Why we need Ugandan Christians (and why they might need us)
As part of the Wycliffe Hall Mission Week I took a small group of Students to Uganda to work with our sister college Bishop Barham Christian University, Kabale. This is located in the South West corner of Uganda, in the District of Kigezi, just an hour from the border with Rwanda. Kabale is about 7,000 feet above sea level and set in lush rolling hills. The air is a little “thin” and temperatures are less oppressive than in the capital Kampala where we began our journey, although the town centre is bustling, noisy and mucky, with red mud over all the roads and in the air. With a population of 50,000 people, Kabale acts as a district hub for an estimated 2 Million people scattered around the nearby villages.
The location itself is significant. Church Missionary Society missionaries brought Christianity to Uganda in 1877, arriving in Kabale in the early 20thC. The impact of the Gospel was enormously accelerated by the East African Revival which crossed over the border from Rwanda. It was warmly received in Kabale and from here emanated throughout East Africa.
The hub from which so much evangelistic zeal and worship emanated is the site where Bishop Barham Christian University now stands. The theological college students make up a small fraction of the 2,700 University cohort, but the Christian ethos pervades throughout.
We had the great pleasure of preaching in the chapel and nearby in the cathedral, teaching the Ordinands and sharing part of their training experience. We also taught in the local prep school and high school and visited local churches.
Why we need Ugandan Christians
The East African Revival lives on! Evidences of revival are strong, revealed for me in at least the following four ways
- Worship is at the heart of community life
With African rhythm and harmony all you appear to need in order to sing praise to God is a drum! In fact adding extra amplification and electronic instruments (in my view) tended to distract (plus the electricity supply itself is pretty unreliable!)
The Luganda theme chorus was sung several times at every meeting we attended “Tukutendereza Yesu, Yesu Mwana gw’endiga, omusaayi gwo gunnaazizza, nkwebaza, Mulozi” (“We praise you Jesus, Jesus the Lamb, your blood has cleansed me, Saviour, I praise you”). It is quite complex to sing because of the interlocking harmonies – but the power of the message is evident and heartfelt.
Another aspect of worship is the power of testimony: yes, the preaching is important, but so too is the lived experience of the gathered Christians. A couple of us attended a Testimony and Praise meeting at All Saints Church in Kabale. It was hard for us to follow (all in Luganda) but person after person told their story of God’s mercy and faithfulness, interjected by “Praise the Lord” to which the response is “Amen”! There is power in a living, recent testimony of God’s work in a person’s life.
- They Pray like they mean it!
Worship and prayer, of course, belong together. But the prayer meetings are worth a mention on their own. We attended the Graduation Ceremony, a rather long and tiring affair, followed by several delightful parties and celebrations. I was very tired and felt a little tetchy at being woken up several times during the night by what I had assumed were student graduation parties. Contrition eventually set in when I realised that what actually woke me was an all-night prayer meeting – marked out by corporate and public repentance and intercession for God to pour out His Spirit again!
Think about how hard it is to revive the traditional midweek parish prayer meeting in England. If we could but encourage some of the urgency, repentance and expectancy that marked these meetings I am a sure that we would delight to gather together as they did.
- They Demonstrate Sacrificial living
For many Ugandans life is pretty good. There is not the level of poverty which I have witnessed in other East African countries (particularly Tanzania). The land is lush and fertile and the economy in Uganda is growing. Nevertheless, clergy tend to be self-supporting through modest subsistence farming. There is plenty of fresh mango, pineapple and other fruits. But main meals are pretty much the same lunchtime and evening. It’s the “not-the-Atkins diet” – high carb content with Rice, “Irish” potatoes (roasted) and Matoke (cooked bananas) accompanied by a piece of scrawny chicken or chewy beef/mutton. Don’t get me wrong, we were generously and graciously hosted. But we were guests who were humbled by the sacrifices they made for us and mindful of the material trappings which tend to distract us western Christians from simple living.
- Theirs are Mission-focused Anglican structures
The Diocesan office was a hive of Gospel focussed activity. Bishops, Archdeacons, 5 talents workers, theological college staff and diocesan educators were there to resource the local church, be active in evangelism and church planting. Alongside this was a genuine desire to serve the whole person: education, health, community care and church growth belong together. I guess in a previous generation that was true for England too. Now, it seems, the church looks after the narrow sphere of the “spiritual” whilst the state looks after welfare and other social needs. I think that things are changing in England, but it seems to me that for a long time we have made Gospel preaching the centre of evangelical ministry out of anxiety that we will slip into “social Gospel” (and that has been a real danger). But giving the Gospel feet and hands as well as lips and ears is surely something we need to learn again from brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
Why might Ugandan Christians need us?
Do we have anything to offer to Christians in Uganda? Not much, I think. But, they are keen for genuine partnership with us and it was great to be able to sit down with the Principal of Bishop Barham and confirm our mutual commitment to giving and receiving from each other in partnership.
Here are three things which with which I think we can be of some assistance.
Even the undergraduate theology students who came with me were able to provide good pedagogical assistance to the college. Having enjoyed full time “High” School and, generally, undergraduate study in a non-theological discipline, and now completing another BA or higher in theology, they were able contribute to classroom conversation. Education is a gift! I come away from time spent preaching and teaching in Africa realising how fortunate I am to have been surrounded by such good teaching – which can easily be shared. And, they are eager to receive it!
The internet possibilities are opening up in East Africa with occasional wifi access, internet cafes and a computer lab in the library. Thanks to the generosity of Wycliffe Hall Students (and a generous charity baggage allowance!) we were able to take nearly 200 books for staff and students and a new laptop computer with logos software and office suite for the use of the teaching faculty. In England, we are spoilt for resources and when we share them, they are grateful! This extends to our time too. Short-term missions cannot achieve very much, but medium (3-6 months) or longer term is a great way to share your gifts with the wider church.
- Preparing to live in a Post-colonial/post-Christian nation
I hesitate to write this point. What I mean by it is that colonial influence, whilst largely positively received in Africa, is an embarrassing topic in western culture, not least because of some the baggage we exported. Are the Anglican structures we exported the best way to manage an African group of Churches? Is it really necessary for Africans to wear a heavy, hot cassock and surplice to lead a service? These are relatively minor points, of course.
More significant though is the conversation about life the other side of Revival. Praise God for the evidences of its continuation. However, as we often say, God has no grandchildren.
I had a delightful hour helping an excellent female ordinand with her final project before graduating from Bishop Barham. She asked me for advice on how to go about evangelism. My initial reaction had something to do with grandmas and sucking eggs. But she had hit upon an area which with which I think we might be able to help.
Evangelism, for Ugandans is very much Church based, consisting of inviting people in to hear the preaching of the Clergy. In our post-Christian country we have realised that this is not necessarily the most effective strategy. Through the successes of “Alpha” and “Christianity Explored” we have seen that effective evangelism is not only a matter of explaining the Gospel clearly, but also of doing so on the territory of the non-believer. Although I would very much hesitate to recommend a strictly teetotal culture to do their evangelism in their local bar (nothing like a British pub, really!), the challenge to meet non-Christians where they are, is important.
It may well be out of desperation that we have arrived at innovative non-church evangelism. But, we now know that evangelism happens outside the boat, in the secular sea around us, seeking to drag as many souls aboard as possible. Out of necessity, we have been evangelistically innovative
Having said that, I found myself saying on more than one occasion: “Please pray for us because many of those who sacrificed greatly to bring the Gospel to you no longer believe it… we need you to remind us of the things we once believed”.
Our visit to Uganda was a wonderfully enriching experience and it was a great joy to be reminded that though cultures and nations separate us, what we have in Jesus Christ binds us to other Christians more than anything else.
- I am very grateful to Jovahn Turyamureeba (Vice Principal Bishop Barham University College) for his book “The East African Revival and its impact on my life”, from which I have drawn several insights for this article