Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

June 22, 2010

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Between a rock and a hard place. Iíve been thinking about that phrase lately, because as Christians, we often end up in just such a place. Being caught between opposing values is a tough place to be and we often look for the easy way out, called compromise. Do we go with our culturally approved behaviors or do we stand on what the Bible says?

One of the areas where we get caught in tight, hard places in Africa is in the issue of bribery. There are varying degrees of bribery, from the person or agency who withholds needed services or goods unless money is transacted on the side, down to the carpenter who delays his work until slipped a few coins over and above the agreed upon price. Then there are the ďtips,Ē the little gifts we voluntarily give in appreciation that were not demanded, which are not bribes.

If you believe bribes are wrong to pay (and I do), you must be prepared for delays, frustrations, and other means people will use to obtain money from you which often cost more than a bribe would. Between a rock and a hard place. Thatís a good description. If the police stop you and threaten to impound your car because he found a fault with your car or your driving, your choices are: 1) slip him a few greenbacks, 2) call his bluff and hope he doesnít impound your car, or 3) be prepared to pay the fines and suffer the inconveniences of having the car impounded (and the possibility of it having parts stolen off it while at the police station!). It takes a strong determination to stand by biblical principles at such a time, and much prayer is needed!

Right now such a situation is one that Pastor David Kasule is dealing with. His driving permit expired, and he decided to get a commercial permit at a considerably higher cost. So after several months of making payments, he paid off the fees for the commercial license, and was told it would be ready for him the following week. Meantime, when returning from a trip across Uganda, police stopped us and because David refused to pay them a bribe, they kept his receipts for the new license. So in the future when he might get stopped by traffic police, he would be unable to prove he was in process of getting a new permit.

He has made the 50 mile trip (one way) to Kampala several times over the past month or more because a phone call would tell him the permit was ready to pick up, only to find more delays, you need to do this too, or pay one more fee, or whatever. All bribe methods! Itís hoped by means of the inconvenience caused that you will simply hand over some money and get the problem over with!

Because we believe firmly that corruption must stop somewhere, we will not pay bribes for any reason. He who hates bribes will liveÖ (Psalm 15:27). So now David is going to our lawyer to see what he can do to force this official to surrender the commercial driving permit that heís lawfully paid for. Yes, the lawyer will cost a little more than a bribe would, but itís the principle of the matter. At what point are we coerced to compromise? When things get too hard for us? When they get too expensive? Are we willing to do without that thing we need/want that is not being rightfully surrendered to us?

The major problem this has caused for us is that David drives when we travel. I taught him how to drive and he likes to drive. Heís more patient in dealing with the wild traffic than I am, so I like to let him drive. I currently donít have a driving permit, so I canít take over the driving for him. So we could use public means, which while considerably cheaper than driving a car, are also considerably more dangerous. Up and down the highways are stationed traffic police, whose primary goal is not law and order on the roads, but collecting bribes from travelers. We could travel in the dark when the police are not out on the highways. But that poses certain dangers also.

So in standing for righteousness, what do we do? He has a legal driving permit that is being held for a bribe that heís not willing to give. Heíll probably get it before long after contacting the lawyer and putting some teeth in his demands. Meantime? We pray! We have the habit of praying before every road trip because of hazardous road conditions and the high accident rate in Uganda. To our prayers for safety, we have added another prayer, ďPlease blind the eyes of the traffic police.Ē The police can either be standing alongside the road and wave you to a stop, or they can have a regular road block where everyone has to stop unless they wave you on. For several months now, we have been praying this way, and itís become almost comical. The police truly act as if we are invisible. Theyíll stop the vehicle ahead or behind us. They donít look at us. Their backs will be turned as we approach. One day we did get stopped because a gunny sack had snagged on the underside of our car. But the officer merely tested our lights, signals, windshield wipers and washer, and waved us on. He never asked David for his driving permit!

If we stand for righteousness, God helps us. But we must stand!

Margaret Nelson