“I’m Sorry. Will you Forgive me?”

I’m Sorry. Will you forgive me?”



Here’s a good quote to begin:

“An unforgiving Christian? That’s an oxymoron.”

-Jordy McCaskill


Summer 2023

Alexandria, Louisiana


My friend and I had just finished a fine meal at Word of Mouth Cafe near the Rapides Parish Courthouse in downtown Alexandria.


As I neared my truck, a tall security guard got in my face, berating me. “You cannot park here. This is only for the courthouse, and I saw where you came from.


The man really got in my grill. He was about my age, much taller, and seemed to enjoy lording it over me and showing who was the boss.


I glanced at my nearby friend, who stood speechless.


Now,  my hackles were up, and I was ready to go toe to toe with the security guard.


Then, I thought of something I’d learned ten years ago.


I turned to the security guard.  “I am so sorry. Will you please forgive me?”




“I’m so sorry. I parked in the wrong spot.”  I caught his eyes. “I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?” 


The guard was sputtering and clearly exasperated. Finally, he waved me away, “OK, just don’t do it again.”


As we got in my truck, my friend said, “What was that all about?”


I laughed. “Three years in Africa taught me a lot.”


When I first arrived in Africa in 2013,  I was terrified whenever a policeman waved me to the side of the road. This was especially true in the wild west country of South Sudan and Upcountry Uganda.

When the police saw my Toyota Land Cruiser approaching, they licked their chops. 


I called it D.W.W.:  Driving While White.”


I want to drive a peg down here. I must revert to my favorite African language:


East African-British-English.


That’s right.   East African-British-English.


Most of East Africa was colonized by the British, and they left their unique accent of  English behind.


In fact, I learned to use it myself to be understood.

Now, the reasons for being stopped were endless:


“I have stopped you. You  have mud on your headlights,”



“Mzee, I am sorry, but your fire extinguisher tag has expired. I must give you a ticket.”


My favorite : “You’re carrying luggage in the back seat. That is illegal. You can only carry passengers on the seats.”

Then this one great one as they handed the ticket book to you, “Here. You must fine yourself.”


All of these infractions had one common denominator: a bribe. The policeman wanted a bribe.


These encounters often occurred at a barricade operated by a handful of guards or soldiers.


I rolled down my window as the policeman cited a litany of misdemeanors and felonies I’d committed against the government of South Sudan.

Then the officer stood upright, slowly shaking his head, “I must take you to the station.”

Up to this point, he’d been subtle with, “Do you have something for the gate?” 

or “Do you have something for tea?”

I answered: “The company I work for forbids giving bribes.  If I do that, I could lose my job. You don’t want that, do you?”

A look of hurt would flash across his face. “Oh, no. I would never ask for a bribe, but I still must take you to the station.”


The “no-bribe missionary company” answer usually worked, but it wouldn’t deter the real professionals. 


They’d  stand at the car window with an open palm, “Tea money, or I still must take you to the station.”


When nothing else worked, it was time to unleash my secret weapon.


 I learned to disarm a bribe shakedown with, “I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?”

It was the magical eight words. In African culture, you cannot ignore an apology, especially from a Mzee (elder) with gray in his beard.


I observed many reactions from the magical eight words. Shock, resignation, humor, and sighs in multiple languages.

As needed, I’d add, “As your Mzee (father), I’m asking you to forgive me.”


Africans have great respect for their elders.

The forgiveness card and the gray-bearded elder always worked.


The result was always the same: the policeman would wave us on, after making me promise not to repeat this serious offense.

I want to be honest. I have a Southern rebel bloodline in me, and those eight magical words don’t come easy, especially when I hadn’t done a dadgum thing wrong and was still being shaken down.


I want to return to those two sentences:


“I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?”


It’s pride that keeps us from saying the words. Don’t let pride rob you of the joy of a possible reconciliation.


 Even if it doesn’t go well, you’ve done your part.


It didn’t hurt me to say the eight words on a dirt road in rural Africa.


 I have to admit it’s much more difficult in our American culture. We’re a prideful people.


I bet someone in your orbit needs to hear it from you.

I’d advise you to stand in front of a mirror and practice the eight magical words before apologizing.

The words come much easier when you’ve practiced them. 

*However, a word of caution: avoid the deadly ninth word.


“But” has ruined many perfectly good apologies.

“. . . But . . .you”


My  friend, Warren Morris, shares about Coach Skip Bertman’s favorite acronym:  T.O.B.: “Transfer of Blame.”

That’s when the apology explodes. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me, but . . .”

Transfer of blame often has the dangerous but lurking in the apology.


“But you made me do it.”  No one can make you do anything. Look in the mirror!

I’ve waited all day to say this: “Get your buts out of here!

Don’t do it, man. Put a question mark at the end of your apology, not a comma.


T.O.B. Transfer of Blame. It’s human nature to want to blame someone else. It goes back to the Garden, but that doesn’t make it right.


No “But”    “No T.OB.”

Do this: “I am so sorry. Will you please forgive me?” 

* * *

A final word on African bribes:

Knowing we’d be stopped when we traveled up-country, DeDe devised a novel plan: We carried three things in our vehicle: bottles of water, Bibles in several dialects, and fresh banana bread

It’s another part of African culture: you cannot refuse a gift.

A loaf of DeDe’s homemade banana bread always did the trick. We enjoyed the surprised look of a policeman holding a loaf of fresh banana bread in his outstretched hand, motioning with his free hand, “Open the gate and let Mzee through.”

 He had his bribe, and I was on my way north. I thanked him as we sped away.

I’d glanced in the rearview mirror.  Five policemen were standing at the gate, hands on their hips. One had a loaf of banana bread in his right hand.

As they say in Swahili, Kwaheri.

That’s Goodbye.