Ugandans Express Appreciation for “the Real Life”
THE sunrise over Kampala, Uganda’s capital, is often strikingly beautiful. From any one of its seven hills, you can breathe the invigorating morning air. Fresh carpets of green shaded by trees of many forms are offset by the multicolored blossoms of hibiscus, poinciana and bougainvillea. Sunbirds, hornbills and shrikes move about in the branches, and the cry of the ibis resounds from above. How wonderful life can be!
Contemplating such scenes in this beautiful country, it is difficult not to feel thankful for life and the wonderful opportunity offered by the Giver of life to live in an earthly paradise forever.
Yet many people do not easily think of that. To them Uganda is not “the Pearl of Africa.” In their minds Uganda evokes memories of trouble. Many people in Uganda itself are preoccupied with the fear of crime, and they worry about inflation. In less than ten years bread prices have soared from 1/20 shilling to 200 shillings. Most families have lost relatives and friends in violent death, which has led to the general conclusion that “life is cheap these days.” But the Originator of life, Jehovah God, attaches great value to life, as his written Word reveals. About half of Uganda’s 15 million people claim to accept the Bible as God’s Word, and many respond when their attention is turned to the Bible’s explanation of the root causes of suffering and God’s purpose to have happy humans taste “the real life” on a paradise earth.—1 Timothy 6:19.
Forty Years of Early Efforts
The good news of God’s Kingdom and of “the real life” first came to Uganda in 1931. Full-time pioneer preachers of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Southern Africa sailed to Mombasa, traveled through what today is Kenya, and reached fertile Uganda. It was a country of perpetual summer with even rainfall—a land full of cotton, coffee, plantains, cassava, and other crops. The visitors found a mixture of over 30 tribes, some of which were very proud of a history that included past kingdoms. Since many people knew English as a second language, much initial interest concerning God’s Kingdom was easily located. A similar journey was made in 1935, but the pioneers had to move on, and years went by without much preaching work in the Ugandan field.
By 1952 Kampala had a small congregation of four publishers. Three years later, N. H. Knorr, then the president of the Watch Tower Society, and M. G. Henschel, still a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, visited Kampala, and the first Ugandan baptism took place in Lake Victoria. Later some of the publishers moved, and other setbacks occurred. So in 1958 just one publisher of the life-giving good news was left.
In 1962 Uganda ceased being a colony. During this time period the first group of foreign Witnesses moved in, mainly from Britain and Canada, to help where a greater need existed for making Jehovah God’s purposes known. Soon the first graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead arrived, and other towns were reached with the Kingdom message. Steady increase ensued, leading up to 110 publishers in 1971.
Times of Turbulence and Trial
Dramatic political changes then occurred, and these have become well known all over the world. Instability and fear provoked an exodus of foreigners and Ugandans alike. The missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses had to leave in 1973. Religious freedom was restricted by bans. A climate of fear persisted. Daily necessities vanished from the shops. Many people disappeared without court trials. Daily, people lived in the shadow of death. Finally, in 1979, war broke out, leading to subsequent changes in government.
While some Ugandans became despondent during these times, others hungered for comfort all the more. Jehovah’s Witnesses knew that all of this was temporary and that God provides not only practical guidance in such difficult times but also the solution to all man’s problems. By close association at meetings and a regular diet of spiritual food, they remained cheerful. Observers could see that they had something special that other religions did not have. Interesting experiences can be told from these turbulent times.
A family man experienced Jehovah’s protection often. He belonged to a tribe whose members were denounced and hunted down for extermination. On one occasion his house was assaulted with grenades and bullets for an hour. While this was happening he reminded his wife and children to remember Jehovah’s words to Joshua, “Be courageous and strong,” and they prayed together. (Joshua 1:6) Surprisingly, no bullet pierced the house, and the grenades rebounded from the exterior walls, exploding at a distance. Then the brother went outside and reasoned with the attackers. Some neighbors spoke in his favor too. During a search of the house the attackers found his Bible study aids, so they left him alone as a religious man. During the next two days he was denounced again and had two more encounters with death, but with Jehovah’s help he survived.
A former high official who had taken his stand for true Christianity was arrested several times. Two of his sons disappeared, never to be seen again. This did not shatter his trust in the Giver of life, nor dim his wonderful hope of the resurrection and “the real life” ahead. He zealously preached to his fellow prisoners, starting several Bible studies. A former soldier especially showed great appreciation and made rapid progress. After a few months, that man began to share in the preaching work in prison. Hence, when the Witness was released, six Bible studies were turned over to the care of the former soldier. What a fine surprise it was for the former high official and the former soldier when, some years later, they met at a class of the Pioneer Service School arranged by Jehovah’s Witnesses for full-time preachers. Yes, the former soldier had also become a pioneer! The brother who taught him the truth could say, “I have lost my fleshly sons, but now I have gained a spiritual son.”
A mother of seven children who has been a Witness for over 13 years had her endurance tested many times. At first her husband opposed her new faith. Then turbulent events made him flee to Kenya, leaving her alone with all the children for two years. Upon his return he was arrested, and during his imprisonment thieves broke into the house, stealing practically all the family’s possessions. This sister’s keeping active in the truth and shunning worldly associations helped her to find comfort and to endure. Her steadfastness and joy impressed her husband, who upon his release showed interest in the Bible before death overtook him at an early age. But the congregation strengthened this faithful woman. A fellow Witness helped her to start a small business so she could care for her children. She teaches her children and others the wonderful hope of everlasting life on earth without problems, and she conducts six Bible studies.
Elderly people are generally respected in Uganda, and Anna, well into her 60’s, used her opportunities by becoming a pioneer preacher. Instead of joining her neighbors in talking about miseries, she talked to them about good news during these turbulent times. Then she had the joy of attending a special school for pioneer ministers conducted in the neighboring land of Kenya. While there, she received mail from relatives urging her not to return to Uganda, as life was too dangerous and too difficult. One relative living in Kenya offered to house her and to look after her, but she told all that she had a message of comfort and hope of a better life, which people in Uganda needed. So she returned to Uganda.
Appreciation for Assemblies
With the changes in government after the war of 1979, freedom of worship was restored, which made all of Jehovah’s Witnesses very happy. Assemblies could once again be held, and the enormous demand for Bible literature indicated that many people yearn for good news of a better life. District conventions were arranged, and in December 1983 a Bible drama was presented for the first time. It made a deep impression on the audience, for it dealt with family life. The next day 572, about twice the number of all of Uganda’s active Witnesses, came to the Sports Hall at Kampala’s Lugogo Stadium and enjoyed Kingdom unity with people who truly appreciate life.
Many had made sacrifices to be there. In some instances the train fare for a married couple was higher than a schoolteacher’s monthly salary. For several families the convention trip cost up to four months’ salary! Many who were present showed such appreciation for the spiritual things.
Late in 1982 four foreign missionaries were able to take up service in Kampala. They were like a new generation of missionaries after an interruption of many years. The very first person with whom one of them shared the good news was a young man who must have been waiting for the message of hope. A Bible study was started immediately and held twice a week. On the first day that the young man joined another Witness in the field ministry, the two were held up by armed criminals. Though inexperienced, he trusted in Jehovah and started to preach to them. For several tense minutes the thieves debated whether or not to kill them. Then one of the gun-toting men told his associates to let the two go. What did the young man do following this nerve-shaking experience? Without hesitation he and his partner went on to the next house to continue preaching! He is now baptized and has his eyes set on the treasure of the pioneer ministry.
One of the missionaries met a man who had worked in Mozambique. He immediately said he had high regard for Jehovah’s Witnesses, for he had seen their clean and orderly camps in Mozambique.* This man was particularly touched when one day he saw a destitute family of Witnesses arriving at a camp. They were warmly welcomed by spiritual brothers from different tribes. Immediately their material needs were cared for, including a house, a field, utensils, and clothes. Now this man has tasted the same love and brotherhood himself as he enjoys a Bible study and regularly shares in Christian meetings with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It is easy to see from such experiences that the missionaries, along with their Ugandan brothers and sisters, have reason for joy. They have often experienced shortages of food, water, and electricity, and they have often heard the sound of gunshots and explosions, yet they are grateful for gradual improvements. They are content to help people see the value of “the real life.” The 250 proclaimers of God’s Kingdom here spent an average of over 14 hours per month in the preaching activity. There is much interest, and many are taking up the full-time preaching work. At present over 500 Bible studies are being conducted in this beautiful part of the earth that, in spots, provides a foregleam of an earthly paradise. Many Ugandans are learning to turn their vision to “the real life” of eternity purposed for the very near future by the loving Provider of life, Jehovah.
Jehovah’s Witnesses from Mozambique and Malawi have been put in camps by the authorities.
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By close association at meetings and a regular diet of spiritual food, they remained cheerful
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The hills of southwest Uganda
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A group of newly baptized Witnesses