A Light Shining in the Darkness
Eric W. Tuininga
Greetings in Christ from Mbale, Uganda! Christ rules over all nations! I praise God continually that Christ’s kingdom has reached many formerly pagan lands, including Europe, America, China, and Uganda!
The Mbale area is home to many tribes and languages. While visiting believers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Uganda (OPCU), you might hear the following greetings: Mulembe! (Lugisu), Kojeyo! (Lunyole), Koizeyo! (Lugwere), Habari! (Swahili), Oli Otya? (Luganda), or even How are you? (English). Worshipping and teaching here often reminds me of the triumphant verse, “[You] have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9 NKJV).
The way Christ ordained for his kingdom to reach Uganda is inspiring and encouraging. The gospel first reached Uganda in 1875, about ten years after Islam first arrived. The first Anglican missionaries, invited by the king (Kabaka), arrived in 1877. One early missionary, Alexander Mackay, told the Kabaka that Islam is the religion of the false prophet Mohammad, that slavery is a great evil, and that the traditional Lubaale cult is wrong. On one occasion, to prove his point, Mackay threw a Lubaale charm into the fire, to the gasps of his terrified audience. When no evil befell him for such a scandalous act, many began to take his Christian message seriously. In 1881, the first converts were baptized.
“Here in Africa, before, people were worshipping mountains, trees, and spiritual dark powers. But now, because God has put a desire in our lives, we seek him. At first we did not seek him, but now we seek him.” So said Knox Theological College student Hagada Medad, in a sermon preached in February 2013 on Isaiah 65:1.
However, wherever Christ is at work, Satan also fights. And Satan fought hard to keep the gospel out of Uganda. One missionary, Bishop James Hannington, was killed by warriors on order of the king, on October 29, 1885. His words were, “Tell the Kabaka that I die for Uganda.”
The persecution of Christians intensified when one of the Ugandan kings attempted to force his pages to engage in homosexual acts with him. They refused because of their faith in Christ. He was furious that these early converts would put loyalty to Christ above loyalty to the king, and so on June 3, 1886, thirty-one of them were burned alive, bearing joyful testimony of their assurance of heaven. The blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of the church, and Christianity began to spread, enthusiastically preached by Ugandans themselves.
The Anglican mission strategy was that wherever churches were planted, Christian schools would also be built. Poor village families eagerly sent their children to these schools. As a result, within one or two generations, Christianity had reached most of Uganda! Today Muslims are copying this strategy and building many Muslim schools, sometimes giving free tuition to attract Christian children. While 80 percent of Ugandans now consider themselves Christian, pagan practices continue in the villages. Even in the church, the true gospel is being undermined by the prosperity gospel, moralism, and empty ritual.
Into this situation, for the last twenty years, the OPC has sent missionaries to Eastern Uganda in order to assist the church here. As a result, new converts come to Christ, new churches are planted, believers grow in their faith, Reformed theological education is provided, and Christ is honored and glorified by having a faithful, godly, doctrinally solid church here in Uganda.
It has been said that there is a famine in Uganda—not a lack of food or rain, but a lack of theological training for pastors. My primary task since arriving in Uganda in July 2012 has been to train men for the ministry at Knox Theological College (KTC), a seminary operated by the OP Uganda Mission. There is a great need for solid training, and it is a great privilege for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to be here to provide this blessing. Currently there are ten students at KTC from a variety of backgrounds: five from the OPCU, three from the Reformed Fellowship Churches of Kenya, a denomination across the border in Kenya, and two from a Pentecostal background (eagerly embracing Reformed doctrine).
Reformed theology is a great treasure that we are able to provide the church here. One of the students at KTC is from a large Pentecostal church that teaches the prosperity gospel. In our soteriology class (soteriology is the doctrine of salvation), he asked, “How can we get this doctrine to more people?” When his pastor gave him an opportunity to preach, he preached on justification by faith through the righteousness of Christ, a doctrine the congregation had never heard before. This student also had a long conversation successfully convincing an elder that the commonly held doctrine of a distinct “second blessing” accompanied by speaking in tongues is unbiblical. Pray for a modern reformation in the churches here!
I would like to give you a picture of the spiritual warfare in the midst of which KTC students and OPCU pastors are proclaiming Christ. Recently I asked the students at KTC to write a short paper describing common sins in their culture or tribe and how to address these sins. Here is a portion of what one young man wrote:
In my tribe of Banyole in Butaleja District, most people believe in the spirit gods. Each clan in Bunyole has a spirit god which they worship, and there are more than three hundred clans. Every year, beginning from August until December, they go to serve the spirits. That is when the harvest finishes, and most people have harvested the crops from the gardens. So each clan prepares to serve the ancestor spirits. During this time there is beating of drums in the whole of Bunyole. People take food, drinks, hens, and goats to slaughter blood for their demons or spirits. There is a god of the rain, a god of mountains, a god of marriage.… There are men who put on animal skins—those are the ones who present before the spirit gods all the problems of the clan…. Each clan has one man who puts on animal skins, and this man is called Omutusa. This man is chosen by the spirits/demons. This person doesn’t do any work. The clan will provide for him everything because he speaks with the spirits. They offer to him food, hens, milk, etc., during the harvest time. This fellow has the power to command anything either to curse or bring barrenness [even] to the young boys and girls, and he is the most feared person, for he speaks to the demons.… Everyone in Uganda fears my tribe because of curses. They can curse a tree, and it dries—they claim to have this power. They curse crops not to grow well until they come to Omutusa [and get him] to say something; then their crops will grow well and produce.
When I come across these persons [demon worshippers], I ask them questions to know for sure if their spirits can save them from death and the wrath of God, or if they can find peace eternal. Can they have assurance of eternal life by consulting their demons?
Then I can tell them about the true God and his Son Jesus Christ, who can save them all from the bondage of sin and death. I can tell them what is written in the law—the first of the Ten Commandments—and how we were weak to keep that law, so God sent his Son, who kept it perfectly for us.
There is life in Jesus Christ.
There is grace in Jesus Christ.
There is now no condemnation in Jesus Christ.
This is the one whom we must worship, the Creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them. The one who has the power over death and to give life, the one before whom every knee shall bow down and worship—even their [evil] spirits are subject to him! He is the judge of all nations under the sun! And if they believe this good news, then I can pray with everyone for his salvation in Jesus’ name.
Into the spiritual darkness, the light of Jesus Christ is shining as the gospel is preached! We, as the OPC, have a great privilege to partner with the OPCU churches here in this work! In addition to teaching at KTC, I help to mentor and encourage the congregations that form the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Uganda. The OPCU has ten congregations: one here in Mbale and nine village churches: Bukonde, Kama, Mazimasa, Kakoli, Petete, Nampologoma, Kachonga, Kaiti, and Khamoto. I realize that to you these are just names, but to us, they are people: brothers and sisters, friends, and fellow believers. I wish you could meet them all, but I am privileged to greet them on your behalf and to enjoy the unity of Christ’s church around the world!
More than 90 percent of OPCU members are peasant farmers, which means that they have no regular employment. Instead, they grow their own food, and hopefully have some to sell in order to provide for basic needs like soap, sugar, and blankets. Many of them live in very small homes with dirt floors and no electricity or running water. Many people in Uganda endure real suffering, some of whom we have had the humbling privilege to meet.
Loving Our Ugandan Neighbors
The material poverty of our Reformed brothers and sisters in Uganda provides a wonderful opportunity for us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. One of the key themes of God’s Word is that believers must joyfully give to one another; especially those with more earthly possessions have a duty to joyfully give to those who have less. For example, 1 Timothy 6:17–18 ESV says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty.… They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” The OPC seeks to be generous and ready to share with our brothers and sisters in the OPCU.
A wonderful example of this kind of church-to-church, cross-cultural giving is found in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. There Paul is taking collections from the Greek churches in Macedonia and Achaia, in order to provide for the poor believers in Judea. We are urged to abound in this grace: “But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also” (2 Cor. 8:7 NKJV).
In an effort to abound in this grace, the OPC helps our OPCU brothers and sisters in a variety of ways. We provide their diaconal committee with a small amount for each congregation to use to help support their widows and orphans (about $25 per month per congregation). We have an arrangement with a local Christian health clinic, whereby OPCU brothers and sisters can receive medical care. We also help to subsidize a radio program where OPCU pastors preach. We have promised to drill wells for the village churches. One goal of the mission here is to have a full-time deacon living here in Mbale to oversee these projects and help in other ways, so that the OPCU brothers and sisters can become more and more self-sustaining.
There are other ideas of how the work here might move forward, including setting up a reading room to distribute Reformed literature, starting Reformed Christian schools, and expanding KTC with vocational programs. Please pray for wisdom as we look to the future and explore how we can partner with the Ugandan churches to advance Christ’s kingdom.
Thank you for your prayers! Thank you for your support! My wife, Dianna, and I, with our eight children, are very much enjoying our life and work here. Pray that we will faithfully reflect Christ and be a real blessing here in Uganda.
The author is an OP missionary in Uganda. New Horizons, May 2013.