Dialogue with an Adventist police officer in Botswana
Assistant Commissioner of Police Christopher Mbulawa is third in a family of seven. Born into a Christian family in Blue Town, a suburb of Francistown, in north-eastern Botswana, he completed his elementary and secondary school in his hometown. Although his family went to church each Sunday, religion did not mean much more than that. Church was a routine of a few hours, and after that, life was the same: school, soccer, shopping, and social activities. But for Christopher, this was to change the year he completed secondary school, when one day a neighbor invited him to attend an evangelistic campaign that was about to take place in Francistown.
The neighbors were members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Christopher did not have much social contact with them, but he had observed their lifestyle: peculiar and somewhat odd, with weekly routines suddenly stopping Friday evening and the whole family marching to church on Saturday, instead of on Sunday as the rest of the community did. Out of curiosity, Christopher accepted their invitation and started attending the evangelistic meetings. What he heard there was new, thrilling, and biblical. Day after day, new truths, never before heard, convinced him that his future was here.
His faith found its grounding, and he got baptized. Soon after, he planned to study theology at Solusi University, but his papers did not work out as planned. So he joined the police service in Gaborone, Botswana. He also completed a diploma in mass communication from Harare Polytechnic School, and has a bachelor’s degree in media studies from the University of Botswana.
Inspector Mbulawa currently serves as assistant commissioner of the Botswana Police Service, in charge of public relations. He is an active member and current head elder of the Broadhurst Seventh-day Adventist Church in Gaborone. He works closely with the church youth and leads out in youth ministry. He is also actively involved in the chaplaincy program of the police service, where he has invited Adventist pastors to be among the guest speakers invited to address members of the police service.
Christopher Mbulawa is married to Bongani, a daughter of the family that invited him to attend the evangelistic meetings. They have two daughters, one of whom is studying at the Adventist University of the Philippines.
Tell us something about your work in the Botswana police service.
I joined the police service in 1983 as a constable, and my first posting was at the Central Police Station, attending to general duties. Thereafter, I was appointed to become the registry clerk, working normal hours. I rose through the ranks, and then I was sent for further studies. I had an interest in writing, so while working as a police constable and registrar, I began writing for the police magazine. The editors liked my work and invited me to study journalism; I was among the second batch of graduates in the police public relations unit. This unit, among other things, is responsible for publishing the police magazine, with a monthly circulation of more than 10,000 copies — within the police and other government departments, as well as educational institutions locally and abroad.
Six years after joining the police service, I was promoted to become a sergeant, and a year later I was promoted to become a service inspector. I was then sent for further studies, after which I was promoted to become an inspector, and then to be an assistant superintendent. Three years later, I became a superintendent. After further training again, I was promoted to be senior superintendent, and from there to be assistant commissioner. The better part of my service has been as a public relations officer for the service.
What are your current responsibilities?
As a public relations officer, I am not only a spokesman for the service, but I am also responsible for advising the commissioner, the entire senior management team (the commissioner and his two deputies), and the police service in general on media relations. I am also responsible for training police officers on how they are to relate to the media. We have regular interaction with the media. On a weekly basis, we issue police statements to the public about specific crimes that occur in the country and other relevant situations. We are also responsible for public education, to sensitize the public about emerging crime trends in the country, coming up with prevention methods, and how the public can help the police in preventing crimes. We have both television and radio programs that are aired three times a week on public television and radio stations. We publish a number of pamphlets and fliers with information for the public.
As a spokesperson for the service, what has been your experience when dealing with the media?
Dealing with the media poses many challenges. However, my training in journalism has given me an advantage in communication. I know the terrain. It is all about creating rapport. Many of the communication personnel were my classmates, so we can relate on a personal level. Some of the challenges we face include one that is common to news handling: the media wants it now, and we want to wait to collect all the information. When such information is not released immediately, some may interpret it to mean that we are trying to hide something. Another challenge is that some people think that a public relations officer’s responsibility is to doctor information, paint it to look good, and generally cover up. This is a perception that many members of the public have about public relations officers, which is not easy to change. However, my stance is to tell the truth, and I would advise all public relations officers to never tell lies. The day one tells lies is the day one digs his or her own grave as a professional when the cover-up is discovered. No matter what happens, we must tell the truth. Truth is golden when it comes to public relations.
Unfortunately, perceptions are stronger than reality, and at times we find ourselves on opposite sides, with the public media insisting that “we do not think you have told us the truth.” One just has to stick to the truth, and as for me as a Seventh-day Adventist, truth is not optional.
How does being a Seventh-day Adventist influence your work?
Police work is a 24/7 duty. By God’s grace, however, I have found myself in positions where I am able to worship without restriction. One time someone, noticing that I am always at church and carrying out my church responsibilities, asked me if I was still a member of the police service. I also attend most, if not all, church functions, such as camp meetings. I arrange my program in such a way that I take leave when those functions are scheduled.
My bosses know that I am a Seventh-day Adventist, and they respect my beliefs, which I have made plain to them. They also do not organize Sabbath programs that involve me.
I believe that God has allowed me to serve in the police service for a reason. With my being here, the Adventist church has been able to do many things with the police and elsewhere which would have been difficult otherwise. Involvement by police officers in community days organized by different churches has been a blessing. As I have visited different denominations, many have been surprised that a senior police officer could be serving God the way He has enabled me to do.
The police service and the church have similar goals in many respects. For example, keeping law and order and maintaining peace and security are interests in which both the church and the government are concerned. So when we work together, we can see more stability in these areas.
One pastor friend has told me that where we work is just a temporary job. Our real work, as members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is to win souls to God — evangelism. I have taken those words seriously and have tried to use every opportunity to do evangelism through my influence as a police officer. I always look for an opportunity to evangelize, because that should be my permanent work as a church member.
What advice would you give to Seventh-day Adventist young people who are serving or would like to serve in the police?
First, remember God has His people everywhere. In His wisdom, God has placed people in various places for a reason, just as He did with Joseph and Daniel. Some could be placed in the police or army or anywhere. The important thing is, wherever we are, we must live as Adventists. Sometimes people hide their identity. That creates more problems than solutions, if any. It is best to disclose one’s faith identity to the bosses and let them know what you believe. In most cases, they will respect you, especially if you live what you claim to be.
Second, live like a Christian every day of your life. The Bible says we are epistles to be read. Our way of life is the greatest sermon we can ever preach. Let God be God, and let Him place you where He wants you to be. For example, in Botswana we have rural areas, which may be considered as hardship areas, and unentered areas as far as the gospel is concerned. Oftentimes, when civil servants, including Seventh-day Adventists, are transferred to these places, they refuse to go, and yet these could be their mission fields.
With your work as a policeman, do you have enough time for your family?
I try to make time for my family. One very important time for us as a family is worship time in the morning and evening. Additionally, as a family we find time to go out and just be together. We also, on occasion, have time to meet together to discuss different topics as a family regarding things like cleanliness in the home, reading books and sharing with others what we read, and so on.
We often gather as an extended family at different locations, and it gives us an opportunity to share our faith, particularly with those members of the extended family who are not Adventists. These things are important for us as a family. One of my daughters who is still at home is also a writer who likes to share with us what she writes, and I encourage her to pursue her interests as a Christian.
Any last word to the readers of this magazine?
Young people must be true to their faith and not play church. They should be Adventists not just before other people or on Sabbath, but even when they are by themselves. University students face a lot of challenges. Often they are in the minority on their campuses. The same could be true at work in different organizations, companies, or government departments. There are also pressures that often come to them, such as Sabbath examinations and work. Several stand firm and do not take the exams or work on Sabbath. Sadly, however, a few of those who stand firm with regard to Sabbath may be found participating in questionable parties and other activities, including the using of alcohol. This becomes a contradiction of life. It is not what we say but what we do at all times that matters and speaks louder to those we come in contact with.
Lastly, how can the church and the police work together?
The church should know that there are abundant opportunities to minister within the police service. Members of the police service are also human beings who need the Savior. Yet, by the nature of their work, they often get traumatized by the experiences they go through. They are usually among the first people to arrive at an accident scene, a murder scene, and so on. This affects them as human beings. Some of them are very young — nineteen years or so. If the church could offer counseling to them, they would appreciate it very much. It would also be an opportunity to point them to a greater counselor: Jesus Christ. Our church has very good programs in family life and healthful living. The police need this kind of service extended to them. The church can help them discover a more wholesome life in Christ.
Hudson E. Kibuuka (D.Ed., University of South Africa) is an associate director of education, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland. His e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher Mbulawa: email@example.com.