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  • Writer's pictureDub

My Day In Africa

As I consider writing another book this true story provides inspiration for one of my thematic options. Here's how the story goes.

In 2002 I met a "pastor" I'll call Theta from Tanzania, East Africa. I was intrigued and here’s why. Earlier, Pam and I were at a retreat center providing music for a marriage conference. On the last day I was packing the car, and I heard a voice that seemed audible say, “Dar es Salaam.” I turned around to see who was speaking but no one was there. Puzzled, I continued packing and I heard it again. Same words. At that point I hoped it might be God. I asked, “What does that mean?” The voice said, “Look it up.” Later that day I did. I discovered Dar es Salaam is the capital of Tanzania. Weird, right?

I related this to a wise friend. He was polite enough not to tell me that I was possibly delusional. I asked what he thought I should do next, and he said, “Pray and wait.” So, I did. Three years later I met Theta at a prayer meeting. Over the next 4 years we exchanged messages. I wired funds to put a roof on an orphanage he was building. He repeatedly asked me to come to Tanzania to help teach and train new pastors. I finally accepted and recruited my wise friend to meet me there. The week before I traveled a man I didn’t know came to our prayer meeting with a message. “God wants me to warn you that the enemy intends to put you in jail.” Odd, I thought. Could this be related to my trip? Naw.

Onward Christian Soldier

I left on Monday and arrived in Tanzania on Wednesday after a 14-hour layover in Amsterdam. Someone was supposed meet me in Amsterdam so I could get some sleep in a guest house, but he got his days mixed up. Now I’m stuck. I can’t sleep on airplanes and when I tried to sleep at the airport it didn’t happen. That's a story for another time.

Flying on after another long layover in Kenya I finally arrived in Tanzania with about 4 hours of sleep over three days, none of which involved lying down. My wise friend met me in Dar es Salaam, and we flew to Mwanza together. Wait, where? Theta failed to mention he's actually in Mwanza; a 2.5-hour flight from Dar es Salaam. Warning sign #1.

I learned that Mwanza is a notorious trading post for arms smuggling. Warning sign #2. Black market weapons of war are delivered on Russian transport planes to the airstrip where we landed and traded for money and expensive Nile perch. Let’s just say it is a pretty rough place. One of my friends is a planner for US Special Operations. He called it, “the place where the bad guys are.” Theta, the guy I spent 4 years getting to know to be reasonably sure I wasn't being scammed, met us at the airstrip in his shiny, tricked out Toyota Land Cruiser. Surprised, we remarked how nice it was and he immediately tells us he owes $16,000 on it, plus the rent on his house, and the tuition for the private school for his 3 children. There it is. The first money pitch. Warning sign #3.

And The Band Played On

Theta drove us to a hotel. I was surprised. Before we agreed to come, he assured me we would be staying at his home, and he would feed us and take care of all of our expenses. I asked him who was paying for the hotel and of course, it was us. He said he already had 3 new pastors staying at his home. I was too tired and sleep-deprived to get into it with him. We checked into the hotel in the dark as the power was out and the generator wasn't on. I took my first (cold) shower in three days and changed clothes before he returned to drive us to his house with the promise of a home cooked meal.

We arrived at an imposing walled and gated compound. He honked the horn and the gates swung open. Suddenly a band was playing, singers were singing, and dancers were dancing. It was clearly for our benefit. He explained this was the choir rehearsal. He pointed out his wife, but she never came near us. We greeted the assembled group and presented sound equipment he had requested I bring. No other interaction occurred between us. No dinner, nothing. We said our goodbyes to the by-now indifferent performers and climbed back into the vehicle to go elsewhere for dinner. He wouldn’t take us by the church building nor the orphanage, even though I insisted. We pulled up at a different hotel where there was a literal pizza hut in the courtyard. We sat down and he ordered Tanzanian pizza.

Africa hut
African Pizza Hut

Not As Promised

As we're eating, he lays out a tale of woe. He says there was a betrayal of a member of the church and that half his congregation left 3 weeks earlier. He says he is down from 200 to 70 people. I remind him that he consistently told me there were 400 people in his congregation, and he begins back-pedaling. By now I’m convinced, even though I’m almost psychotic from sleep deprivation, that this guy is a liar and a crook. Tough dinner conversation ensues.

The pizza hut owner presents the bill and Theta informs us he doesn’t have any money. I try to pay in US $ and Theta says “no,” the hut owner is a friend. He promises to pay him tomorrow. He argues with the pizza guy, and they reach some sort of uncomfortable standoff. Embarrassed, I look at the owner apologetically. Unable to settle the bill and with Theta's promise to handle it later, we leave as the owner glowers after us.

Here Is Comes...

Back at our little hotel we sit down to talk, and he drops the bomb. He tells us he needs $5000 for the conference. I am stunned. I ask what for? He says it’s to feed 200 people that are coming. I say I’m pretty sure I could feed 200 hungry people in Mwanza for way less than $5k. I ask him why he didn’t tell us this before we came? He says he is embarrassed because his church was going to pay for the conference until the mass exodus. By now I am pretty sure he doesn’t pastor a church. I tell him no. That I didn’t need to come to Tanzania to teach people the scriptures, and that I am very disappointed in him. I quiz him about the orphanage and the roof I funded, and he confesses he doesn’t have one. He says he built the orphanage but had to give it up when all the children grew up – in 3 years! “Are you telling me there are no more orphans?” I ask. He says not, they are all gone. This is back when parents are dying from AIDS in Africa in large numbers, leaving scores of orphaned children.

He feigns sorrow and embarrassment and pleads with me to go with him to the bank in the morning and use my credit card to give him $5000 because people are already coming for the conference. At that point I believe God intervened. I have the distinct sense that if I go into town with him, I will end up staying in jail until he has milked me dry. My wise friend tells him if he has any integrity he will drive to the conference (it is supposedly a 30-minute drive into the bush) and tell the people that we won’t be coming. He cries crocodile tears and pleads with us to give him the money. Finally, unwittingly, he tells the truth. He says some of the people already think he keeps the money that he gets from the U.S. for himself. Bingo! We pray together for direction. I tell him we need to sleep on it because I am too tired to think straight, which is true. He leaves. It is the middle of the first night and we’re clearly in trouble.

We decide to call someone for prayer support. We also need to reach our travel agent and see if our tickets can be changed to get us out of there. Did I mention this was 2002? Mobile phones are in their infancy and neither of us has an international calling plan as they are prohibitively expensive. We get the bright idea to go back out at 11:30 PM in the arms dealing capital of East Africa to find a phone because the phones in our hotel do not work. Of course.

Our Next Move

We locate and hire a guy with a car outside and head back to the hotel with the pizza hut. We are told they have the only working phone in town. When we arrive, we suspect this may not have been our best move. The gates are closed and locked, the streets are dark, and there are some not-so-nice guys hanging around. *Aside – I learn later this hotel is home-away-from-home for Russian traffickers of contraband including weapons and humans.

Our driver is a stand-up guy. He pulls up to the locked gate and honks until an armed guard comes and opens it. We go in and ask at the desk to use the phone with an international calling card, which we discover works everywhere in the world except Mwanza, Tanzania. Now past midnight and with no other options we tuck our tails and decide to cut our losses. As we exit the gate our driver urgently tells us to hurry. We dive into the car as bad guys converge on us and we speed away. At the traffic circle our car is nearly clipped by armed men in a beat-up white pickup. They are shouting something that we find out later is loosely translated, “white men!” I think that’s the polite version.

As our driver makes the circle, I see a guy with an AK and a few young girls lined up against the wall at the back of the hotel. Even in my diminished mental state I realize, this is really bad. The guys in the truck roar up alongside us, flashing their weapons. We duck and our driver quickly pulls a hard left and speeds off down a dirt trail. We are praying like crazy (Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!) and we get away, speeding to our hotel over rutted back roads. We profusely thank, pay, and handsomely tip our driver. He agrees to meet us at 9:30 AM to take us to the airstrip so we can try and get out. We go to our rooms, crawl under mosquito nets, and fall into a deep sleep.

12 Hours Into 24

I wake at 7 AM to the sound of Islamic morning prayer blasted over a nearby loudspeaker. I am instantly awake and alert. I pray and God says, “Get out.” This time I’m sure the voice is in my head, but it is very real. I don't have to be told twice. I get my wise friend, we pack, and eat a quick breakfast. As we are coming down the outdoor stairs, I see what I think is our driver out front. Then, I notice the car is slightly different and the driver does not look friendly. My wise friend says, “There is our driver” and I hear God say (in my head), “No it is not. Don’t go with him.” As I turn to relay this to my wise friend, I awkwardly hit the bottom step of the landing - hard. My foot collapses sideways. I feel/hear two pops and I’m on the floor with a blown-out ankle. I lay there in excruciating pain as my wise friend shuffles our luggage downstairs. When he returns, he says he doesn’t want to be mean, and that he’ll buy me a beer in Amsterdam, but I need to get up. We’ve got to go. I force myself up and hobble downstairs on my ruined ankle.

Get Me Out Of Here

We have some trouble paying our bill as we only have U.S. $. Even though they said they take credit cards, they don’t. Finally, the owner agrees to take our cash. About that time Theta pulls up and I tell my wise friend I’ll talk to him. I tell Theta we are leaving, and the pleading begins. "Come into town with me. Just stay for the day," etc. No way am I going into town where there's a jail. I stand firm and tell him God told us to leave and that we are not disobeying God. Our driver from the night before is nowhere to be seen. Theta promises he’ll take us to the airport. We’re out of options so we load up and get into the Land Cruiser.

He immediately turns the wrong direction. I ask him where he is going, and he says, "to the airport." I tell him I know where the airport is, and this is not the way. He tunes up again, begging us to come with him into town or into the bush. We're definitely not going either place. I firmly tell him we are not going anywhere except the airport. He keeps driving the wrong way and I insist that he turn around immediately or there will be trouble. I’m sitting next to him and I'm prepared for a physical confrontation if necessary.

I didn't mention there’s a guy in the back. He starts arguing with Theta in a language I do not understand but I catch the word “airport” several times. Apparently, he convinces Theta to take us there because he finally turns the SUV around and goes to the airport. He pulls up, we jump out and hurry inside before he can park. We have tickets. He doesn’t. The guard won’t let him through the gate. That’s the last I saw of him until years later. The agent agreed to change our tickets. As we board the little plane to Dar es Salaam a guy is sitting up front with a pistol in his hand and a woman’s head buried in his lap. This day just keeps getting better.

Entebbe Uganda Airport


We take off and find out we are stopping in Entebbe, Uganda first. The airport there looks just like it did when the Israelis raided the airplane with their hostages years ago. (see Raid on Entebbe) We finally arrive in Dar, take a taxi downtown to the KLM office, get our tickets changed for a hefty fee, go back to the airport, and fly out at midnight for Amsterdam. My foot and ankle have swelled to grotesque proportion and they’re killing me. I dare not remove my shoe. The flights are grueling. I finally arrive home on Friday after leaving on Monday. The doctor tells me I have a very nasty sprain and it would have healed better if I had broken it. Turns out, he was right. It takes over a year to fully recover.

What Have I Learned?

That’s some of the story of my day in Africa. There are more details that I may put into a book. I learned some valuable lessons that I’d like to pass along as you might find them helpful one day.

  1. Buy European chocolate for your wife before you tell her about your “adventures.” It doesn’t help much but at least I felt better about myself for a moment.

  2. If God speaks to you and you think you’re called to do something great for Him, remember that God also asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”

  3. Everyone that acts like they are your good friend may not really be good or your friend. Judas fooled all of Jesus’ disciples.

  4. Pay attention to the details. If one part of a narrative isn’t true (Theta wasn’t located anywhere near Dar es Salaam) the rest likely isn’t either.

  5. Always have a mobile phone with an international phone plan that works where you are going, unless you’re going back in time. Then all bets are off.

  6. Jesus sent His disciples in pairs for a reason. Go with a wise friend that you can depend on.

  7. When you decide you’re going “to do something great for God,” be careful. That may be pride talking.

  8. Always tip your driver well.

If you have taken the time to read my story, thank you! Let me know if you'd like to hear more like it, including some of the lessons I've learned from my life and adventures serving Jesus.

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