(The UCU Standard – January 28, 2019)

MUKONO, Uganda — “We are suffering. We are all suffering terribly.”

This is what she said. I could see it in her face. Others told me the same. It was here at UCU. I listened. I was saddened. Disturbed. My heart broke. This is not how it was meant to go. Nobody saw this coming. Not really. This suffering.

These are people, good and honest people, working for one UCU program which, not all that long ago, changed leadership. But this is Africa and I don’t need to tell you that, under poor leadership, good people can suffer. Historically, Ugandans have suffered more than many.

And in this, dear UCU, comes a warning. It’s for everyone at this university, this unique place that’s called to higher things. This is it. Look diligently. Pray without ceasing. Choose wisely. Keep your eyes open and leave no stone unturned as you now pursue this significantly larger change in your leadership, that of a new vice-chancellor.

There is no single issue that’s more important for your life and future. Not one.

Considering the above-noted UCU program, there are no guarantees that the wrong sort of person won’t step forward. In all likelihood, they will, as so often happens in this culture. And it will be up to you to discern, and choose differently, so good people won’t suffer.

For 20 years this school has enjoyed remarkably solid and Godly leadership. With its past two vice-chancellors – Rev. John Senyonyi and, before him, Rev. Stephen Noll – UCU has been lead by steady hands and sensitive hearts.

Steady hands to maintain UCU’s unique calling to educate and equip people as ambassadors of Christ in the larger world. And sensitive hearts while working with others, responding to the needs of this community, and having faith in others on their team.

The term for this leadership is servant-leadership. You’ve likely heard it. It’s often bandied about in religious circles. But it’s rare when servant-leadership is actually practiced in the manner of Christ, towel around his waist, taking our dirty feet in his hands and washing them.

We even find this picture hard to imagine, it seems to me, because we confuse people of authority (for who they are) with positions of authority (that’s simply given.)

Yes, you can be a poor rabbi, a Jew under the thumb of an occupying power like Rome, and still have more authority (because of who you are) than, say, Herod or Pilate or some Jewish religious leader who can conspire to kill you by using their authority (which is simply given.)

Nonetheless, in an earthly sense, these positions of authority-given are incredibly important. And this is the point of this warning. It’s horribly easy to give power to the wrong sort of person, the sort that, regardless of what they say, has no desire to practice servant-leadership.

When they need help, these false leaders don’t ask for it. When they make mistakes, they cover them with lies. Information is kept secret because they don’t want others to know what they’re doing, or failing to do. When people around them suffer, they turn away blindly or sack them.

In short, these false leaders, fakes, take as much as they can, often easy money, while giving in return as little as they can with their own commitment. Can you imagine UCU’s new vice-chancellor with these sort of characteristics? You should. Because without that due diligence, and that turning over of every stone, and your ceaseless prayers, this can easily unfold.

You, dear UCU, may even want to consider a university-wide day of fasting and prayer for your next VC. Because, yes, you are called to be a distinct university.

As a private school, you’re not only fully dependent on private tuition, you’re fully dependent on the trust of Uganda’s Christian community. But it’s easy for that trust to be broken. And when leadership here is not Godly and true, it’s easy for that word, along with that suffering, to get out and take your good name with it.