It is a mistake ever to come to Uganda to do ministry during the elections. However, not having been warned of this, that is the very mistake I made this trip. Elections for the party nominations were held today. I had to cancel the meeting that we were in because of local violence, even though we were way back off the main roads, deep into the agricultural country that snugs up against the northern shore of Lake Victoria.

Every district had party elections today, and there are reports of widespread violence resulting from voting “irregularities” from across the country. In my case, I was leading a church-planting conference in a small church with about 35 people present. Suddenly, there was a commotion outside, and, right in the middle of my teaching on 1 Peter 2:9, the group jumped up and ran outside to see what was happening. I said, “Well, I guess we’ll take a five or ten minute break,” but there was only Alfred left to hear me, and even he was looking out the window.

Here is what happened. The first wave of chaos was a large crowd of people running down the road, apparently chasing someone. The road was a good fifty yards from the church, so it was possible for the church people to stand back and watch the action without becoming part of it – or so they thought. The crowd surged back and forth along this road for a bit, then seemed to break apart into small groups.

I was told that a group of youths had been hired by one of the candidates to disrupt the voting at the polling station just up the road from the church. This group had run up and grabbed the ballot box and the ballots and run away with it. Then they checked their candidate’s name on all the ballots, stuffed the box with false votes, and boldly returned the box. At this point, the crowd had started to chase them, and that was what we were seeing.

About fifteen minutes after all this had settled down, there was another commotion down the road, and the group at the church ran up to the road to see what was happening. Suddenly they turned in terror and came streaming back to the church, pushing into the building like a panicked mob. At first, I couldn’t see what the problem was from inside the building, but then I saw three large young men carrying sticks – I would describe them as young toughs – running behind the church crowd, obviously chasing them. They charged right up to the church door and would have burst into the building, except that I stepped into the doorway and made eye-contact.

The men stopped, shocked to meet a musungu face-to-face in such a situation and so far from the city. I informed them that this was a church, and that they would not be allowed to enter in the name of Jesus Christ. Now I know what you’re thinking…but I am not quite as crazy as I seem though I guess I don’t really expect you to believe that. The law here in Uganda carries very heavy penalties for harming a musungu in any way – this has to do with foreign trade and all the economic and social benefits musungus bring to Uganda. Violence against a musungu is a line the people simply don’t cross. Besides my confidence in their cultural respect toward musungus, there were many children who had crowded into the building, and, I have to admit, I just could not allow harm to come to these children. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

As I look back on it, when I confronted them, the men were stunned out of their intentions, and their “attack” lost all its momentum. The men backed up, waved their sticks and shouted some angry Lusoga, more at the crowd than at me, and, in fact, they refused to look at me. Then the pastors in the group emerged and began to argue with them and rebuke them for attacking a church. The angry young men were chasing the youths who had stolen the ballot box and who had run into the nearest large crowd to escape. When our crowd turned in panic and ran toward the church building, it drew these vigilantes like a magnet to the retreating crowd. The guilty boys used this opportunity to slip away leaving the crowd of church people to absorb their blame.

I ended the meeting at that point and advised the people to return to their homes, and that being gathered in any kind of a crowd right then in that environment was just not safe. And Alfred tells me that he would expect the chaos to increase as the election draws to a close at the end of today. So we wended our way back the two hours to Bugembe where I am staying. Tomorrow after things have settled down, I will return and finish the conference.

This is politics in Uganda – not what we Americans are used to, full of violence and sadly, much corruption. I’m wondering how the national elections will go in the Spring of 2016 if this is how the party-nomination elections are handled. I now have a whole new appreciation for the process of debates and the organized and peaceful balloting process we have achieved in the U.S.

I have been told that Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power at the presidential level. Pray for this emerging democracy. They still have a ways to go…