A Ugandan bishop’s life story still honors the lord

By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist

By Curtis K. Shelburne
It was already past bedtime when I began this column. I was staring at a blank computer screen, realizing that a busy schedule tomorrow probably argued for beginning to line up some words tonight. But nothing much was happening.
That’s when the phone rang. It was our son Joshua calling from the Entebbe Airport in Kampala, Uganda, checking in with us just before he checked in to board a flight to Nimule, Sudan, and his work overseeing the building of an optical/dental clinic there. Amazing. To hear his voice and know that in just a few hours he’ll be the only Mzungu (white guy) working again on a compound in war-ravaged Sudan with no electricity, no running water (except what they haul from the Nile and dump in the water “tower” he’s building), and yet he’ll still be reachable by cell phone.
Josh had just hung up, and I went back to staring at a blank screen, when I reached over and opened up the latest issue of Christian History magazine. I flipped over to the back page article, which happened to be by Christianity Today senior writer Tim Stafford. He wrote about an amazing Christian leader whose life and ministry was a blessing to . . . Uganda.
Stafford reminds his readers of the terrible days when the bloodthirsty dictator, Idi Amin, the “Butcher of Uganda,” raped that land and killed hundreds of thousands of its people.
In the pages of that same magazine, I saw a picture that should make any Christian leader’s blood run cold. It showed a smiling Adolf Hitler shaking hands with a smiling Christian church leader. A cross hangs around the man’s neck and hangs near the iron cross hanging from his pocket flap. That most of the German church supported Hitler is a frightening and sobering fact. Most Christians and church leaders in Germany were blind.
Yet, Tim Stafford writes, in 1977, an Anglican bishop from Uganda, Festo Kivengere, was not blind at all. He’d seen the murders wrought byAmin. He’d been standing outside the building where Amin’s henchmen were interrogating Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum because Anglican bishops had “dared to speak up against illegal executions.” Archbishop Luwum was then himself murdered.
Bishop Kivengere escaped (and, Stafford says, later returned to Uganda for years of fruitful ministry before he died of cancer in 1988). He wrote a short book. It’s title? “I Love Idi Amin.” He hated what Amin did, but Festo Kivengere wrote, “As long as he is still alive, he is still redeemable.”
He was one fine example in a long line of faithful though oppressed Christians who knew from long experience the truth he put into words: “A living church cannot be destroyed by fire or by guns.” Yes, your enemy can crucify you, but he cannot win as long as you refuse to hate.
I’m glad Josh called from Uganda. I’m glad Tim Stafford wrote about a Ugandan bishop whose life honored the Lord.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at ckshel@aol.com