Lutheran Lay Renewal visited the Lutheran Church of Uganda in May. Among the highlights of this visit were:
The opportunity to present 22 Lutheran Service books to Rev. Enoch Macben, acting Principal, and Rev. Peter Maganda, Dean of Students, of the Lutheran Theological College in Magamaga. The LSB is the preferred worship book at the seminary, so everyone was grateful to receive them. I then spoke to the students, some of whom I already knew from my visit in 2019.
A visit to Triangle Secondary School in Iganga. This school is in partnership with the Lutheran Church of Uganda’s Eastern Deanery and Trinity Lutheran Church worships in one of the school buildings. The school has an excellent reputation and attracts students from many parts of Uganda. Richard Okello, school Principal, told us the school needs partnerships in terms of exchange programs for teachers and students, as well as funds and materials to support the vulnerable. Trinity Lutheran Church also needs land and its own building, a pastor’s house and funds for church activities.
Uganda is 86 percent Christian and 13 percent Muslim, with most of the Muslims concentrated in the eastern part of the country. One of the things you can’t help but notice in eastern Uganda is that just about every village has a well built and nicely painted mosque, but most of the Christian churches are of poor construction and very poor looking. Since the people are equally poor, what is the explanation for this discrepancy? The reason is that wealthy Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia are donating the funds to build the mosques in all these small towns but Christian churches are lacking the international partners to support them financially.
Eastern Deanery Dean Peter Maganda and I visited Kyabazaala Lutheran Church and School, Buyende District, on Sunday, May 9 where I had been invited to preach and Rev. Peter translated into the Lusoga language. About 70 people attended worship in this small, adobe church. The church has a corrugated metal roof with lots of holes in it and it was rainy for a couple hours, so of course there was water dripping in. Later, after it stopped raining, the sun came out, which then made the metal roof very hot. One could really feel the heat above when standing up.
This day was designated as a fundraising day for the new building the church hopes to build, so there were talks by Rev. Peter, Pastor Erifazi Buluba and lay leaders. After the talks, members of the congregation made donations to the building project. Some donations were minimal amounts of cash, others were things like a small bag of avocados, mangos, a live chicken, etc. Next these items were auctioned for cash. All totaled, it was announced that the congregation raised the amount of 96,000 Uganda Shillings, which is about US$27. Needless to say, this is a very poor rural community.
The church already has the bricks and some other building materials it will need to build, and estimates it will cost about $10,000 to buy the rest of the needed materials and fund the construction. The new building also will be used for the school. Currently three classes meet in the one room adobe building: preschool, first and second grades. Once the new brick building is completed, the church will have space for preschool through seventh grade.
This would be a great blessing for the entire community, as children now have to walk 7 miles round trip to go to school. Keep in mind that this walk is on dirt roads that are hot and dusty during the dry season and muddy throughout much of the rainy season. During the rainy season the children walk to or from school in the rain on many days. The rainy season is going on right now and I can tell you it rains almost every day in Eastern Uganda, sometimes in torrential downpours. How many of you would want your young children to walk to school under these conditions? I promised to help raise funds for them to build the new church/school. The congregation already owns the land, which was donated by Rev. Peter Maganda’s sister and her husband. After Sunday worship the congregation hosted a lunch for everyone.
I had the opportunity to meet with Bishop Charles Bameka several times, who expressed his gratitude to Lutheran Lay Renewal for our funding of their radio ministry on Kiira-FM from April through October of last year, during the period when all the churches were shut down due to the global pandemic. Kiira-FM in Jinja is the most listened to radio station in Eastern Uganda, reaching 6 million people, and the LCU provided the only broadcast of Sunday worship in Eastern Uganda during this period. Bishop Bameka said the LCU received thanks from many, many Christians and even some Muslims for this weekly broadcast.
On Monday, May 10 our first stop was in Naigobya, which is Rev. Peter’s home town. We visited with his grandmother, Rachel, and his aunt, who lives with his grandmother. From there we drove to Naigobya Lutheran Church, which was the first Lutheran congregation in Uganda. I also visited this congregation in 2019. On the church property is a building that for some years was used as a health clinic but the clinic was forced to close several years ago, due to lack of funds. The building has an office, a room with two beds, a lab so that people can be tested for malaria and other health issues on the premises, a storage room and living quarters.
The Eastern Deanery would like to reopen the clinic but needs funding to do so. We met with a young woman who just completed her nursing training, and who has been brought in from Iganga to work at the clinic when it can be reopened. She told us that the most common problems people are treated for in this area are: malaria, diarrhea, nutritional problems, urinary tract infections and ulcers. Nurses also vaccinate children for polio and other diseases.
I was told that almost everyone who lives in Uganda gets malaria at some point in their life and it can be fatal, especially for children, pregnant women and the elderly. Early diagnosis and treatment can be the difference between life and death, another reason why reopening this clinic is crucial for the people of Naigobya.
In order to reopen the clinic, the LCU will have to have the clinic licensed by the Luuka District government. Government regulations include the requirement of hiring two full-time nurses, with at least one living on the premises, so that emergency patients can be seen at night when necessary. The nurse who just arrived is currently living in the building.
Naigobya is a very poor, remote village of about 5,000 people. Currently, the closest health clinic is in Luuka, which is about 15 miles away. If that does not seem too far away to you, keep in mind that practically no one in Naigobya has a car. In rural Uganda most people walk where they need to go or, if someone has some money, they may have a motorbike. Now imagine riding 15 miles on a motorbike on very bumpy, dusty, or muddy (depending on the season) dirt roads when you are sick, and you can understand why the reopening of this health clinic is so vital to the Naigobya community. Imagine also how grateful the people of Naibobya would be to the Lutheran Church of Uganda for providing this clinic for them.
On Tuesday, May 11 Rev. Peter, Ronald, an Evangelist for the LCU and also our driver, and I stopped at a sporting goods store in Jinja, where we bought 3 soccer balls, a netball, a volleyball and net for the children of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Magamaga. This church does lots of outreach to the children of Magamaga through dance and song, and now sports, so the sports equipment is needed as part of the church’s outreach ministry. We also stopped at The Bible Society of Uganda store in Iganga and bought 50 Lusoga language Bibles for the students in the deanery’s Lutheran Lay Leadership Training program
Wednesday through Friday, 67 people from all over the Eastern and Far Eastern Deaneries of the LCU attended our Renewal Conference, which this year was held at Christ Community Lutheran Church and School in Kawete. Attendees included pastors, seminarians, people participating in the Lutheran Lay Leadership training program (which is being funded by LLR) and other lay leaders. I should mention that an Anglican priest, Rev. Christopher, who is an old friend of Rev. Peter, and a Roman Catholic teacher also were in attendance. It’s also worth mentioning that three of the lay leaders in attendance are former Muslims.
The first two days we took everyone through our typical Renewal Weekend program. There was morning Bible teaching by pastors, singing, testimonies and small group discussion, as well as women’s and men’s group discussions.
Next, I taught 7 Lessons for Living the Spiritual Life, which is a retreat LLR has led all over the U.S. This was followed by lunch and then Holy Communion for the attendees, as well as the children, teachers and other staff at the school, so about 200 people were in attendance. I was invited to be the preacher and preached on John 15:1-8, in which Jesus says: “I am the vine and you are the branches.”
On Saturday, May 15 Rev. Peter Maganda and I went back to Kawete, where the Lutheran Lay Leadership Training program was going on. First, we met with the two facilitators for the program, Revs. Erifazi Buluba and Michael Waiswa. They talked about the financial challenges of the program, such as men having to take two days off work every two weeks to attend. Not only do these two days of missing work hurt these men and their families financially, but even the cost of transportation to and from Kawete is a hardship for many; and not for trainees alone but also for the facilitators who must travel. Pastors’ congregations are too poor to pay them a salary so they have to earn a living for their families outside of the church.
Why is the Lutheran Lay Leadership Training program necessary? The Eastern Deanery has 54 congregations and 12 preaching stations, but only 9 ordained pastors, so the training program trains laymen to lead worship and preach in congregations that do not have pastors. The LCU also hopes this program will provide a pipeline to the seminary, as many of these mostly young men will want to continue their studies and go into full-time ministry. After our meeting with the facilitators, we met with the students and gave them the Lusoga language Bibles that were paid for by LLR.
Saturday evening I had dinner with Bishop Bameka, Rev. James Odoo, Provincial Secretary, and his wife Isabella, Rev. Peter Maganda and Muwanika Lameka, who was offered the position of Asst. Education Coordinator of the LCU by Bishop Bameka, an offer he accepted.
On Sunday, May 16, Bishop Charles Bameka picked me up at the hotel in Jinja and we drove to Our Savior Lutheran Church, Magamaga to worship. This was a special day, as there were two baptisms and the new members of the Eastern Deanery Council and other deanery leaders were installed. There were many speeches and I too was asked to speak, and also presented the sporting goods I had purchased to the youth of the church.
Lutheran Lay Renewal is a ministry partner of The North American Lutheran Church. To learn more or partner in ministry, please visit: http://lutheranrenewal.com