(Continued from last week.)
Of all the people I met in Africa, a group of police officers were among the most memorable. We were in the capital city of Kampala in a nation that, prior to Idi Amin, was a prosperous and beautiful jewel — Uganda. We were there on the grounds of the Cathedral church to see a Ugandan priest consecrated as a bishop. Over 1,000 people were present and I had just finished lunch. The American Embassy was closed due to the bombing of the embassy in Kenya and police presence was heavy.
As I wandered around the grounds with a Ugandan priest, I approached a group of police officers. I mistook them for soldiers as the uniforms looked military to me and they were armed with automatic assault rifles. None of them spoke English but, with the Ugandan priest serving as an interpreter, we were able to hold a conversation.
The officers, after a few moments of sizing me up and setting aside their suspicions, were very talkative. I was able to ask questions of them and they did the same. They were very interested as I may have been the first American clergyman (maybe the first American) with whom they had spoken and, certainly, they were the first Uganda police officers that I had encountered at a personal level.
One of them asked about my family back in America and I told them all about my wife and sons and extended family. When I mentioned that one of my own sons was a police officer, their demeanor changed dramatically. Their faces fell and a sad look replaced the brilliant smiles that had been present an instant ago.
I looked to the interpreter, seeking understanding, thinking that I had said something offensive. He spoke to the men a moment and then said, “They are very sad for you.”
Now confused, I inquired further. He said, “They are sorry for you because you have a son as a police officer. They said that it must be very bad for you as a man of God since he can never be saved.”
My bewilderment deepened. “Why do they think that?” I asked. He went on to explain that the police are thought to be very corrupt. In fact, the entire system of law enforcement was seen by the populace to be corrupt. Even these police officers believed that the corruption was so ingrained and pervasive that it precluded officers from being forgiven.
“Do they think that they cannot be forgiven by God?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “They believe that they are beyond God’s mercy.
It was now my turn to be sad. The looks on their faces spoke of shame and hopelessness. “Okay, here’s what I want you to tell them. Tell them that, not only is my son a Christian, he is in a position of leadership in our church. Tell them that he is not beyond God’s love and neither are they. Tell them that the Apostle Paul taught that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.’ Tell them he also said that God ‘is not counting our sins against us.’ Tell them God loves them and I came all the way to Uganda for them to hear this.” And then I pulled out my own badge. “Tell them I am one of them.”
He did so and a lively discussion took place between the officers and the priest. After a few moments, I realized that my presence was no longer required and quietly slipped away as my brother priest was fully engaged with these men.
Did He really send me to Africa for this “chance encounter?” In retrospect, I think there were many reasons I went on the trip. Unlike many people who are missions-minded and long for a missionary trip, I had no desire whatsoever to go to Africa. I went only because my bishop had said he wanted me to go and I had taken a vow of obedience. So, I adjusted my attitude and went. The trip opened my eyes and changed my life and perspective in so many ways.
But this one thing is factual: of our rather large team, I was the only one who approached, encountered, and engaged these officers. And, if God does, indeed, order our steps, then, yes, He sent me to Africa to share hope with these police officers and to let them know that God loves even them. God forgives even them.
Who can be saved? Even them. Even me.
[To be continued.]
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at email@example.com.]