It was Saturday evening in Madudu, Uganda. I’d been in the village since Tuesday simply basking in the beauty of the people and the land.
Sitting that evening on a bench at a wedding reception, a young girl came up to me to say hello and to shake my hand. Nothing out of the ordinary, I shook more hands and looked into more eyes that week than the previous months.
It is custom in Uganda to give respect and honour by kneeling before one to whom you want to show respect. And more than this, I suspect, one to whom deference is due.
I don’t know where this custom first took root. Whether it comes out of the colonization of the country or was there beforehand, I simply do not know. (And it should be noted that it is a sign of respect not only towards whites, but anyone of significance.)
Needless to say, there were a number of women who would kneel when they met me or shook my hand. I did not create any scenes, made no drama even when in my head I was screaming, “NO! do not kneel before me!”
Until the night of the wedding.
As the young girl and I shook hands a gentleman near me instructed, “Kneel down in front of the white woman.”
He spoke this in the local language, but I could pick out ‘white woman’, and I could tell by the tone that a command had just been given, and from the immediate kneeling of this little one before me I knew exactly what had been said.
I immediately countered, “Do NOT tell her that!”
And just as quickly my own and a few other hands to my side, reached out to lift her to her feet.
This all happened within seconds. I was horrified. To teach this to the next generation simply made me enraged.
The next morning was Sunday, and I was preaching at church. Now I preached quite a bit on this trip, averaged out it would have been at least once per day. But this day was a bit different.
I woke in the morning with the heaviness of that little girl being told to kneel before me simply because I was white, crushing my heart and mind with grief.
Colonization of countries is the same evil in the hearts of white folk that led to slavery in untold proportions around the world.
My heart has been breaking over this for some time already. Most recently, the movie The Help has me simply weeping, with no other adequate response, each time I see it.
And so to find myself in a country that had once been colonized. To be on the receiving end of this… idolatry of whites, was simply not okay.
That Sunday morning I could not stop crying. My heart broke further.
And so as part of my message that day, I apologized.
“On behalf of white folk the world over, I am so sorry”
Quite frankly, the many many things that have gone wrong in times gone by, from one people group to another, continue to have profound effect and carry on strongholds within the lives of people and communities and nations.
And it takes someone to stand in the gap and to say, “That was not okay!”
“I am so very sorry”
And then, in the authority that God gives, to declare that the poison of these tragedies and of this evil be removed from the people, from the communities and from the nations.
Amen and amen.
Something I am profoundly glad to do.