50 Years of Pentecostalism in Uganda
Worship often turns into fervent testimony, shouts and song at the epitome of salvation.
In Uganda that line will be chorused aimlessly, as Pentecostal churches join hands, later this year to celebrate the faithfulness of God, who has made them a sore thumb for the devil for the last 50 years.
Ugandans were first attracted to the unity and passion of Pentecostal groups in 1960, three years after a mass salvation crusade was held in 1957 in Mombasa by Dr. T.L. Osborn. “After that crusade in Mombasa, the fountain of the river of Pentecostalism spread in the heart of East Africa,” Pastor Fred Wantaate of Makerere Full Gospel Church told The Observer.
“In Uganda Pentecostals were first denied permission but later in 1960, colonialists authorized them to start operating in the country.”
To many, the news of a new faith in Kampala spread like a wild fire. “The Word of God grew tremendously; and subsequent meetings were held,” says Pastor Jonathan Mutebi, the chairman of Makerere Full Gospel Church.
Mutebi, who was a Jesus loving youth then, adds that; “The Daudi Crusade” that was held at Mengo Kabaka Anjagala in February 1961 was the fire that set the ball rolling for the Pentecostal faith. “It was certainly one of the most momentous events in the history of the Pentecostal movement,” says Mutebi.
Now, the Pentecostal movement has flourished in countless churches and a growing number of followers. Their congregation, made up mostly of Jesus-passionate Ugandans from all sections, has grown tremendously, and they are bent on winning many more for Christ. For they have even grown in influence both as the world’s fastest-growing branch of Christianity, with a fervor and sense of destiny that resonates in the grand name they have chosen, and as key players in the social and political fabric of Uganda’s affairs.
Indeed this “movement” as Pastor Wantaate calls it, has now penetrated a larger part of the Ugandan society, and its significance has blossomed.
Pentecostals have not only demystified the word church but they have also groomed and channeled out quite a large number of Pastors. Nowadays it is easier to start a church and they are many – mainly for Born Again Christians. Tiny and makeshift, these churches sprout up almost overnight. The Pentecostals have also managed to ably squeeze themselves in the bracket of the mainstream religions of Uganda – Muslim, Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox.
“We thank God, for He has been so faithful,” Wantaate says.
This thanksgiving will gain momentum during the Pentecostal week in May 2010, where several pastors from Uganda and other regions will gather at Kololo Airstrip to celebrate the golden jubilee.
FULL GOSPEL CHURCH
The church that is organising this historical walk with Christ for 50 years is Makerere Full Gospel Church in partnership with all other Pentecostal churches. Pentecostalism in Uganda has a great deal to do with the Full Gospel Church or Gugudde as it was earlier nicknamed. This is the story of the first Pentecostal church in Uganda: its people, its pastors, and their fight to survive the emotional, sometimes extreme religious persecution by previous governments.
“In 1970s, former President Idi Amin expelled all Pentecostal groups, and we went underground. But after the 1979 liberation war, the ban was lifted,” Wantaate said. “Then more churches started to be established.” The idea of starting Makerere Full Gospel Church was hatched in 1956 by Pastor Reg Layzell during a service of Glad Tidings Missionary Society Church in Vancouver, Canada.
According to Wantaate, Pastor Layzell wrote to the British Governor in Uganda requesting for permission to plant churches, train national pastors to preach the gospel and engage in missionary work. “This request was referred to the Archbishop of the Anglican church of Uganda, who functioned at that time as a state Church, who advised against granting permission to a Pentecostal Church Missionary society.” But after four years, the Lord opened the door. And in April, 1960 permits were granted to Glad Tidings to begin mission work in Uganda.
On May 1, 1960 Glad Tidings Mission Group arrived in Kampala. Their journey with Christ started slowly, first in a rented house, then open air market meetings until the Full Gospel Church of Uganda was formed and registered later as a national organisation. “Later land was acquired and the first church was planted in a tent erected on a small plot near the site of the present church,” says Wantaate.
At the church in Makerere and during many crusades – mainly at the current Nakawa market, many people came out of curiosity, to see and hear a white man preaching in the open air, something that was very unusual then.
From 1961 churches were begun in Kisenyi and Kibuli initially led by missionaries and Kenya nationals. Today it is rare to visit any village in Uganda and fail to see a Pentecostal church.
And although there are vital challenges like training and disciplining disgraceful pastors, it is now widely believed by Ugandans that to spend a year with a Pentecostal congregation is to see a teenage single mother discover the strength to resume her abandoned studies, and party girl or former prostitute discover the virtue in marriage while in church.
It is to see a former murderer or alcoholic pray over alcoholics in the park. It is to see Jesus-driven youngsters roaming the city, armed with a Bible spreading the gospel and seeking to spread the Gospel.