Thoughts on the African “Big Man Syndrome.”

Africa is a big place!
Africa is a big place!

June 1, 2013

My 57th birthday is today

5 Thoughts on my 57th birthday.
5 Thoughts on my 57th birthday.

The Big Man


 Scroll down to read “A Big Man named Leo Parker.”
Raid on Entebbe, starring Charles Bronson, Peter Finch, and Yaphet Kotto (as Idi Amin).  This took place only miles from our house.
Raid on Entebbe, starring Charles Bronson, Peter Finch, and Yaphet Kotto (as Idi Amin). This took place only miles from our house.

Idi Amin was The Big Man.

I was reminded of it while watching the movie,  “Raid on Entebbe.”

The Big Man.

It’s a term used often in Africa. It describes a powerful person who rules autocratically.  Many, like Amin in Uganda, have a military background.*

The stereotype of the Big Man is a bully who leaves his people and country destitute while enriching themselves and their cronies.

Mugabe in Zimbawae.

Charles Taylor in Liberia.

Mboto (and more) in Democratic Congo.

The list could go on and on.

I counter that there are exceptions to the oppressive African Big Man.

Nelson Mandela is the biggest man in Africa and commands great respect from all.  Recently fellow big man Desmond Tutu warned Africans to prepare “for Mandela’s approaching death.” It shocked the entire continent. 

Last month, while in Zambia, I spent a weekend in a rural village. It was a time of mourning and remembrance of the death of “A Big Man’s” wife.

I was taken to see “The Big Man.” (I never heard his name, only this term.) He looked to be close to 90 and shuffled, head down, to a nearby chair.  He was frail and evidently close to the end of his life also.

He’d been a teacher, school leader, village leader, and sitting judge.

It was very evident that he and his wife commanded great respect in this area.

They showed me a school the Big Man’s wife had built in their backyard, ensuring the village children receiving schooling.

There were boreholes (wells) throughout the village. Courtesy of his influence.

Neat houses and a spirit of happiness you could sense.

Here was a Big Man who was truly big.

He used his influence for good and to enrich his people.

May we all seek to be Big Men (and women) who serve others.

In the words of the Big God-Man I serve, Jesus:  “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”

* A troubling fact: No African leader who ascended to the Presidency of his country through military means/coup has ever stepped down willingness and in peace.  Paul Kugame (of Rwanda  who led the Tutsi Army that overthrew the Hutu government after the Rwandan Genocide) plans to retire this coming year. He will be the first.

Read more on The African Big Man Syndrome.

I’ve been waiting to write the following story on a Big American Man I knew and loved.  Enjoy!

A Big Man named Leo

He was one of the biggest men I’ve ever known.  Leo Parker.  Even in old age, he towered above others.

He was the bulldozer man… and much more.

He also had a big heart.  Especially when Jesus came into his heart.

Mr. Leo told me this story that happened before he met Jesus.

I have a sneaking suspicion even Jesus enjoyed watching this story.

Leo Parker was working in Kinder with his dozer. 

A stranger drove up to his home near Topsy and told Leo’s wife,  “Your husband sent me to get six of those dozer batteries and bring them to Kinder.”

The stranger loaded the heavy (and expensive batteries) into his battered “bondo bomb” truck and drove away.

Mr. Leo arrived home from work and had this conversation.

“Honey,  I didn’t know you’d hired a man helping you in Kinder?”

“I haven’t.”

“Well, this fellow came and …”

Leo Parker got in his truck and drove to Kinder. He told me,  “I figured it was someone who saw me working there and used the opportunity to steal my batteries while I was gone. I also had a good description of the truck from my wife.”

He settled in at the Kinder crossroads.

In a few hours, the suspect drove by and Mr. Leo gave chase, running the offender off in the ditch on the Elton Highway.

“I ran to the fellow’s truck and got aholt of him.  He went to crying that his family didn’t have any money.  I pulled him out the window and dragged him to my truck, getting in the cab with him beside me.”

I couldn’t wait.  “Mr. Leo, what happened next.”

He chuckled.  “I kept him in a headhold all of the way while I drove with one hand to the Sheriff’s Office in Oberlin. Every once in a while I’d loosen my hold and he’d try to wiggle loose, so I’d clamp down again.”

I asked, “Mr. Leo, what’d y’all talk about on the drive to Oberlin.”

He chuckled his wonderful laugh.  “Didn’t have much conversation.  When we got there, I took him in and left him with the Sheriff.”

I’ve told, and retold, this story many times to the delight of listeners.

I was away when Leo  Parker died.  I sure loved him and miss him.

I smile as I wonder if Mr. Leo had to duck when he went under the pearly gates.

He was a Big Man.  The American kind of big man.  A giant with a good heart.

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