‘Uganda’, it was claimed was Hitler’s Germany on a smaller scale. The church in both of these nations was divided and deceived. During the years of spiritual revival in Uganda, East Africa, Christians would greet one another with the words: Do you still walk in the light?”An unknown time of blessing followed, and the Lord performed wonders in that land.
Yet, not withstanding this flourishing time, a problem continued to exist. The churches found their Lord but not one another. One Ugandan minister said, “The wonders of God were attributed to the Holy Spirit by one group but to the devil by another group. The result was quarrels and divisions.”
Idi Amin was able to exploit the differences between some believers in Uganda. In late 1971 he discovered that all was not well among the top leaders of the Anglican Church of Uganda.
One diocese was threatening to secede, and another was refusing to hold further discussions on the constitution. He decided to intervene and summoned all bishops and diocesan councils to a meeting in the Conference centre in Kampala to straighten it out. He explained,
“I don’t want a divided church in my country.” For two days the leaders sat and stared sullenly at one another, and the differences remained as wide as ever. But on November 28, the Lord gave the assembled group a message from Philippians.
They saw that they were men “going up” each thinking about his own reputation and demanding his rights. But that day they caught a vision of the Man “coming down”: Jesus,
Who, although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as One with Him, possessing the fullness of all the divine attributes—the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; but emptied Himself [without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of divine equality and His rightful dignity] by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [He became completely human but was without sin, being fully God and fully man]. After He was found in [terms of His] outward appearance as a man [for a divinely-appointed time], He humbled Himself [still further] by becoming obedient [to the Father] to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8 AMP)
Throughout 1971 Idi Amin’s popularity in Uganda continued to grow with rapid momentum. Educated people celebrated the downfall of Obote’s regime and anticipated the rise of their own prestige and influence.
The wealthy Asian population, Uganda’s controlling commercial class, rejoiced in the preservation of their economic advantage. Even the poor, who normally gave no attention to national politics, welcomed Amin as one of their own.
During this time the Christian church in Uganda basked in Amin’s benevolence but faced many internal struggles. According to another bishop by the names of Festo Kivengere, “The archbishop Erica Sabiti, and each of the nine diocesan bishops, went down in the confession of the sins which had contributed to the divisions in the church, and a great melting by the Holy Spirit came upon us all.”
President Amin often reminded the leaders that he had personally saved the church although the believers knew that Jesus had done that. But sadly that episode proved to the president that the Christian Church in Uganda had fundamental weaknesses which he was able to exploit. Discord always results in hatred, jealousy and criticism; and the power of the Holy Spirit is lost.
It was in June of 1971 that the first of many strange rumours were heard in the streets of Kampala. Soldiers from the Northern Acholi and Langi tribes claimed that hundreds of their tribesmen had been massacred by Amin’s troops.
In July, two Americans, a young reporter and a sociologist from Makerere University, went west to Mbarara barracks hoping to uncover a story. Both men disappeared.
In the optimistic climate of Amin’s first year in power such stories were too distant and too bizarre to be believed. They were dismissed as lies manufactured by Obote loyalists or as exaggerated reports of sporadic violence.
The consequences of Idi Amin’s reign of terror had another effect. Although the godless authorities persecuted Christians, not only were there suffering and affliction but also blessing and victory.
Believers found one another in unity and love, and the Holy Spirit once again became the comforter of all. The Church became more prayerful and evangelism flourished.
When there was division among the churches, they were so busy with their own problems that they quite forgot there was a world outside of Uganda which needed the gospel. But because of the persecution brought about by Idi Amin, church leaders had to flee, and they went into the world preaching the gospel of love and forgiveness.
If unity is not our aim now, sometimes the Lord will send persecution. God does not lay burdens on us in order to break us, but to bring us to our knees. If we don’t want to bend, then He will allow oppression to increase-until we find Him and one another.
History tends to repeat itself in very amazing ways. As Santayana has said, that “those who disregard history are condemned to repeat it.”
Unfortunately the church in Uganda did not study the Nazi era to learn all they could from the church in German in their struggle against this spirit of division that Hitler was able to exploit…..More on this in our post regarding the German church.
Jan Pitt, Persecution: It Will Never Happen Here. Open Doors Publishers 1981. Copyright © 1981 Brother Andrew International California
Kefa Sempangi Reign of Terror, Reign of Love A first Hand Account of Life and Death in Amin’s Uganda. Copyright © 1979, Lion Publishing
Dan Wooding and Ray Barnett, Uganda Holocaust: They faced Amin’s Terror Machine Undaunted © Copyright 1980 Zondervan Corporation