale doesn't quite feel right without the smell of curry from India. 

 7. You whisper, "Mungu akubariki" (God bless you) to the watoto (children) and give them something for free.

8.A small group gathers to discuss the benefits and practical navigation of dual citizenship.

 9. You don't make eye contact when campus police walks by.

 10. You try to find a facebook friend who is a relative of the campus policeman.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Fear is one of humanities most powerful emotions.   Corporately, fear at times even is a reflection of concern.  On Monday, April 15 I saw on CNN that there had been a bomb blast at the Boston Marathon finish line.   I did what any good East African would do at such a time as this. In fearful concern, I quickly began checking with Kenyan friends that our people were safe.   Surely there was a Kenyan crowd near the finish line.   Thankfully, the sms (text) news came back quickly that all family and friends of Kenyans in Boston I knew were safe.

                Then fear rapidly took me to another place of selfish justification.   Who was at fault?  Which portion of humanity would be demonized in public as justice rolled forth?

Two possibilities quickly crossed my mind.  We all have a couple nutcase relatives and friends.   Either a frustrated white male Christian fundamentalist or frustrated male Muslim fundamentalist were the highest likely candidates in my fearfully prejudiced mind.   

                Both are easy villains.  Yet with all of my documented frustrations with my Bazungu Balokole (Confused White Evangelicals) clan mates, I am still a Muzungu Mulokole (Confused White Evangelical.)   I like my people with all their failings.  

                I also like Muslims.   A few months ago I was sitting in Starbucks cafĂ© at the College of Dupage, and overheard an Arabic word, “Salaam (Peace.)”  Some Arab students were meeting one another and exchanging greetings in the form of a blessing.  It warmed my heard.   For I fear not as I have learned Muslims are good neighbors.

                One of the great privileges the Lord gave me in 19 years in East Africa was friendship with Muslims.   At a risk of offending my Muslim friends let me go on record.  I like Muslims.  They’re good neighbors.   I intuitively trust them.   They are honest, hardworking, compassionate, protective, and generous by nature.   When I am in trouble sometimes I would even call a Muslim friend before I would call a Christian pastor.

I ask my Muslim friends forgiveness if I offend them by the prejudice of my friendship.   It seems now is a season in which I want to take that risk.  Fear seems to be overwhelming discussions in the nation of my passport.   Love is the answer to misplaced communal fear.

For those who have few or no Muslim friends in this season in eternity, fear not, Muslims are good neighbors.

My quick recall of my Muslim friends has four memorable ones.   Most of them tried so hard to dodge honor that I won’t mention their names unless they write and tell me to sign them up.    (After all they heard me frequently gripe about plagiarism, and I’m willing to give them more honors.)

Asians leaving Uganda as refugees in 1972
First was the money trading family I knew in Kampala and Nairobi.   They suffered immensely, but lived graciously.   Their grandparents came to East Africa to build a railroad from Mombasa (East African port on Indian Ocean) to the Rwenzori Mountains (source of minerals and copper.)   When the railroad was finished they put down roots.   They became the merchant middle class of East Africa.  Idi Amin’s Economic Liberation in 1972 changed their lives almost beyond hope.   Amin, declared, “The Asians must go.”   With only 90 days they had to unload all their property and find a new life.   Their brown skin contained an African heart.   They were stripped of both their dignity and their home. After Amin’s regime fell they began trickling back to Uganda.   They rebuilt their lives.  I came to know them as my favorite money traders, car parts dealers, and travel agents.  

After such dehumanizing suffering it was their gracious wisdom and friendship that I could never forget.   We had some differences of opinion about religion, but it was religion that taught us both to love our neighbors as we loved ourselves.   They had at times more faith than I in God’s providence.    When my children were sick and I needed cash quicker than the monthly wire they loaned me money.  When medical or immigration issues took me to Nairobi their extended family was on the lookout for economic and trustworthy transport and accommodation.   

My money trading Muslim friends expressed their faith, and taught me to fear not for Muslims are good neighbors.

My money trading friends went to the same mosque where I also found some of East Africa’s most skilled doctors.    When we were very sick we got on a plane and traveled to the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi.   

Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs with the nurses who cared for him in Rwamagana, Rwanda
Our most recent time at Aga Khan Hospital was with our foster son, Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs as he was suffering with convulsions (seizures.)    Watching an infant in a seizure is a terrifying experience.   Yet in the beginning days as we sought medical help another fear was how to explain Mugisha’s seizures.   They were so unpredictable and beyond our comprehension.   During Mugisha’s first visit to Aga Khan Hospital he went into convulsions as the intern was examining him.  Both the intern and us kept our hands on Mugisha, and silently prayed.   Religion will debate the differences between Allah and Jehovah, but in raw human compassion we all cry out to an unseen God to do the miraculous.  Extensive tests were done on Mugisha.   Medicine was tweaked.   Slowly through shared faith in unseen realities we came to terms with the truth of Mugisha’s medical condition while never giving up hope.   

Again my Muslim friends taught me, fear not for Muslims are good neighbors.

A third group of Muslim friends were students I knew.   The Lord gave me the privilege to lecture at universities and facilitate scholarships throughout my season in Rwanda.   Invariably in dealing with students there always came a moment where ethical leadership was essential.   Someone had to call certain types of behavior unacceptable, and then lead the community forward.   The statistics vary but somewhere between 5 and 15% of Rwanda’s population is Muslim.   Yet, almost without fail in every group of students I was with in an ethical discussion it was the minority Muslims who frequently provided the most articulate leadership.  When you do the math that should not have happened.   I concluded that there was something unique about the upbringing of my Muslim students that set them apart.   Again, they taught me fears not for Muslims are good neighbors.

A fourth group of Muslim friends were those who managed security.   One of my favorite night watchman in our season in Uganda was a Murundi Muslim.   The church we planted in Uganda, the Kampala Church of Christ was in Old Kampala, a largely Muslim neighborhood.   Our Leadership Committee (LC1) Chairman was a Muslim with what our neighbors whispered had Somali roots.   When we vacationed in Mombasa somehow I almost always had enjoyable conversations with Somali Muslim guards who kept our season of rest also one of peace.    There was something unique to all these Muslim friends.   They were intuitively quite protective.   They again taught me to fear not, for Muslims are good neighbors.

This Muslim trait of protective concern takes me the darkest places of failings of my people, the Bazungu and the Balokole of East Africa.   In Rwanda’s darkest hours my people failed.   My Bazungu clan mates ran away.  My national leaders hid in nuance of grammar and political posturing.   The killing fields of Rwanda were churches.

Yet there is a bright moment in such dark history.   During the Rwandan Genocide Muslim leaders spoke out against the killings.   Mosques were places of safe refuge.   Muslims not only shielded Muslims they shielded non-Muslims.    

While many in my home nation subtly today are portraying Muslims as terrorists I must point out that in the previous century's most efficient Genocide it was the Christian community who acted more like terrorists while the Muslim community acted as protective friends.   

My boss instructed me in several matters.   One was to be known for truth (John 3:21; 4:23-24; 16:13; 17:17.)   Another was to treat my neighbors as I would desire to be treated (Matthew 19:19; 22:39: Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27.)  Thus today I must say to my clan mates, “Fear not.   Muslims are good neighbors.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013


One of my most dear earthly homes, Rwanda is in a period of mourning from the horrific Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.   In grief many emotions overwhelm us – denial, anger, sadness, and acceptance.   Grief that is caused by human sin must never be accepted as a cover up of the darkest actions of man.   Rightly, the victim’s blood cries out for generations for justice.   Yet, in the cries sometimes we deny our own dark places that make such horrific actions possible.   In true acceptance we seek to change our own lives, and resolve to make a world where human initiated horror is unlikely to ever happen again.

These seasons of grief bring us back to one of the oldest spiritual disciplines – confession and repentance.    God requires those of us who build after tragedy to humbly acknowledge the actions of our fathers and ourselves that created such tragedy.   A Diaspora builder of old confessed,

 “O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with
those who love him and keep his commandments; let thy ear be attentive, and thy eyes open, to hear the prayer of thy servant which I now pray before thee day and night … confessing the sins of the people… which we have sinned against thee. Yea, I and my father’s house have sinned.  We have acted very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments (Nehemiah 1:5-7, Revised Standard Version.)”

I am an American Mulokole (Evangelical / Saved One.)   My people have sinned greatly.

I have read the histories and listened to the stories of Africa’s Great Lake’s Bzee.   My people, the nation of America has sinned greatly.  We repeatedly manipulated political processes in Africa’s Great Lakes after Independence.  We supported regimes who repeatedly forfeited their moral authority for our gain of resources or political stability during the Cold War.   We cared little for the consequences upon the people of Africa’s Great Lakes.   During the Genocide we hid in nuances of grammar, legal technicalities, and political rhetoric.   We could have done more.   We were cowardly.

My people, the Balokole have sinned.   We retreated into a world of the spirit and forgot the affairs of men on earth.   When Independence came we did not offer a prophetic voice.   We did not participate in building of enduring institutions.  In the end, the killing fields of Rwanda were our own church buildings.

I have sinned.  From my childhood, Rwanda fascinated me.   My earliest Ugandan friends were Banyarwanda.   Yet, when I read hateful literature that masqueraded as academic reasoning I was silent.   When my Bazungu clan mates repeated mythology that would later justify Genocide I was silent.   When the Genocide began I did not write a single letter or make a single phone call to any government official who could have made a difference.

I offer my God and the people of Rwanda my deepest apologies.  I pray that my people and I will never act in a similar way again so help me God.


As our family starts anew as missionaries to America some old memories fill my mind.   Many things happened during our 19 years in Africa that changed us as people.    One was watching East Africa grief in October, 1999 as Tanzania’s founding president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere passed from this life to another.    His passing was headline news throughout the region.   Our leaders dropped all plans to rush to Tanzania to share in mourning.    The Tanzanians came out in millions to say goodbye.    There was an odd sense of quiet in our typically busy capital cities.   Our flags were at half mass.     
A few Western news agencies made commentaries on Mwalimu’s failings.    Yet I can’t remember an African commentator offering anything but a sense of gracious honor to Mwalimu.  

We were also in Uganda when Idi Amin Dada passed in August, 2003.    Some will argue that in Africa it is rude to speak ill of the dead.    Amin’s departure was an oddity of avoiding the obvious discussion points.   Yet, I am thankful I was in a region to watch these old antagonists pass.  They were very different men.   Our region knew the differences.    Mwalimu was forgiven and remembered with honor.   Amin was remembered and at best dutifully forgotten. 

I took note.  I made a choice.   I want to be like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere when I grow up.  

                The title the Tanzanians gave Julius Nyerere said it all.   He was Mwalimu (Teacher) to them.   His self-description was, “a schoolmaster by choice and a politician by accident."   Nyerere led by teaching first.   When he wrote the forward to Yoweri Museveni’s book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, he wrote, “The best African leader is a teacher.”   In a way it was a gentle self-promotion.   I frequently quoted Nyerere’s thought that leadership at its best is teaching.  Nyerere modeled teaching at its best – humbly present an idea, explain it well, use all the teaching aids at your disposal, and listen to your students to refine.  No African I knew ever disagreed with Nyerere’s assessment of leadership.    In fact, they all used the esteem of a good teacher to further explain leadership.

                My boss, Jesus of Nazareth had the same mantra.   He did many things, but teaching was core.

                I made a choice that teaching would be my leadership style.   I would avoid the hype of religious showman.   I would come prepared.   I would go to the front.   I would know my people by name and story.   I would teach with all the tools available – blackboard, paper notes, power point, etc…   I also would believe that my students had the capacity to do far greater things than I.

                To be like Mwalimu meant I led by teaching.  


                All the commentaries on Nyerere come to Ujamaa – his failed socialist leaning collective farming endeavor.  It simply destroyed Tanzania’s economy.   Yet in grief the Tanzanians rarely mention Ujamaa.   Instead, they recognize the principle, ideals, and integrity of their beloved Mwalimu.    He took great risks for them.   

          Nyerere led a nation that had been a colonial neglect for more profitable Uganda and Kenya.   He built unity among over 120 different ethnic groups.    Other African nations fell into patterns of violence and strife.    Mwalimu’s internal spirit built unity and peace among the most diverse of people.  

                Peace was Nyerere’s legacy.   His love for people and peace confused my Bazungu clan mates.   It meant Mwalimu was loyal to diverse friends.   Yet, he was philosophically consistent.   His philosophy was love.  Pragmatically he built schools and hospitals.

                All men who lead will have failings.   I have many.   To be like Mwalimu means I take risks for my people that will lead to unity and peace.


I knew 2 Bazungu in our Uganda days who befriended Amin
Mwalimu had the strange misfortune to be a Pan-African idealist while he neighbored an eccentric and charismatic Pan-African, thug – Idi Amin.   Western commentaries don’t often mention what Ugandans consistently narrate.   Amin told great jokes, threw the best parties, married ethnically diverse beautiful women, had a large flamboyant hospitable family, and empowered Uganda’s indigenous entrepreneurs.    For those only following a leader who could make one happy in the day by day with little enduring principle, Amin was a compelling leader.  Amin chaired the Organization of African Unity in 1975, and made Mwalimu the butt of his jokes.   African nation-states blocked the UN from condemning Amin’s human rights abuses in 1977.  For a lonely season, Mwalimu was one of the very few African voices with the moral fiber to stand up to Amin.

                Amin overplayed his hand and invaded Tanzania in October, 1978.   Amin’s troops quickly took the disputed Akagera region.   However, Mwalimu mobilized the Tanzanian army from 40,000 to 100,000.   The war continued and Amin was defeated in 1979.

                Following the story from most history books misses what those of us who remember reading Drum know.   Standing up to bullies is not always popular.   Before Mwalimu defeated Amin many laughed at Mwalimu.    

                I want to be like Mwalimu when I grow up.   I want my principles to be stronger than contemporary populism.   I choose to have conflicts that are about enduring principles and the well being of people.   


Almost all discussions of Mwalimu eventually come back to Ujamaa.   Tanzania suffered greatly
due to Nyerere’s failed economic policy.   To lead requires great strength of character.   You must believe in your policy.  Nyerere believed in equality, humility, and community.   An expression of these values was socialism.   Nyerere’s values endured.   His attempt at socialist pragmatism failed.   Mwalimu apologized.   He gave us his sincerity.   He was forgiven.   He was loved.   We honored him.   We stopped all for days to grief his passing.

                I want to be like Mwalimu when I grow up.   I want to have his courage and humility to publicly admit my mistakes.   I hope the people I lead will remember me as they remembered Mwalimu.   


                Mwalimu’s peers had an opportunity to revolutionize Africa.   They were the first generation to break free from colonialism.   A few of their ideals still deeply live in our hearts.   Yet most were morally bankrupt failures.    They enriched themselves, promoted only their cronies, neglected building institutional strength, and clung to power until their last breath.

                Mwalimu was a devoted follower of my boss, Jesus of Nazareth.   He knew leadership
is only truly tested when it is relinquished.   Nyerere relinquished Tanzania's presidential leadership after 24 years.   The Lord gave him another 14 years of life.    Many believe his most productive years were his final ones where he carried no institutional authority.   Tanzania could not contain Mwalimu’s influence.   The institution of Tanzania’s presidency was too small for a man of his regional moral stature.  Only in the relinquishment could Mwalimu teach freely and widely.   His relinquishment was likely the reason our region grieved so deeply at his loss.   He was our teacher too.

                I want to be like Mwalimu when I grow up.   I want my people and institutions to endure without my continual presence.   I must relinquish too.