History

Origins

Uganda is a spiritually rich country.  Henry Stanley, British explorer and journalist,King Mutesa welcomes Stanley met King Mutesa, the Kabaka (king) of Buganda (a central Ugandan tribe) in April 1875.  After sharing the simple story of Christianity with King Mutesa, he became very enthusiastic about Christianity and asked Stanley to write a letter to Queen Victoria of England, appealing for missionaries.  The letter was published in The Daily Telegraph newspaper in England on 15th November 1875.

“Oh! That some pious, practical missionary would come here! What a field and harvest ripe for the sickle of civilisation….It is the practical Christian tutor who can teach people how to become Christians, cure their diseases, construct dwellings…and turn his hand to anything – like a sailor – this is the man who is wanted….You need not fear to spend money on such…a mission…”[1]

So, two years later, Christianity first came to Uganda when eight missionaries from the Church Missionary Society arrived in 1877.  The Christian faith was originally preached only to the immediate members of the court of King Mutesa, Kabaka (king) of Buganda.

Early Martyrs

King Mwanga sentences martyrsKing Mutesa’s successor, King Mwanga, “became increasingly angry as he realized that the first converts put loyalty to Christ above the traditional loyalty to the king.  Martyrdoms began in 1885.  Mwanga first forbade anyone to go near a Christian mission on pain of death, but finding himself unable to cool the ardour of the converts, resolved to wipe out Christianity.” [2]

Among the early martyrs of Uganda was English Bishop, James Hannington, the first Anglican Bishop of the Eastern Equatorial province.  Bishop Hannington approached the Buganda Kingdom from the East.  Unfortunately, unknown to him, there was a Baganda belief that its enemies would approach the kingdom from the eastern route.  So, the Kabaka (king) sent warriors to meet this encroaching enemy.  Before they killed Hannington on 29th October 1885, he is reported to have said, “Tell the Kabaka (king) that I die for Uganda.”  These words are inscribed on his tomb at the Namirembe Cathedral.

On 3rd June 1886, King Mwanga ordered the killing of twenty-six of his pages – thirteen Anglicans and twelve Roman Catholics.  Today, 3rd June is set aside as a public holiday to commemorate the Martyrs of Uganda.  Thousands of people from all over East Africa travel to the site of the martyrdom to remember their courage, sacrifice, and testimony…even unto death.

These early Christians were martyred at Namugongo.  Their martyrdom produced a martyrsresult entirely opposite of Mwanga’s intentions.  The example of these martyrs, who walked to their deaths singing hymns and praying for their enemies, so inspired many of the bystanders that they began to seek instruction from the remaining Christians.  Within a few years the original handful of converts had multiplied many times and spread far beyond the court.  The martyrs had left the indelible impression that Christianity was truly African, not simply a white man’s religion.  Most of the missionary work was carried out by Africans rather that by white missionaries, and Christianity spread steadily.  Uganda now has the largest percentage of professed Christians of any nation in Africa.[3]

Revival

In June 1936 the East African Revival began in northeast Rwanda.  (Rwanda borders Uganda on the southwest.)  It spread rapidly through Burundi, Uganda, Zaire, Tanzania and Kenya.  It touched mission schools, churches and villages.  The Revival produced deep repentance and changed lives and has continued to be sustained, even through today.  It helped to establish a new zeal for enthusiastic holiness in African Christianity.  It confronted demonic strongholds, and began to prepare churches to cope with the horrors of massacres and warfare that erupted in later years.

Later Martyrs

janani-luwum-1Renewed persecution of Christians broke out again in the 1970′s by the military dictator, Idi Amin, who had Islamic sympathies.  The Christian resilience in the face of brutal torture and death demonstrated the continued influence of the Namugongo martyrs and the deep, vital, and abiding faith among so many who had been influenced by the East African Revival.  Among the thousands of new martyrs, both Anglican and Roman Catholic, was Janani Luwum, Archbishop of the (Anglican) Church of Uganda.

Today, 36% of the 30 million people of Uganda are Anglicans, and 56% are eighteen years old and younger.

Mission-minded

The Church of Uganda, with its rich and firm spiritual history, has offered and continues to offer a dynamic and vital faith to peoples around the world.  Already, this is a part of Anglican history in Uganda.  In 1893 Canon Apollo Kivebulaya was the first to take the Gospel to the people of Eastern Congo.  Ugandans such as William and Sala Nagenda, Erica Sabiiti, Festo Kivengere, Janani Luwum, John Wilson, Misaeri Kauma, Edward Muhima, and the current Archbishop, Henry Luke Orombi, have witnessed before world leaders.  In 1996, John Sentamu, a Ugandan Anglican, was consecrated a Bishop in the Church of England, first as the Bishop of Birmingham, and now as the Archbishop of York.


[1] Segawa, Henry (Rev. Canon).  Namugongo Martyrs.  Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Supplies, n.d., p. 2.

[2] Kiefer, James.  Lesser Feasts and Fasts Biographies; available from http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/06/03.html.

[3] Kiefer, James.  Lesser Feasts and Fasts Biographies; available from http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/06/03.html.