missionary predicament: machine gun bribery

A machine gun hung from his neck, resting just above his belly like an incredibly dangerous bib, the kind you’d never want your kid to wear.  He stumbled over to our truck and began to greet me.  His breath wreaked of alcohol.

After greeting me, the police officer wanted to greet everyone else in the car.  His head filled the window as he clumsily forced his hand into my sister’s.  He greeted Christie and the two girls, and then told me he wanted money.  

I asked if I’d done something illegal, and if I was receiving a ticket.  His response was that he just wanted a bit of money for a meal — not a lot, just 3000 shillings (a couple of bucks).  

Being asked for money is nothing new to me.  I’m approached by several people a day here who are begging.  Neither am I surprised when police officers ask me for bribes or lunch money.  No, none of that was different than any other day.  

This officer, however — with machine gun in tow — was clearly drunk.  And this was a first for me.

Now… I’ve made it a point to give to everyone who asks.  Except when my giving would be at the prompting of an individual abusing his authority.  In those instances I either play ignorant or attempt to respond with humor.  I let it be clear that I don’t intend to pay a bribe, but I do so without saying, “No.”

But this time I was afraid.  This guy was drunk and seemed a little crazy.  And it was only 3000 shillings he was asking for.  Am I risking my family’s safety by telling this guy no?

I wish I could tell you that my initial response to all of this was to pray.  It wasn’t.  Instead I tried to determine the best way for me to use my own knowledge and ability to get my family out of this situation.  I began a response of ignorance.  It quickly became clear the officer wasn’t in the mood for talking, but just wanted to be handed some cash.

But I didn’t want to give this guy a bribe.  That would only encourage this behavior.

So I was carefully wording my refusal — all the while seriously contemplating driving away as fast as my truck could go — when Drunky McChinegunason interrupted me.  Anger was evident in his face.  He looked at me with crazy eyes and voiced a very firm “James!”  [He was holding my license and had not yet lost his ability to read.]

I really thought he was going to reach for his gun.  I think this was the only time in my life I’ve ever been afraid for my family.  At this exact moment, though, a second police officer (whom I’d not noticed) strolled up.  He interrupted our conversation in order to greet me, and then stood next to his inebriated partner in law enforcement.  Officer number two was not carrying a gun.

The crazed look disappeared from Officer Bribery’s face, and he kindly told us to have a safe trip to Geita.

I don’t know exactly what happened, but it is my belief that the second officer knew what was going on and came over in order to help my family out of our difficult situation.  And I can’t help but think that someone else might have been involved in his decision to do so.

Our family is safe and sound in Geita — and so happy to be home.  Harper is growing like a weed, and Baylor’s a great big sister.  Tomorrow my sister and I are having a joint birthday party; there will be red velvet cake (for Brett), chess pie (for Brittney), and live Avett Brothers music (played by our musically talented teammates and friends).  And no one will carry a gun.




Filed under living in africa, missionary predicaments

16 responses to “missionary predicament: machine gun bribery

  1. Helen K

    That was a rather harrowing experience. I was relieved to read how it turned out with no incident. I’m sure the Lord and one of His special angels were there to protect you and your family. Have a wonderful birthday celebration!

  2. Zee

    Praise God for the second officer (angel?) and that everything turned out well in the end.

    Enjoy the birthday party!

  3. James, Brett, whatever your name is (yes, after 3 years I am still uncertain) I think you are fantastic. I periodically read your blog still in between changing diapers and feeding my infant and each time I do, I become grateful that God uses you the way He does. You and your family are doing great things. Thank you for being His hands in our world. Love the blog!!

  4. Welcome home to Geita! I praise Papa God you arrived safely and are out of the heat. Happy birthday to you and Brittney!

  5. Wow! That is really scary! I’m glad you guys are all safe and home and looking forward to a fun birthday celebration! Happy Birthday!

  6. Nancy McNeal

    James Brett, I’m so thankful for the angel who helped. (I have no problem at all identifying him as an angel. We firmly believe an angel saved Connor from a busy street in Knoxville when he was about two.) I’m looking forward to seeing you guys in June and meeting little Harper. Please give Christie and Baylor hugs from me.

  7. Elodie Wacaster

    Wow! So glad you guys are safe and sound! Happy birthday to you and Brittney!!

  8. maemae

    So I guess your trip wasn’t exactly uneventful, like I had wished. I am so thankful you are all safe. We are so fortunate to have someone bigger than us taking care of us.

    I hope you and Brittney have a wonderful birthday celebration!!

  9. Jason

    Not to downplay the thankfulness that you all are safe, but I am thankful also that God has given you an experience and further testimony of His hand in your lives.

  10. Helen K

    So true. We all need reminding of His care. Easy to forget.

  11. John Gardner

    I echo John Kings comments. Happy birthday to you both. Glad you are safe and home.
    John Gardner

  12. Pingback: Top 3 on Tuesday: Missionary Edition « Kingdom Civics

  13. Ah, yes–I see the pingback has already informed you that I featured your blog today on Kingdom Civics. I was just coming over to tell you the same thing. I am doing a “small world” theme on the blog this week, so I thought I would focus my weekly blog highlight on missionary blogs. Yours is a particularly good one, so I wanted to make sure that people knew about it!

  14. Happy birthday, Brett! I’m looking forward to meeting Harper later this year. Returning to Tanzania much later than originally planned, but when I do return- August or September, probably- I won’t be returning alone. More on that later…

  15. Wow! So glad you’re OK.

  16. Brett and family, Cant help but think that there really are angels watching over us! God bless!

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