I was able to sit down with Samuel on Monday (20th) for a couple hours and listen to his story. This was his first day back from his home in North / Central Uganda after his father’s funeral. Samuel’s father, a believer, was murdered in a machete attack. For the previous story about Samuel and his father, click the word, Relationships.
As I approached Samuel that warm Monday morning, Samuel was seated and reading a book in the shade of some pine trees, in a blue plastic chair, similar to the plastic ones we’ve bought at Wal-Mart in the States.
Drawing closer, it was evident that he looked very tired. His smile was missing and when he did cheer up briefly for the pleasantries of the initial greetings, it seemed to be with effort. If you have gone through a tragic loss and resulting funeral, I’m sure you can relate.
Samuel stretched out his hand for a normal Ugandan greeting, which is a Western handshake, quickly changing to a “brother” handshake (where the thumbs interlock, hands elevate while the elbows drop), back to Western handshake, back to “brother” handshake, back to Western handshake.
I quickly debated in my mind whether to dispense with the handshake altogether and just hug Samuel as most Westerners would do during this serious and sobering time. I had hugged Samuel after he had received the news of his father’s murder when he dropped by our house, prior to his leaving for his home. That hug was natural and sincere from me, but seemed very unnatural and perhaps a bit uncomfortable to him. Even his co-worker, knowing the gravity of the situation, only extended his forearm at that time (another cultural practice when one’s hands are dirty from working). So I decided this time a warm handshake would be best. It seemed to work fine, but on my end it seemed sorely lacking.
Samuel offered me his chair – the only one around – by saying, “Please,” and extending the chair to me, to which I politely refused. The nearby threshold of the guardhouse door was elevated enough from the ground to make a relatively comfortable, although dirty seat.
Samuel gathered some photos from a very worn and torn envelope, and held them in his hand.
Just to quickly fill you in, the good news is that the outlook for Samuel’s mother is very good. It seems she will survive. The photos he held out for me were photos of his mother at the hospital, wearing bandages over the deep cuts from the machete attack: one across her back right shoulder, dropping down to her side; another across her head; and a third across her lower back. Deep wounds, the perpetrators intended to leave no survivors.
After formalities, greetings, and the photos Samuel shared his honesty in questioning, “Why?” but quickly gave testimony to his trust in God’s sovereignty from the Bible through this horrific event. He chatted for a few minutes about his faith and God’s nature.
He eventually moved into the facts of the story as he knew them. He said the local people know who carried out the murder (and his mother is witness, too, since she survived). The man (we’ll call him the ringleader) who developed the ghastly plan and carried out the brutal murder, allegedly convinced the ringleader’s brother to get involved in the attack. They also hired a third person. This ringleader apparently had been raised on this land and wasn’t happy that Samuel’s parents purchased it and built a house on it. Apparently land disputes, especially north of here in Jinja can be violent. According to Samuel, it turns out the murder was over land.
The ringleader was quite serious with his scheme to kill Samuel’s parents. In an attempt to succeed in his plan, he visited a local witchdoctor to gain power to take the two lives.
Samuel showed me photos of where the machetes hit the walls.
I asked what seemed to me to be the obvious question, “Did they catch these guys?”
Samuel recounts that while he was at home last week, the villagers found and cornered the ringleader. The villagers called Samuel on their cell phone (amazing how technology has gotten into third world countries) and asked if they could “finish him (the ringleader).” Samuel, being a Christian, chose instead to let justice be worked out patiently and orderly through the established governmental system.
This is a step of faith for Samuel, as you will soon see. Samuel then calls the police to notify them that villagers have cornered the alleged ringleader and asks the police to go get this guy. The police then ask Samuel for money to purchase 4 liters of gas for their police car, otherwise they can’t go.
I couldn’t believe what I just heard. I clarified and restated what Samuel had just told me. Samuel said, yes, he had to purchase the gas for the police car.
So they get in the police car and go after the ringleader. The leader from the village, who has the ringleader cornered, calls Samuel back on the cell phone about carrying out revenge. This leader wants Samuel to give the OK to kill the ringleader. In fact, one clan wants to fight another clan. Samuel and other family members insist that this not happen. He is insistent that justice should be served through the proper channels.
As Samuel and the police close in to within a couple kilometers or so, from the cornered ringleader, the man who is leading the villagers to corner the ringleader, gets mad at Samuel and convinces enough of the villagers to let the ringleader go free. So, he escapes. Unbelievable.
Thankfully Samuel says, they eventually find and catch up with the alleged ringleader, put him in jail, along with his brother and the witchdoctor. The hired help, on the other hand, apparently fled and has not been captured.
It’s not uncommon in Uganda (even in Jinja) for villagers or community groups to catch a suspect and beat him or her, even more rarely kill them, as they are being dragged to the police station. I am told by others living here, that often the police will sort things out according to who offers the police the most money. So the community turns to their own twisted form of justice.
The burden the family of a murdered loved one has to go through in this country with police and the funeral is different and surprising. For example, the family, if they do not have funds for the funeral, begs or borrows money (permanently) from friends. According to Samuel, the price of the funeral including related costs like travel and food (not including hospital expenses for his mom) totaled more than $3 million Ugandan shillings (about $1,200 USD). I have no way of verifying this amount.
I am divided as to whether I should have shared that amount. I am not asking for money. First, I talked to other missionaries about how I should respond. There isn’t a clear answer. Money has a way of sending relief, but also causing tension and relationship problems, similar to how winning a large lottery brings initial relief and pleasure, but hassles and problems quickly arise with relatives and friends who want part of the money.
Additionally, money is not the ultimate answer to problems. I’m learning this lesson being a missionary. I could write pages about this lesson alone. God is the answer to our problems. Where He provides money, it is sweet. When He doesn’t answer with money, shouldn’t our response to God saying, “No” be contentment and ultimate satisfaction in Him?
Again, I have no way of validating the amount or ensuring that if someone did want to give that the money would get to the appropriate place. I trust Samuel, I just do not know. I’m trying to be as upfront and honest as I can be.
Samuel spoke of many things during the brief couple hours I was with him. We talked of his responsibilities as a pastor, his future, his family, his faith, his world contrasted with my world, etc.
As this week progressed, Samuel seems to be doing a bit better – at least on the outside. His smile has returned, although not as big and lasting as it was when we first arrived. Each day I leave the house I see Samuel reading his Bible or a Christian book. We chat and talk.
But what shines through? Samuel’s faith in Jesus Christ! Wow.
To be honest, I get a bit choked up seeing, hearing and witnessing Samuel’s faith, commitment and determination to his Lord and Savior when that same Savior allowed a test of faith – his father slain by the sword (or machete, as it may be). God is receiving glory, granted it’s only been two weeks Saturday.
I asked Samuel if he has forgiven the attackers. He said he thinks he has, but he said he could not face them. It’s difficult, as I think anyone could imagine.
When I think of faith, too often I am reminded of the faith that results in positive outcomes:
Hebrews 11 tells us, “(Men and women) through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.” (vs. 33-35a)
Those are awesome! Much more difficult and challenging are the following verses:
“And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trials of mockings and scourgings, yes and of chains and judgment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword (perhaps, machete?). They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy.” (vs 35b-38a)