In Uganda, hitchhiking is right as rain. But don’t picture a hippie with a joint in the 60s. Think of an old lady with creaky joints in her 60s. A lady of this description flags me down one Sunday on a rural dirt road. We greet each other through a cloud of rolling dust. “How did you sleep?” I ask.
“Fine. Take me to the church!”
“The church up there.”
“There! UP THERE!” she points with her lips and hits every syllable hard.
“Huh? Wha? Wher–? Ok, just get in and show me.”
She’s not sure how to open the door to get in. One time a Ugandan tried crawling in my driver’s side to get in. Seeing that she wouldn’t fit between me and the steering wheel I suggested she use an alternate route.
We drive a quarter mile ahead. “Here’s the turn to my church,” the hitchhiker exclaims, pointing to a road which leads to the Catholic Church.
“Why don’t you go where I’m preaching today?” I ask her.
“You mean you’re not the Catholic priest!?? I thought you were my priest!”
“No.” I nonchalantly pass the turn to her church.
“I thought you were taking me to my–” she protests.
We drive another half mile to a mango tree, where I have been meeting weekly with a group to teach them about Christ.
Faced with sitting through my sermon or walking back, the hitchhiker sits on a woven mat under the mango tree while I begin the sermon on the Passion of Jesus.
The meeting ends and the lady asks, “What do you call yourselves anyway?”
“Call us by whatever we preach most,” I tell her. “If we preach politics, call us ‘Politickers’. If we harp on church buildings, call us ‘People of the Building’. But if you hear us preach Jesus Christ, call us ‘Followers of Jesus’.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get your point,” the hitchhiker sniffs, as if to say, ‘I’ve got your number, smart aleck.’
The host serves beans and rice to the old lady and me.
“Want me to give you a ride home?” I ask the lady. She nods approval.
The hitchhiker didn’t know what she was in for when she thumbed a ride with me. She likely returned home telling stories about the crazy white preacher who hijacked her church plans.
I hope she also tells her friends about the followers of Jesus.
1998 in Jinja, Uganda