Growth Among Uganda’s Diverse People
UGANDA, set between two arms of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley and astride the equator, is blessed with remarkable beauty. It enjoys physical diversity, rich vegetation, and interesting animal life. Situated on the great African high plateau, it has a moderate climate and a fascinating landscape of hills that continue for hundreds of miles.
Few countries range from glacial to tropical within a small area, but Uganda does. It stretches from the snowcapped peaks of the Mountains of the Moon, the Ruwenzori Mountains, in the west to the semiarid country in the east. You can find on its plains elephants, buffalo, and lions. The mountains and dense forests are home to gorillas, chimpanzees, and over 1,000 species of birds. Much of the African continent struggles with drought and famine, but Uganda is blessed with rivers and lakes, such as Victoria, the world’s second-largest freshwater lake. Lake Victoria’s northern outlet opens into the Nile River. No wonder Winston Churchill referred to this land as “the pearl of Africa”!
“The Pearl” Shines Today
Uganda’s main attraction, however, is its people—friendly, hospitable, and diverse. This predominantly “Christian” country can be described as a melting pot of numerous ethnic groups and cultures. Even today, those diverse people can be distinguished by their traditions and dress.
Lately, an increasing number of Ugandans are responding to the good news of the Bible regarding the time when lasting peace will prevail earth wide. (Psalm 37:11; Revelation 21:4) It is a challenge to bring this message to all, in a country that is about the same size as Great Britain.
From a small beginning when the first baptism of a local resident as a dedicated Witness of Jehovah took place in Lake Victoria in 1955, “the little one” did finally become a thousand in 1992. Ever since, there has been continued growth. This is in harmony with God’s reassuring words: “I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.”—Isaiah 60:22.
Breaking Language Barriers
English is the official language and is widely used, especially in education, yet it is not the native language of most Ugandans. Thus, in trying to reach people with the good news, Jehovah’s Witnesses also give consideration to other major languages. This has proved necessary because over 80 percent of the country’s 25 million people live in rural areas or small towns, where people depend to a great extent on their mother tongue for daily communication. Reaching these language groups and satisfying the people’s spiritual needs requires great effort.
Nevertheless, Jehovah’s Witnesses have endeavored to meet these needs by witnessing to the people in their own tongue and by preparing Bible literature in a variety of languages. At the branch office in the capital, Kampala, translation teams serve four language groups: Acholi, Lhukonzo, Luganda, and Runyankore. Furthermore, Christian assemblies held in various languages throughout the country have had excellent attendances, more than twice the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This clearly indicates that efforts to reach various language groups are contributing to rapid spiritual growth. But this is not all.
Pioneers Spearhead the Work
Congregations gladly support yearly campaigns of about three months, during which isolated territories are being reached. (Acts 16:9) An increasing number of zealous young pioneers, or full-time evangelizers, spearhead this work. They travel to remote areas where, in some instances, the good news has never before been heard.
Two Witnesses were assigned as special pioneers for a period of three months to Bushenyi, a small town in western Uganda. They joined the only Witness of Jehovah in that area in preaching and organizing Christian meetings. Within a month, the two pioneers were conducting regular Bible discussions with 40 individuals, 17 of whom started to attend the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The pioneers relate: “Some with whom we had left the brochure What Does God Require of Us?* came to our home some days later with several pages on which they had written down the answers to the questions found in the brochure. They wanted to know if their answers were correct.” Today, there is a congregation with its own Kingdom Hall in that town.
Two pioneers traveled to a territory in western Uganda where the good news had not been preached before. They wrote: “People are really thirsting for Bible truth. During the three months we have been here, we have been able to start and conduct 86 Bible studies.” It was not long before a group of Witnesses was formally established in that area.
Other Zealous Workers in the Field
Among the zealous pioneers are some who have served for a number of years. Before becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Patrick played the clarinet in the air-force band of Ugandan ruler Idi Amin. Six months after Patrick’s baptism in 1983, he joined the ranks of full-time ministers. Today he is a traveling overseer, visiting and encouraging congregations.
Margaret was baptized in 1962. Despite being in her late 70’s and having a hip condition that limits her mobility, she spends some 70 hours a month sharing the Bible-based hope with her neighbors. She displays the literature on a bench outside her home and strikes up conversations with any passersby who would like to listen to the good news about a peaceful new world.
Simon, a farmer from eastern Uganda, had been searching for the truth for 16 years when, in 1995, he came across some literature published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. What he read gave him the desire to know more about God’s Kingdom and Jehovah’s wonderful purpose for the earth. There were no Witnesses in Kamuli where he lived, so Simon traveled about 85 miles [140 km] to Kampala to look for them. Today, there is a congregation in his village.
“We Are Here to Stay”
As is true in other areas in Africa, many people expect a religious group to have a proper place of worship. This seemed to pose an insurmountable problem for some congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, for they lacked the financial resources to construct a suitable Kingdom Hall. Words cannot describe the gratitude of the brothers when, in late 1999, an accelerated program for constructing Kingdom Halls was instituted worldwide. During the next five years, 40 new Kingdom Halls were completed in Uganda. Today, almost all congregations have their own modest but presentable Kingdom Hall. The message conveyed to local communities from such construction activity is, “We are here to stay.” This has contributed to the increase.
A small congregation in northern Uganda used to hold meetings under some densely leaved mango trees. When a plot of land was obtained, things moved ahead rapidly. The brothers on the construction crew, working with the local Witnesses, started to build a Kingdom Hall. A former prominent politician in the area was impressed by the work. He offered the use of his garage for their meetings until the Kingdom Hall was finished. He also accepted a Bible study with one of the construction volunteers. Now he is a zealous baptized publisher, happy to worship Jehovah in that beautiful new Kingdom Hall!
At a Kingdom Hall building project in the southeastern part of the country, a local mason was so moved by the spirit of friendliness, love, and cooperation he observed among the brothers that he volunteered to help with the work. Toward the end of the project, he even worked an entire night so that the brothers could have the Kingdom Hall ready for dedication the following morning. He commented: “You are the only ones who truly love one another, not just say so.”
Amid Troubles, Promising Growth
With new territories being covered in Uganda, there is steady growth in the number of Witnesses, and many interested ones are associating with the congregations. However, an urgent concern is the large number of refugees who have streamed into Uganda. Civil war in neighboring lands has affected Jehovah’s people too. Witnesses in refugee camps have displayed outstanding confidence in Jehovah. A former high official from a nearby country, who once shared in persecuting the Witnesses when there was a ban in that country, recalls his comfortable lifestyle. After studying the Bible in one of the refugee camps and becoming a Witness, he commented: “Material prosperity and a high position in this world are of no real value. Although I am now poor and sick, my life is much better than it ever was. I know Jehovah, and I appreciate the privilege of prayer. While I have a firm hope for the future, I know why we have to endure problems today. So I have inner peace such as I never experienced before.”
It has been said that if you drive a stick into the fertile soil of Uganda in the evening, it will have roots in the morning. The spiritual growth taking place in the land suggests that the spiritual soil is also very fertile. We thank Jehovah God for allowing time for yet more of Uganda’s diverse people to learn about his Kingdom. Jesus likened its preciousness to a “pearl of high value.” More and more in Uganda are coming to understand that.—Matthew 13:45, 46.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Three of the many zealous pioneer ministers
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District convention in Tororo
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Background: © Uganda Tourist Board