FOR centuries, explorers searched for the source of the mighty Nile River, which snakes through half of Africa and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Eventually, some explorers focused on Lake Victoria and its surrounding mountains as the primary sources of the Nile’s perennial waters. In recent decades, many of the inhabitants of that area have been excited to discover the source of a more precious water—“living water” that imparts “everlasting life.” (John 4:10-14) This is the story of the people of Uganda who have been “thirsting for righteousness.”—Matt. 5:6.
“THE PEARL OF AFRICA”
Uganda, straddling the equator in the middle of Africa, is a beautiful land with a moderate climate. Melting glaciers high up in the majestic Ruwenzori Range—called the Mountains of the Moon—send sparkling waters cascading into myriads of rivers and lakes. Fertile soil and copious rain make Uganda ideal for growing coffee, tea, and cotton. Plantains, a cooking banana, grow abundantly and are used for matooke, one of Uganda’s main dishes. Locals also eat cassava, maize meal, millet, and sorghum.
This tropical country is home to lions, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, leopards, giraffes, and antelope, as well as chimpanzees, an assortment of fascinating monkeys, and the endangered mountain gorilla. Gorgeous birds fill the air with delightful melodies. Indeed, there is so much beauty in Uganda that the country has been hailed as “the pearl of Africa.”
UGANDA’S BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
About 30 million people from approximately 30 ethnic groups inhabit Uganda. Many are religiously inclined and belong to Christendom’s churches; but as elsewhere, formal worship is often interwoven with traditional religious practices. Ugandans are generally friendly and hospitable, and it is not uncommon for some to kneel when greeting or serving a person who is their senior.
Sadly, though, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, this beautiful “pearl” and its precious people were severely scarred by political upheavals and the thousands of deaths that resulted. Moreover, the ravages of the AIDS epidemic have added to Uganda’s grief. Under such circumstances, Jehovah’s Witnesses have brought comfort and hope to these resilient people.
The first record of the Kingdom-preaching work in Uganda dates back to 1931, when the South Africa branch office supervised the preaching work in all of Africa south of the equator. To open this tremendous territory, the branch assigned two pioneers, Robert Nisbet and David Norman, to preach in the area that is now Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Brothers Nisbet and Norman were determined to take the good news of the Kingdom deep into the interior of Africa. They launched their campaign in Dar es Salaam on August 31, 1931, with 200 cartons of literature. From there they went to the island of Zanzibar and then on to the seaport of Mombasa en route to the highlands of Kenya. They traveled by train, working the towns along the railway line to the eastern shores of Lake Victoria. Crossing the lake by steamship, the two intrepid pioneers arrived in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. After placing much literature, as well as subscriptions to The Golden Age, the two brothers continued by car even farther inland.
Four years later, in 1935, four pioneers from South Africa undertook another expedition into East Africa. They were Gray Smith and his wife, Olga, along with Robert Nisbet and his younger brother George. With two well-equipped delivery vans fitted out as living quarters, these enterprising pioneers negotiated bad roads and battled their way through elephant grass up to ten feet [3 m] high. “They often slept out in the wilds,” says one report, “and could see, hear, and feel the throb of the heart of Africa with its abundance of wildlife—roaring lions at night, peacefully grazing zebras and giraffes, and the ominous presence of rhinos and elephants.” Undaunted, they visited towns that had never been reached with the Kingdom message.
While Gray and Olga Smith spent some time in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Robert and George Nisbet headed for Nairobi, Kenya. Later, when colonial authorities ordered the Smiths to leave Tanganyika, they made their way to Kampala, Uganda. This time, however, conditions were not so favorable, and the Kampala police kept them under constant surveillance. Undeterred, in just two months, the Smiths placed 2,122 books and booklets and arranged for six public meetings. Eventually, though, the governor issued a deportation order compelling the couple to leave Uganda. They traveled to Nairobi, where they met up with the Nisbet brothers before returning to South Africa.
With Jehovah’s blessing, these preaching campaigns were exceptionally successful, and an excellent witness was given. Despite religious opposition and mounting pressure from colonial authorities, the pioneers distributed over 3,000 books and more than 7,000 booklets, besides obtaining many subscriptions. After these campaigns, many years passed before preaching activity was resumed in Uganda.
In April 1950, a young couple from England, Brother and Sister Kilminster, arrived in Kampala to set up house. They eagerly preached the good news and were delighted when two families, one Greek and the other Italian, responded to the Kingdom message.
Then, in December 1952, Brothers Knorr and Henschel from the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, visited Nairobi, Kenya. Brother Kilminster did not want to miss the opportunity to be with them, so he traveled all the way from Kampala to Nairobi. Brothers Knorr and Henschel provided the little group in Nairobi with encouragement and arranged for a congregation to be organized in Kampala. That fledgling congregation soon started producing good results, and a peak of ten publishers shared in the ministry during the 1954 service year.
During the same year, Eric Cooke, from the branch office in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), visited East Africa and spent some time with the new congregation in Kampala. Although the brothers enjoyed a weekly congregation study of The Watchtower, they were not yet very active in the Christian ministry. So Brother Cooke encouraged Brother Kilminster to conduct all the congregation meetings, including a weekly Service Meeting. To expand the preaching work further, Brother Cooke emphasized the door-to-door ministry and lovingly provided a number of the publishers with personal training.
Up till then, much of the preaching had been done among the Europeans living in Uganda. But Brother Cooke observed that most native Ugandans in Kampala spoke Luganda. He suggested that in order to reach the hearts of the local people, the brothers needed to translate a publication into Luganda. In 1958 publishers began using the newly translated booklet “This Good News of the Kingdom.” What a stimulus that proved to be! The work progressed, and in 1961 a new peak of 19 Kingdom proclaimers shared in the ministry.
In the course of his secular employment, Brother Kilminster met George Kadu, an enthusiastic Ugandan in his early 40’s who spoke good English as well as his mother tongue, Luganda. George’s interest in Scriptural truth was aroused when he learned that God’s name is Jehovah, and he began studying the Bible. Soon he was going along as an interpreter when Brother Kilminster preached from house to house. Then, in 1956, when the first baptism in Uganda took place in Lake Victoria near Entebbe, George symbolized his dedication to Jehovah.
Sadly, not long thereafter, the Kingdom work suffered a setback. Some foreign brothers returned to their home country when their work contracts expired. A few brothers were disfellowshipped, and several were stumbled by the unscriptural conduct of some in the congregation. Brother Kadu, though, loved Jehovah and knew he had found the truth. He stuck to it ‘in favorable season and in troublesome season’ and faithfully served as an elder until his death in 1998.—2 Tim. 4:2.
SERVING WHERE THE NEED IS GREATER
The field in East Africa was large, and the need for Kingdom preachers was great. There was also an additional challenge. The colonial government would not allow missionaries into the region. What could be done?
In 1957 a worldwide call went out for publishers to serve where the need is greater. Spiritually mature brothers were encouraged to move where there was a greater need for Kingdom publishers. The invitation was similar to the one the apostle Paul saw in vision when a man entreated him: “Step over into Macedonia and help us.” (Acts 16:9, 10) How did this modern-day invitation affect the progress of the Kingdom-preaching work in Uganda?
Frank and Mary Smith responded to the call with an Isaiahlike spirit and immediately began preparing for their move to East Africa.* (Isa. 6:8) In July 1959 they set sail from New York to Mombasa via Cape Town. Then they traveled by train to Kampala, where Frank obtained a work contract as a government chemist in the Geological Survey Department. The Smiths settled about 22 miles [35 km] south of Kampala in Entebbe, a beautiful city on the shores of Lake Victoria that was virgin territory as far as the Kingdom-preaching work was concerned. They regularly attended meetings with the small but growing congregation in Kampala.
Soon the Smiths introduced the truth to Peter Gyabi, who held a responsible position in the Ugandan civil service, and to his wife, Esther. Earlier, Peter had received the book What Has Religion Done for Mankind?* but did not pay attention to it because he was too busy with his secular employment and frequent job transfers. Then Peter was sent to mediate in a tense, complex land dispute between two tribal factions. He prayed, “God, if you help me, I will look for you.” When the situation was resolved peacefully, he remembered his prayer and started reading the book. He realized that what he was reading was the truth and began searching for the Witnesses. How happy he was to meet Frank Smith, who agreed to conduct a regular Bible study with him and his wife! As a result, this delightful couple were baptized, and they are still active Kingdom proclaimers after more than four decades of faithful service.
Other foreign brothers also responded to the call to serve where the need was greater. Some obtained work contracts that took them to places far away from the small nucleus of publishers in the Kampala Congregation. One couple stayed in Mbarara, a small town in the rolling hills of southwest Uganda, some 180 miles [300 km] from Kampala. They arranged to have the Watchtower Study and book study in their house. From time to time, however, they traveled all the way to Kampala or Entebbe to enjoy warm Christian fellowship. They also stayed in contact with the branch office in Luanshya, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), which had oversight of the Kingdom-preaching work in East Africa at the time. Harry Arnott, who was then overseeing that branch, served as zone overseer and visited Kampala to encourage the handful of publishers in Uganda. They deeply appreciated his loving concern.
Another couple with a strong desire to serve where the need for Kingdom preachers was greater were Tom and Ann Cooke from England. Tom applied for employment in a number of countries and obtained a post as an education officer with the Ministry of Education in Uganda. His employment initially took him and Ann and their four-year-old daughter, Sarah, to the small town of Iganga, about 80 miles [130 km] east of Kampala. After the birth of Rachel, their second daughter, Tom and his family moved to Jinja, a town located at what is commonly called the source of the Nile. Later on, they moved to Kampala.
SACRIFICES AND BLESSINGS
What a fine contribution all these families made to the Kingdom-preaching work in Uganda! True, they had left behind a lifestyle and comforts to which they were accustomed. In return, though, they had the joy of seeing humble people change their way of life and respond to the Kingdom good news. They also experienced the strong bond of Christian love that formed between their families and the local families as they gathered together for worship and happy association.
“We were impressed by the warm courtesy shown us in the ministry and the unassuming dignity of the people,” recalls Tom Cooke. “Being able to have a small share in seeing the congregation grow was a very special privilege.”
When asked how he felt about his move, Tom replies: “We could not have had a better environment in which to serve Jehovah with a young family. We had the fine example of brothers and sisters from many countries, the company of loving and loyal local brothers, rich privileges of service, freedom from the influence of television, and exposure to the marvels of the African countryside. These were just a few of the blessings we enjoyed.”
The deep appreciation that those who served where the need was greater had for Christian association was also evident in their willingness to travel all the way to Kenya to attend circuit assemblies. This involved a 500-mile [750 km] journey each way by bus or train!
District conventions required even greater effort. In 1961, for example, delegates from Uganda and Kenya attended a district convention in Kitwe, Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). “That meant a four-day trip of over 1,000 miles [1,600 km] on some of the worst—mostly unpaved—roads in Tanganyika (Tanzania),” recalls one of the delegates, “and then another four days through sweltering and dusty African savanna to return to Uganda. It was quite an adventure, and our happy association with so many brothers and sisters was a great blessing.” This was an arduous undertaking that required immense effort, but how spiritually refreshing it was!
MISSIONARIES DO A VITAL WORK
In 1962, Uganda gained its independence from Britain. The following year Brother Henschel visited Nairobi, Kenya, and discussed the possibility of sending missionaries to Uganda. Who would be assigned here?
Tom and Bethel McLain, from the 37th class of Gilead, had recently arrived to serve in Nairobi. How surprised they were when they were then assigned to Kampala! But they willingly accepted the change and became the first Gilead-trained missionaries in Uganda. “Initially, we missed Kenya,” admits Tom, “but soon we thoroughly enjoyed Uganda—the friendly people and the eager response to the witnessing work.”
Tom and Bethel had been learning Swahili in Kenya, but now they had to learn a new language—Luganda. They had little more at their disposal than dogged determination, reliance on Jehovah, and the help of a “teach yourself” book. During their first month in Uganda, they devoted 250 hours to studying their new language, and during the second, 150 hours. This was in addition to the 100 hours they spent in field service. Gradually they mastered their new tongue and enjoyed fine results in their ministry.
In January 1964, Tom and Bethel were joined by Gilbert and Joan Walters from the 38th class of Gilead. Two other couples from the 38th class, Stephen and Barbara Hardy and Ron and Jenny Bicknell, had been assigned to nearby Burundi but because of visa problems, they too were assigned to Uganda. In short order, Kampala needed another missionary home.
The congregation in Kampala was unforgettable. It included Brother Kadu and his family; John and Eunice Bwali, a special pioneer couple from Northern Rhodesia, and their children; and Margaret Nyende and her young ones. The meetings were held in a place that was virtually in the open. “Passersby could see and hear us, few as we were,” recalls Gilbert Walters. “The Bwali family lustily led the singing of Kingdom songs in descant without accompaniment, all in public view. It gave us courage to continue.”
Before long, Gilbert and Joan Walters were assigned to open a missionary home in Jinja, where no organized preaching had yet been done. Later, two more missionary homes were opened—one in Mbale, near the border with Kenya, and the other in Mbarara. The missionaries in those homes worked along with a number of special pioneers from other countries. The field was clearly “white for harvesting.” (John 4:35) But what could be done to speed up the ingathering?
The full-time servants in Uganda endeavored to cover their huge territory as systematically as possible. During the week, they would preach in the housing estates, where streets and plots are identified by names and numbers. How, though, could they methodically cover territories where streets had no names and houses were not numbered?
“We divided the territory into hills,” explains Tom McLain. “Two of us went around one side of the hill while two others went around the other side. We followed the paths, working up and down the hill until the four of us met.”
The foreign brothers soon began to benefit from the growing number of Ugandan Witnesses who knew the territory and understood the local culture. In return, the local publishers gained valuable experience from the foreign brothers and sisters. In Jinja, for example, Ugandan brothers were already accompanying the missionaries in field service. On Sundays they began with house-to-house work from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Next, they spent an hour making return visits and then conducted a Bible study until noon. In this way, all in the congregation benefited from an interchange of expertise and encouragement.
Jinja, then the second-largest town in the country, had the luxury of a hydroelectric power station and, as a result, was an attractive location for industrial development. The missionaries had great success witnessing at the bustling taxi and bus stations. Travelers from distant places eagerly accepted Bible literature to read on their journey. Thus, Kingdom seed was being scattered far and wide into surrounding rural areas.
The brothers also used radio broadcasts to convey the good news to as many people as possible. They obtained a regular weekly slot on national radio that was called “Things People Are Thinking About.” The brothers presented such thought-provoking subjects as “Facing the Crisis in Family Life” and “How to Protect Yourself From Crime and Violence” in the form of a dialogue between “Mr. Robbins” and “Mr. Lee.” One of the brothers recalls: “It was quite unusual to listen to the broadcast and hear this conversation between an American voice and a Scottish voice on an African radio station. We often had feedback about the program in our field ministry, showing that it did serve a useful purpose.”
HELP FOR NEWER PREACHERS
The Jinja group at that time held their meetings in the community center of the main housing estate, Walukuba. “Many of the brothers were new,” remembers Tom Cooke, “and had few publications from which to prepare their meeting assignments.” What could be done?
“The missionaries put together a library in the home of a brother who lived in the middle of the housing estate,” recalls Tom. “Every Monday night those with assignments would go there to use the library and to get help with their talk assignments.” Now there are several congregations around Jinja that find that spiritual fishing is still successful at this primary source of the Nile.
TRAVELING OVERSEERS PROMOTE SPIRITUAL GROWTH
In September 1963, the preaching work in Uganda came under the supervision of the newly established Kenya branch, and William and Muriel Nisbet were assigned to visit Uganda as part of their Nairobi-based circuit. Remarkably, William was following in the footsteps of his older trailblazing brothers, Robert and George, who had preached in Uganda some 30 years earlier. The publishers now benefited from the hard work of a “second shift” of Nisbets.
Interest was growing, more groups were being established, and the publishers were scattered over a wide area. So, regular visits from traveling overseers rendered a vital service in providing training and encouragement and reassuring isolated brothers and sisters that “the eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous ones.”—1 Pet. 3:12.
In 1965, Stephen and Barbara Hardy visited congregations in a circuit that extended from Uganda to the Seychelles, a group of islands 1,600 miles [2,600 km] away in the Indian Ocean. At one point, they made a “scouting expedition” of Uganda to determine where pioneers might enjoy the best results. Using a Volkswagen Kombi lent to them by the Kenya branch for transport and accommodation, they traveled through most of Uganda in just six weeks, visiting the towns of Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale, Masindi, Hoima, Fort Portal, Arua, Gulu, Lira, and Soroti.
“The journey was thrilling,” recalls Brother Hardy, “and the preaching was a delight. Everyone, including the local authorities, was helpful and friendly. Many times when we called at a home to speak with a householder, the visit would develop into a ‘public talk’ as neighbors and passersby joined in to listen to our message. Even when we stopped at what we thought was a secluded spot, smiling people would soon begin to approach, feeling that we were their visitors. Literature supplies diminished quickly. We placed some 500 books and obtained many subscriptions to The Watchtower and Awake!”
The friendliness, curiosity, and spiritual inclination of the Ugandan people seemed to indicate that there was great potential for spiritual growth. Most important, the Hardys were thrilled to experience Jehovah’s blessing on the preaching work in this fertile field.
JEHOVAH MAKES IT GROW
A milestone in the history of Jehovah’s people in Uganda was reached on August 12, 1965, when the International Bible Students Association was registered, giving legal recognition to our disciple-making work. Honesthearted Ugandans—such as George Mayende, Peter and Esther Gyabi, and Ida Ssali—formed a small but solid core of stalwart Witnesses during the 1960’s. By 1969, Uganda reported 75 publishers scattered among a population of some eight million, a ratio of more than a hundred thousand people for every Witness. By 1970, the number of Kingdom proclaimers had increased to 97, and then to 128 in 1971. By 1972, there were 162 active Witnesses of Jehovah in Uganda.
Though the growth was encouraging, the brothers knew that their strength was, not in their growing numbers, but in “God who makes it grow.” (1 Cor. 3:7) What they did not know was that the 1970’s would bring dramatic changes in their lives and severe tests of faith. General Idi Amin’s military coup in 1971 was followed by a dictatorship that caused turmoil for millions and resulted in many thousands of deaths. Increasingly, there were skirmishes between the government and factions that were opposed to the new political setup. From time to time, borders with neighboring countries were closed. Curfews were imposed. People began disappearing. Others came under surveillance. How would our peace-loving brothers and sisters in Uganda respond to this upheaval, intimidation, and violence?
“DIVINE RULERSHIP” OR MAN’S RULERSHIP?
Right at that time, plans were being made to host the 1972 “Divine Rulership” District Assembly in Kampala, the first such convention to be held in Uganda. Delegates would be coming from Kenya, Tanzania, and faraway Ethiopia. How would they cope with the simmering tensions, escalating political and tribal clashes, and harrowing border crossings? Should the convention be canceled? The brothers made the convention a matter of fervent prayer, petitioning Jehovah’s guidance on convention arrangements and on the delegates who would be traveling.
Later, the situation appeared even more menacing when delegates arriving at the border saw large groups of people fleeing the country! Most were leaving because of a government order expelling all noncitizen Asians—primarily Indians and Pakistanis. Many, such as foreign schoolteachers, were departing because they feared that the decree boded ill for other ethnic groups. Despite that, the conventioners kept arriving. What would they find in a city seething with political tension?
Surprisingly, they found Kampala very calm, with the brothers and interested people cheerfully waiting at the convention site for the arrival of their guests. They were also amazed to find that the authorities had granted permission for an enormous banner to be suspended across Kampala’s busiest street advertising the date and location of the convention. There, at this time of unprecedented turmoil, was the title of the public talk in bold letters: “Divine Rulership—The Only Hope of All Mankind”!
The program was presented successfully without disturbance, with a peak attendance of 937—a significant milestone in the history of pure worship in Uganda. Afterward, although the return of foreign delegates was hampered at the borders, their zeal remained undiminished, and all got home safely. In the midst of growing political uncertainty, Jehovah’s people had courageously made known their allegiance to their Sovereign Ruler. And at this crucial time, God had made his people ‘bold with strength.’—Ps. 138:3.
Among the Ugandans who attended were George and Gertrude Ochola. “That was my very first assembly,” recollects Gertrude, “and the one where I was baptized!” George, though, was not yet a Witness. He was an avid soccer fan and was more interested in the stadium as a sports venue. Nevertheless, his wife’s good conduct and his own study of the Bible eventually moved him to symbolize his dedication by water baptism in Kenya in 1975.
Gertrude recalls that she was among the first ones from northern Uganda to learn the truth. “In 1972, when I was baptized,” she reminisces, “I thought my area was so remote. Now there is a Kingdom Hall here, as well as a missionary home and a translation office. This makes me even more excited than when I was baptized!”
A “TROUBLESOME SEASON”
Without any warning, on June 8, 1973, radio and television announcements declared that 12 religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, were banned. The new government had created a climate of public fear and suspicion, falsely portraying foreigners as spies. It became increasingly difficult for the missionaries to engage in the public ministry. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Uganda had entered a particularly “troublesome season.” (2 Tim. 4:2) What would happen to them?
Two missionary couples had already left the country that year because their applications to extend their residence permits were denied. By mid-July, the remaining 12 missionaries had all been expelled. Foreign brothers who had come to serve where the need was greater were able to remain a little longer because of their secular employment, but their freedom was short-lived. By the following year, they were all compelled to leave the country.
‘STEADFAST AND UNMOVABLE’
The remaining Ugandan publishers were understandably saddened by the departure of their dear foreign brothers and sisters. But with Jehovah’s strength they proved to be ‘steadfast and unmovable.’ (1 Cor. 15:58) Typical of their loyal spirit was the unhesitating response of one elderly brother, Ernest Wamala, when informed that Jehovah’s Witnesses had been banned. He asked, “How can they ban what is in my heart?”
How would Ugandan elders, such as George Kadu and Peter Gyabi, manage now that the foreign elders had all gone? Their deep spirituality and understanding of local culture proved to be a blessing. “For a person to come into the truth and serve Jehovah in Uganda,” explains Brother Gyabi, “much self-discipline is needed to abandon customs that conflict with Jehovah’s standards. Self-discipline was especially vital for responsible brothers who had to rely solely on written instructions from Jehovah’s organization.” The meticulous personal study of the local elders helped them to avoid being misled by faulty human wisdom. As a result, this trialsome period proved to be a time of spiritual progress for Jehovah’s people, rather than a setback.
On the other hand, the population in general was feeling increasingly insecure. Many people were being harassed, and some lived in terror of the military. Corruption was rife, resulting in the collapse of the economy. A gorgeous land was suffering painful wounds. Would Jehovah’s faithful servants in Uganda continue to find causes for rejoicing during this trialsome time?
The government did whatever it could to suppress all political meetings that seemed to pose a threat to their regime. While Jehovah’s Witnesses maintained strict neutrality, they also respected the Bible’s instruction not to forsake gathering together to encourage one another. (Heb. 10:24, 25) It took much courage and ingenuity to keep meeting together under the surveillance of suspicious authorities. How could God’s servants avoid drawing attention to their innocent gatherings?
First, they reorganized most meetings into smaller groups in private homes. When they gathered in larger groups, they did so under the pretense of having a picnic. For example, once a month the whole congregation met together for a talk and the Watchtower Study. The brothers would arrange a picnic in a public park or in someone’s garden. This tactic worked well among the gregarious Ugandans, who did not think it strange for a group of friends or relatives to gather to enjoy themselves. In addition to discreetly bringing along their Bibles and study books, the brothers were adept at carrying everything needed for a full-scale picnic and cookout! Such meetings made them think of how the ancient Israelites must have enjoyed their religious festivals.—Deut. 16:15.
Throughout the time of the ban, abbreviated circuit assemblies were held in the same way. Despite government efforts to hinder them, the brothers never left off meeting together or preaching the good news. Some brothers were even able to attend conventions in Nairobi and could share their heartwarming experiences when they returned.
‘CAUTIOUS AS SERPENTS YET INNOCENT AS DOVES’
Responsible brothers had reason to believe that if they were as “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves,” the ban might not be strictly enforced and theocratic activities could continue. (Matt. 10:16) So with due caution, special pioneers continued in their assignments, and the publishers carried on with the house-to-house ministry.
Of course, some were not happy to see Jehovah’s Witnesses at their door. One day in the mid-70’s, Peter Gyabi was working in the ministry with teenager Fred Nyende. Fred had been an infant when his mother learned the truth in 1962. Since then, he had grown up, and his maturity was about to be tested.
An angry householder—evidently a plainclothes security officer—recognized the brothers as Jehovah’s Witnesses. He arrested them and forced them into his vehicle. They were understandably anxious because thousands of people who were apprehended like that had simply disappeared. Torture was also common, under any or no pretext. On the way to the security office, Peter and Fred had time to pray to Jehovah for strength to stay calm and faithful. The man took them to his chief officer, making accusations and bombarding them with questions. However, Peter and Fred saw firsthand the truth of the words of Proverbs 25:15: “By patience a commander is induced, and a mild tongue itself can break a bone.” Fortunately, no literal bones were broken that afternoon. Peter’s calm explanation of our law-abiding position and our adherence to Bible teachings, along with the brothers’ respectful demeanor and answers, broke down the chief’s prejudice. What was the outcome?
The chief not only released Peter and young Fred but also ordered the man who arrested them to drive them back to the territory! Their humiliated “escort” grudgingly complied, and the brothers thanked Jehovah for their escape.
Other encounters with the police were less stressful. For example, Emmanuel Kyamiza and his wife secretly held meetings at their home in Entebbe for their family and a small group of interested ones. To avoid establishing a pattern of activity, Emmanuel changed the places where he conducted Bible studies. After some time Emmanuel assumed that his methods of eluding the police were working well. One day, after Emmanuel concluded a Bible study in the Entebbe Botanical Gardens, a policeman approached him as he quickly tried to slide his study material out of view. “Why are you hiding your books?” inquired the officer. “We know what you’re doing. We know you’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. We even know where you meet. If we wanted to, we would have arrested you long ago. But you can continue as you have been.” And Emmanuel did continue—very faithfully!
Later, when Emmanuel retired from secular work and moved back to his family’s village, he endured much opposition and ridicule. Like Jesus, he was ‘unhonored in his home territory.’ (Mark 6:4) Nevertheless, well into his 70’s, Emmanuel kept on “thriving during gray-headedness,” and he regularly rode his bicycle 18 miles [30 km] to and from meetings. (Ps. 92:14) Today, in his late 80’s, he still serves faithfully as a ministerial servant, though he does not ride his bicycle as much as he would like to.
Despite the continuing uncertainty, there were always a few who found a way to share in the pioneer service. One largehearted pioneer during that time was James Luwerekera, a government surveyor who was baptized in 1974. Shortly after his baptism, he took up farming in order to preach the good news to those in the vicinity of his home village. His wife also studied for a while, but as time went on, she did more and more to oppose James.
For example, one morning while it was still dark, James and some brothers set out to attend a district convention in Nairobi. Later, when their vehicle was stopped at a police checkpoint, the brothers noticed something strange about James’ clothing—it was uncharacteristically mismatched and ill-fitting. Initially, he joked that it was because he had dressed hastily in the darkness. But when his friends pressed him for an explanation, he admitted that his wife had hidden his dress clothes to stop him from attending the convention. He had thus been forced to grab whatever clothes he could find. James’ travel partners kindly gave him some of their clothes, and he arrived at the convention suitably attired.
Sometimes the opposition in James’ home and neighborhood was merely an inconvenience. At other times it was more intense. But it went on for years. Through it all, James endured with mildness and built a faithful record until his death in 2005. His faith is still admired by the brothers and, without a doubt, remembered by his God, Jehovah.
‘A BROTHER BORN FOR WHEN THERE IS DISTRESS’
“A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” (Prov. 17:17) The brothers in Kenya proved to be true companions during the distress and danger endured by the Ugandan Witnesses in the 1970’s. Traveling overseers and branch representatives needed courage to cross the border into Uganda to provide support and encouragement for their dear brothers and sisters.
Political chaos erupted in 1978 when a faction of Uganda’s army invaded Tanzanian territory. Tanzania’s military responded by overthrowing the Ugandan government in April 1979, forcing Uganda’s feared dictator, Idi Amin, to flee. Amin’s hasty departure brought many changes to Uganda. “With Amin,” says one brother, “went the ban.” The Uganda Times announced: “Missionaries Are Free to Return.” Jehovah’s people once again enjoyed religious freedom!
“EVEN IF THEY WANT TO KILL ME, I WILL GO”
In the confusion that followed the change in government, Uganda was looted as much as it was liberated. A climate of anarchy resulted in thievery and untold violence. Nevertheless, the brothers in the Kenya branch immediately arranged for Günter Reschke and Stanley Makumba to visit Uganda and begin holding circuit assemblies.
“Two weeks before going on this postwar visit,” recalls Günter, “we taught a pioneer school in Meru, near Mount Kenya. I remember reading in the newspaper about the many killings in Kampala, especially at night. After reading one excerpt aloud, I exclaimed: ‘And this is the place we’re supposed to visit next week!’ But then I thought, ‘Do I want to be like Jonah and run away from my assignment?’ Immediately, I lost my apprehension and told myself, ‘Even if they want to kill me, I will go. I will not run away like Jonah.’”
The brothers went as planned, with Stanley visiting congregations in the country’s interior, while Günter served the larger towns. “There was a lot to reorganize after the war,” they reported. “Only about 113 publishers were active in Uganda at the time. Everyone was happy to meet freely again and hold an assembly out in the open, and it was a joy to see 241 in attendance.” Though the seeds of truth had been badly trampled, it was evident they could still bear fruit.
At Mbale, near Uganda’s eastern frontier, the two visiting brothers, Günter and Stanley, parked their car in front of their host’s home for the night. During the night they heard thieves removing parts from the vehicle. Günter was about to shout at the burglars when he remembered that earlier in the week thugs had shot and killed a person who had tried to stop a burglary. On second thought, Günter concluded that the value of the car could not be compared with the value of life and decided not to intervene. When day dawned, they found that two tires and the windshield had been stolen. They reported the theft to the police, who advised, “Take the car away before the thieves come back to get more parts!”
As soon as they could, the brothers set off for Kampala. But without a windshield and with only a blanket to cover Günter and a hat to protect Stanley, the wet and breezy 155-mile [250-km] journey to Kampala was less than comfortable. They had replaced one of the stolen tires with the spare tire and had borrowed a leaky tire to replace the other. To add to their anxiety, they were informed that the borrowed tire had to be returned in two days! The brothers held their breath and hoped the tires would hold their air.
To complicate the trip, Günter and Stanley had to negotiate a stretch of forest road that was notorious for robbers. “Drive fast,” their host advised, “and don’t let anyone overtake you.” The intrepid brothers were relieved to arrive in Kampala safely—and in record time. They had just enough time, in fact, to find someone to take the borrowed tire back to Mbale.
NEW CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
In 1980, while visiting world headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, Brother Reschke was invited to give a report to the Bethel family on developments in Uganda. Afterward, members of the Governing Body expressed the hope that missionaries might be sent to Uganda once again. Everyone agreed that the time was certainly ripe for more missionary activity. Larger gatherings were again possible, and by 1981 the number of publishers in Uganda had already rebounded to 175. In fact, by July of that year, Uganda was thrilled to record a new peak of 206 publishers.
Sadly, though, the fighting over the past ten years had left discarded weapons and ammunition in the hands of many unscrupulous people. Random shootings and robberies were alarmingly common. With caution, preachers of the good news endeavored to distribute our comforting Bible literature throughout the territory, placing an average of 12.5 magazines per publisher during July. However, prudence dictated that field service, as with other activities, should be limited to daylight hours because nightfall greatly increased the risk of assault. Despite the dangers, though, the potential for growth was unmistakable.
MISSIONARIES WELCOMED AGAIN
Gilead graduates Jeffrey Welch and Ari Palviainen arrived in Kampala from Kenya in September 1982. From the outset, Jeff and Ari, as the two brothers became known, enjoyed gratifying results. “People at that time were hungering for spiritual things,” Jeff recalls, “so the magazines with their appealing subjects virtually placed themselves.”
In December, Jeff and Ari were joined by Heinz and Marianne Wertholz from the Gilead Extension School in Wiesbaden, Germany. From the start, the Wertholzes were deeply impressed by the way their Ugandan brothers were able to thrive in Uganda’s damaged and dangerous communities.
“Many services,” recalls Heinz, “such as water supply and communication had broken down. The political situation remained tense. More than once there was rumor of a coup, and there were many military roadblocks. Shootings and robberies were common, especially at night. When darkness fell, not one person was to be found out on the streets. Everyone remained at home hoping—and often praying—that the night would pass without uninvited visitors.”
Heinz and Marianne were invited to stay with Sam Waiswa and his family while looking for a house to use as a missionary home. Although Sam was a professional educator, economic conditions in the country had severely limited his resources, making his family’s hospitality truly remarkable.
“It was difficult to find a house in a safe area,” says Heinz, “so we ended up staying at Sam’s home for five months. In that time we got to know each other very well. Sometimes his large family had only one meal a day, but they were always happy; and the children were obedient and respectful. Because the city water supply was not functioning properly, the children had to carry home five-gallon [20-l] plastic jerricans full of water on their heads. When we came back from the ministry, there was always fresh water for us. Of course, we learned to economize. For example, we bathed with just a few quarts of water and saved the rinse water in a basin for flushing the toilets.”
In April 1983, some ten years after the earlier missionaries had been compelled to leave Uganda, the four new missionaries found a home in a reasonably safe area. The general insecurity and the scarcity of provisions presented many challenges, but the love of the local brothers more than compensated for those inconveniences.
“We always enjoyed sharing the good news with the people,” explains Marianne. “They were religious, most had a Bible, and they were open to discussion. They were very easy to approach and well mannered. And despite the economic and other hardships, they always wore a happy smile.”
OLDER ONES WANT TO DO MORE
Many older ones, held in high regard in Ugandan culture, have responded to the good news and have used their advancing years to serve Jehovah. For example, Paulo Mukasa, a former teacher, was 89 years old when he learned the truth. Having lived through two world wars, colonial rule, a violent dictatorship, and other political upheavals, Paulo was eager to learn about God’s Kingdom. He was delighted when he found out that the Messianic King, Jesus Christ, ‘will deliver the poor one and the afflicted one from oppression and from violence.’—Ps. 72:12, 14.
When Paulo qualified for baptism two years later, the brothers wondered, ‘Can we really dip a person this old completely under the water?’ But they need not have worried. While an anxious youthful candidate was hesitating to go into the water, 91-year-old Paulo was baptized and emerged all smiles. Although somewhat limited in his ministry, Paulo zealously shared the Kingdom good news with any who would visit him, until his death some years later.
Lovinca Nakayima was another one who had to deal not only with advancing age but also with poor health. Sickness left her legs so swollen that she was unable to go anywhere without assistance. Still, when the congregation was encouraged to auxiliary pioneer for one month during the Memorial season, Lovinca wanted to try. By taking interested people to Lovinca’s home to study the Bible, the congregation helped her to pioneer. The missionaries also taught her to write letters to people in the villages, which she could do at her own convenience. Then, on Saturdays, an elder took Lovinca to a busy public area in Kampala, where she could sit comfortably on a low wall and witness to passersby all day long. Happy and satisfied at the end of the month, Lovinca said, “Now I see that I can do it—and enjoy it!” Not only did she auxiliary pioneer for that one month but, with the kind support of the congregation, she did so for 11 consecutive months!
“HOW DO YOU SAY . . . ?”
During the 1980’s, the hardworking publishers in Uganda warmly welcomed a steady influx of eager missionaries. Some were new Gilead graduates, and others had been compelled to leave missionary assignments in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). The increase in missionaries in Kampala and Jinja made it possible to cover those densely populated territories more thoroughly, and the missionaries were thrilled to find the Ugandan field ripe for harvesting. Actually, the challenge was not just finding interest but cultivating it.
Full of momentum from his months of Gilead training, Mats Holmkvist was eager to master the local language in order to cultivate people’s interest in the truth. By this time, Fred Nyende was a special pioneer in Entebbe, and his translating and interpreting skills were put to good use teaching the new missionaries to speak understandable Luganda, a language full of potential tongue twisters. In fact, Mats found the challenge of learning his new language quite daunting.
“How do you say ‘God’s Kingdom’ in Luganda?” asked Mats in one of his first language classes.
“Obwakabaka bwa Katonda,” came Fred’s rhythmic reply.
‘That sounds impossible,’ thought Mats, regretting that he had even asked the question. Nevertheless, Mats made remarkable progress and gained a good command of Luganda.
THE INGATHERING PROSPERS
Despite the difficulties Ugandans experienced through most of the 1980’s, the response to Bible truth was extraordinary. The number of publishers mushroomed by more than 130 percent—from 328 in 1986 to 766 in 1990. New groups were springing up all over the country. In Kampala the number of congregations doubled. The congregation in Jinja rejoiced to see the number of publishers more than triple, while the group in Iganga quickly became a full-fledged congregation.
“The growth was so rapid,” recalls an elder in Jinja, “that we wondered where all the new publishers were coming from. For a while we had to schedule time nearly every Sunday to meet with those who wanted to become unbaptized publishers.”
HARVESTING A BIGGER FIELD
One of the factors contributing to the remarkable growth was the outstanding pioneer spirit of the brothers. Just like the first-century preachers Paul, Silas, and Timothy, full-time servants in Uganda ‘offered themselves as an example to imitate.’ (2 Thess. 3:9) With the growing need in the field and such fine examples, many zealous publishers were motivated to expand their ministry. Young and old, single and married, male and female, and even some with families to support reinforced the ranks of hardworking pioneers. On average, more than 25 percent of all publishers shared in some form of pioneer service during the late 1980’s. Some have been able to continue in full-time service up to now.
The pioneers readily supported special annual preaching campaigns that were fondly called Macedonia campaigns. (Acts 16:9, 10) Such campaigns have continued over the years. Congregations preach in unassigned or seldom-worked territory for up to three months. Additionally, some regular pioneers are appointed as temporary special pioneers in territories where there is greater need. The results have been very encouraging. Many sincere people have expressed appreciation for these campaigns, which introduced them to the truth, and numerous new groups and congregations have been formed.
In one campaign, missionaries Peter Abramow and Michael Reiss preached in the town of Kabale and contacted Margaret Tofayo, who had previously studied the Bible. She was convinced that what she had been taught was the truth, and she had already been sharing her beliefs informally. To provide whatever help they could, the missionaries gave her their only copy of Reasoning From the Scriptures. When the brothers visited Margaret one last time before their departure, she surprised them with a specially prepared meal. They were overwhelmed by her kindness and generosity but felt uneasy because they realized that she had cooked her only chicken. They knew that the eggs she used to get from this fowl had supplemented her family’s meager diet. “Don’t worry,” she said, “you have given me more during your visit than I am giving you with this meal.” She was eventually baptized and continued as a zealous publisher until her death.
The rapid growth can also be attributed to the way the brothers used the excellent publications. “Although we try to improve our skills as teachers,” says Mats, mentioned earlier, “it is the Bible and the publications that make an impact on people and move them to make changes in their lives. Even those who cannot read well but who thirst for the truth can have their hearts touched by our practical brochures.”
CONTENDING WITH OBSTACLES
The exciting progress during the late 1980’s, however, did not come without challenges. A coup d’état staged in July 1985 saw the military once again take over the government. Security deteriorated as before, and guerrilla warfare intensified. Fleeing troops went on the rampage, looting property and shooting people at random. For a while, the battle raged around the area where the missionaries lived in Jinja. One day their home was raided by soldiers, but when the intruders learned the identity of the missionaries, they did not destroy anything and took very little. Then, in January 1986, yet another regime came to power and made an effort to restore some stability to the country.
The new government soon had to come to grips with a new and devastating foe—AIDS. When the pandemic struck during the 1980’s, Uganda was one of the nations most affected. A million people are thought to have died, possibly more than those killed in 15 years of political turmoil and civil war. How did the disease affect our brotherhood?
“Some new brothers and sisters came into the truth with much zeal and energy,” explains Washington Ssentongo, a regular pioneer, “only to be consumed by AIDS. They had been infected with the HIV virus before learning the truth.” Others were infected by unbelieving mates.
“Sometimes it seemed that hardly a month would go by without hearing about the burial of someone we knew and loved,” says Washington, “and everyone was losing family members. Also, there was a lot of superstition about AIDS. Many people linked it to witchcraft and being cursed. This misguided outlook made people fearful, stirred up unfounded prejudices, and undermined reasoning ability.” Nevertheless, our brothers and sisters loyally comforted one another with the resurrection hope and with reassurances of their genuine Christian love.
As the 1980’s drew to a close, there was a great deal of optimism in Uganda. Security was being restored, and the country was making an economic recovery. Infrastructure improved, and social programs were renewed or implemented.
As more people placed greater emphasis on political ideals, however, the neutrality of Jehovah’s Witnesses was at times misunderstood. In one instance, authorities arbitrarily stopped the construction of a Kingdom Hall. Permission for some assemblies was denied, and some missionaries had to leave the country when their permits expired. By the end of 1991, only two missionary brothers remained. What could be done to improve the situation?
Eventually, a delegation of brothers met with authorities to explain our neutrality. Once the authorities understood our position, missionaries were permitted to return to Uganda. The work progressed unhindered, and in 1993, Uganda was happy to report 1,000 publishers. Then, it took only five more years to reach 2,000 Kingdom proclaimers. Presently there are about 40 missionaries doing fine work throughout the country.
TRANSLATION SPEEDS UP THE INGATHERING
The English language is used throughout the country. Luganda is, however, the most widely used local language, while more than 30 languages are spoken by various ethnic groups. Thus, a key factor that has contributed to faster growth in recent times has been the progress of translation work.
“Although my mother was a faithful witness,” said Fred Nyende, “she found the meetings far more meaningful when I translated study articles from English to Luganda. What I didn’t realize was that I was getting practice for a much greater translation work.” What did Fred mean?
Shortly after he began pioneering in 1984, Fred was asked to teach a Luganda-language course to the missionaries. The following year he was invited to become a member of the Luganda translation team. Initially, he and the other translators did their work at home during their free time. Later, the team was able to do their translation work together full-time in a small room attached to a missionary home. Interestingly, during the ban in the mid-1970’s, some issues of The Watchtower had been translated into Luganda and mimeographed. After a while, though, this project was discontinued. It was only in 1987 that The Watchtower was once again published in Luganda. Since then, the translation team has been enlarged, and the translators have worked hard to translate many more publications for the growing number of Luganda-language congregations. Presently, almost half of all congregations in the country are Luganda speaking.
In time, our publications were also translated into other languages. There are now permanent full-time translation teams for Acholi, Lhukonzo, and Runyankore. In addition, individual publications have been translated into Ateso, Lugbara, Madi, and Rutoro.
The Acholi and Runyankore teams operate from translation offices in Gulu and Mbarara respectively, where those languages are predominantly spoken. This helps the translators to keep up their mother tongue and to produce a translation that is easily understood. At the same time, the local congregations enjoy the support of the translators.
Without a doubt, translation work requires much effort and considerable resources. The diligent Ugandan translators, together with other translation teams worldwide, have benefited from advanced training in language comprehension and translation skills. The results have been well worth the effort and expense—more people in Uganda, from various “tribes and peoples and tongues,” are benefiting from reading Bible truth in their own language than ever before. (Rev. 7:9, 10) As a result, by 2003, there were more than 3,000 Kingdom preachers in Uganda, and just three years later, in 2006, there were 4,005.
NEEDED—MORE PLACES FOR WORSHIP
In earlier years the brothers gathered together for meetings in private homes, community centers, and school classrooms. The first buildings to be used exclusively for Christian meetings were thatched-roof adobe structures in the rural areas of Namaingo and Rusese. The initiative and efforts of the brothers in these two areas were clearly blessed, and congregations became firmly established there.
In the towns, however, even a modest building represents a large investment, and economic conditions in Uganda made hopes for Kingdom Halls seem unrealistic. It was not until March 1988 that the first permanent Kingdom Hall was dedicated in Jinja. And what effort that construction required—felling trees in a nearby forest, trucking logs out on muddy roads, and constructing the hall! Later, the brothers in Mbale, Kampala, and Tororo also built Kingdom Halls using their initiative and expertise.
Kingdom Hall construction gained impetus in 1999 when a construction group was established with support from the Regional Engineering Office at the South Africa branch. That branch appointed a crew of nine, which included two international servants and their wives. The eager crew quickly learned the job, and they were also able to train local brothers. The building program gained momentum, and 67 halls were completed, on average, within a month and a half each—a remarkable pace considering that power tools are few, water is often scarce, and the supply of construction materials is erratic.
Most congregations in Uganda now enjoy their meetings in their own Kingdom Hall and experience the benefits of having a hall in their community. Interested people are more inclined to come to a proper place of worship than to a school classroom, so meeting attendance has mushroomed and congregations have experienced rapid growth.
COPING WITH RAPID EXPANSION
The phenomenal growth in the congregations, however, was putting a strain on the limited venues available for assemblies and conventions. What could be done to find suitable places that did not require the brothers to travel long distances, especially from rural areas? A happy solution was found when approval was given to build expandable Kingdom Halls. These are regular-size halls with a large, open-air extension that has just a roof and a floor. When the rear wall of the Kingdom Hall is opened for an assembly, the larger audience can be accommodated using the covered area. Such halls have already been completed in Kajansi, Rusese, and Lira, and a fourth is under construction in Seta.
Jehovah’s blessing on the spiritual growth in Uganda has also required adjustments in organization. Before 1994, there was just one circuit for the whole country. Later, more circuits were formed to care for the increasing number of congregations and groups and the diversity of languages. Today, with 111 congregations and about 50 groups, Uganda has eight circuits, three of which are Luganda speaking.
Apollo Mukasa, one of Uganda’s circuit overseers, was baptized in 1972. In 1980 he entered full-time service instead of pursuing higher secular education. Does he regret his decision?
“Far from it,” says Apollo. “I have had so many rewarding experiences as a special pioneer and as a traveling overseer visiting congregations and, in the early days, groups. I particularly enjoyed the advanced spiritual and organizational training at the Ministerial Training School.”
In addition to Apollo, more than 50 brothers from Uganda have received valuable education at the Ministerial Training School since 1994, when classes were first held at the Kenya branch. Many of these willing brothers provide vital assistance as special pioneers in smaller congregations and groups, while others serve their brothers and sisters as traveling overseers.
In 1995 a Country Committee was appointed in Uganda to serve under the direction of the Kenya branch. One of the Kampala missionary homes became the home for a fledgling family of eight full-time volunteers, which included the Luganda translation team. In September 2003, Uganda became a branch.
“WE ARE NOW IN PARADISE”
For some time the Country Committee had been trying to keep pace with the growth of the translation teams and care for other increasing office functions. Two properties adjacent to the office in Kampala were purchased to fill the need. Eventually, though, larger facilities were required to organize further expansion. In 2001 the Governing Body gave approval for a ten-acre [4 ha] piece of land to be bought for new branch facilities on the outskirts of Kampala, close to the shore of Lake Victoria.
Initially, the company best equipped to do the construction did not respond to our request because they were too busy to take on more work. But suddenly they changed their mind and, amazingly, submitted the most economical offer to build the new branch. Apparently they had unexpectedly lost a large contract, prompting them to agree to build the branch as soon as possible.
In January 2006 the Bethel family was delighted to move into the attractive, new two-story, 32-room residence. The complex included an office building, a spacious dining room, a kitchen, and a laundry. The property also has an ecologically friendly sewage system, a warehouse for the shipping and literature departments, and buildings for a maintenance workshop, water storage, and an electric generator. “We are now in paradise,” stated one brother enthusiastically, “only everlasting life is missing!” The dedication talk was given on Saturday, January 20, 2007, by Anthony Morris, a member of the Governing Body.
TRUE KNOWLEDGE BECOMES ABUNDANT
Throughout recent decades, in times both turbulent and tranquil, Jehovah’s people in Uganda have learned what it is like to ‘preach the word in favorable season and in troublesome season.’ (2 Tim. 4:2) In 2008 the 4,766 publishers rejoiced to be conducting 11,564 Bible studies and to have 16,644 in attendance at the Memorial of Christ’s death. Those figures, and the ratio of 1 publisher to 6,276 of the population, indicate that the fields here are still “white for harvesting.”—John 4:35.
At the same time, our brothers and sisters in Uganda have learned from bitter experience how suddenly circumstances can change and how quickly tests of faith can be thrust upon us. Nevertheless, their experiences have taught them to trust in Jehovah as well as in the guidance of his Word and the support of our worldwide brotherhood.
An angel told the faithful aged prophet Daniel that in ‘the time of the end, true knowledge would become abundant.’ (Dan. 12:4) With Jehovah’s blessing, true knowledge has certainly become abundant in Uganda. No doubt, in this region where the mighty Nile has its source, abundant waters of truth will continue to bubble forth to satisfy all those who are thirsting for spiritual truth. As Jehovah continues to bless the work throughout the earth, we eagerly anticipate the time when everyone will be united in giving a mighty shout of praise to Jehovah—for all eternity!
A report on the life story of Frank Smith appeared in The Watchtower of August 1, 1995, pages 20-24. Frank’s father, Frank W. Smith, as well as his uncle and aunt, Gray and Olga Smith, were among the first to preach in East Africa. Frank’s father died of malaria when he was returning home to Cape Town, just two months before Frank was born.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
[Blurb on page 84]
‘It was quite unusual to listen to a conversation between an American and a Scot on an African radio station’
[Blurb on page 92]
“How can they ban what is in my heart?”
[Blurb on page 111]
“How do you say ‘God’s Kingdom’ in Luganda?” “Obwakabaka bwa Katonda”
[Box/Picture on page 72]
Encompassing thick tropical rain forests, wide-open savannas, countless rivers and lakes, and the majestic, snowcapped Ruwenzori Range, Uganda is a country of amazing contrasts. It covers an area of 93,263 square miles [241,551 sq km] and includes almost half of Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa.
More than 85 percent of the population, which is made up of approximately 30 ethnic groups, live in rural areas.
Luganda is the most common of the more than 32 languages spoken in Uganda. The official languages are English and Swahili.
Producing coffee, tea, cotton, and other cash crops, Uganda is an agricultural country. Most Ugandans are farmers who live on the food they grow for themselves, but some earn a living from fishing or tourism.
A steamed dish called matooke (pictured), made from plantains, is popular in most of the south of the country. Cornmeal, sweet potatoes, and bread made from millet or cassava flour are eaten with a variety of vegetables.
Located on a plateau that drops from approximately 5,000 feet [1,500 m] in the south to about 3,000 feet [900 m] in the north, Uganda is a tropical country with a moderate climate. Most areas of the country have distinct dry and wet seasons.
[Box/Picture on page 77]
Genuine Christian Love Touches Hearts
PROFILE An elder who helped translate publications during the ban. He and his wife, Esther, are parents of four grown children.
◼ WHEN the first missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses arrived in Uganda, there was much racial prejudice in the country, and most white people kept their distance from black Africans. The genuine Christian love of the missionaries touched our hearts, and they became very dear to us.
During the 1970’s, our family enjoyed associating and preaching with the missionaries, who lived some 40 miles [65 km] away in Mbarara. One day, on our way there, soldiers stopped our car. “You can continue, if you want to die,” said one of the soldiers. It seemed advisable to turn around and go home. However, as the days passed, we became increasingly concerned about the missionaries. We wanted to get to the missionary home as soon as we could to find out how they were. Security was very tight, but I used my authority in the hospital administration along with a hospital sticker on the car to help me get through the roadblocks. How relieved we were to find that the missionaries were safe! We replenished their food supplies and spent a few days with them. After that, we kept visiting them each week until it was safe for them to move to Kampala. The more trialsome the conditions became, the more we experienced the loving bond of our precious brotherhood.
[Box/Picture on page 82]
“I Felt I Could Not Say Anything”
PROFILE The first Ugandan sister to accept the truth. Served as a regular pioneer for more than 20 years. Still an active publisher.
◼ MY HUSBAND enjoyed the Bible studies that Brother Kilminster conducted with him and thought that I should study as well because of my deep love for the Bible. So arrangements were made for John Bwali’s wife, Eunice, to study with me.
I loved what I was learning, but I was afraid of preaching to others. I was timid by nature and felt I could not say anything. But Eunice was patient with me, first by helping me to read just one scripture. Then, as we walked between calls, she taught me to prepare some comments on the scripture. With Jehovah’s support, I overcame my fear.
Shortly before my baptism, I was stunned when my husband rejected the truth and left me and our seven children. Nevertheless, the brothers and sisters were wonderful; they provided practical and spiritual help to me and the children. A foreign couple who traveled to Kampala for the meetings would stop on their way and take the children and me in their car. I am very grateful that four of my children and their families have chosen to serve Jehovah.
Eventually, I was able to serve as a regular pioneer. When arthritis reduced my mobility, I set up a literature table outside my house and talked to passersby. In this way I was able to continue in the full-time ministry.
[Box/Pictures on page 98, 99]
God Blessed Our Spiritual Harvest
PROFILE For many years Samuel represented the organization in legal matters, and he also served as an elder and a pioneer.
◼ I WILL never forget what happened during a tour of the Kenya branch office in Nairobi.
“What are these colored pins for?” I asked, as I examined a map of Uganda.
“These are places with a lot of interest,” replied Robert Hart, a member of the Kenya Branch Committee.
“When are you sending pioneers there?” I asked, pointing to a bright pin at Iganga, my hometown.
“We are not sending anyone there,” he said. Then, looking straight at me with a twinkle in his eye, he continued, “You are going there.”
I was surprised at Brother Hart’s response because I was not a pioneer, and I was not living in my hometown. Somehow, though, this incident stuck in my mind, and after my retirement as a civil servant, I decided to move back home and become a regular pioneer. What a joy it was to see the handful of publishers increase rapidly to become a strong congregation with their own Kingdom Hall!
When Patrick Baligeya was assigned to Iganga as a special pioneer, he stayed with me, and we pioneered together. We also planted a field of maize to support ourselves. We started each day with an early-morning discussion of the day’s text followed by a few hours of work in our maize field. At midmorning we went into the territory and enjoyed the ministry for the rest of the day.
As our maize seedlings grew, some neighbors suggested that our preaching was causing us to neglect our maize field. We were well aware that maize needs protection against monkeys all the time the cobs are maturing. Still, we did not want to interrupt our spiritual harvest to chase monkeys.
Shortly thereafter, we noticed two big dogs loitering around our field. We did not know where they came from or who owned them, but rather than chase them away, we put some food and water out each day. Naturally, while the dogs patrolled our field, the monkeys were nowhere to be seen. Then, after four weeks, as suddenly as the dogs had arrived, they disappeared—but not a day before our maize was out of danger! We thanked Jehovah for the bumper crop that served as food for us rather than for the monkeys. More important, how grateful we were that God had also blessed our spiritual harvest!
[Box/Picture on page 101, 102]
Detained but Sustained
PROFILE Entered full-time service shortly after his baptism. Serves in the traveling work together with his wife, Symphronia.
◼ WHEN a new government came to power in 1979, everyone who had been connected to the former regime was “invited” to go into protective custody. Announcements were made that anyone not cooperating with the arrangement would be viewed as unfriendly toward the new government and would be treated as such. Because I had served as a musician in the armed forces, I had to go into detention.
I was grateful that in detention I was able to read the Bible daily to keep my mind active. Besides, I was looking for the truth, and I liked to talk with fellow inmates on Bible subjects. In the same detention facility was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, John Mundua, who was there because he had been a civil servant and belonged to the tribe that was considered to have supported the former regime.
John eagerly shared the good news with me, and I readily responded. We had only 16 Watchtower magazines and the book Good News—To Make You Happy,* but I immediately realized that what I was learning was the truth. After I had studied the Bible for three months, John felt that I qualified to be a publisher. Shortly thereafter, he was cleared of all allegations and was released. My only contact with Jehovah’s organization had gone. Still, I kept conducting studies with interested ones in the detention center as best I could.
I was released in October 1981, and I returned to my village, where there were no Witnesses. My relatives tried to pressure me into joining them in their religious practices. Jehovah, though, saw my desire to serve him, and he sustained me. I knew that I should follow Jesus’ example, so I began preaching on my own, and soon I had many studies. One day a householder brought out The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life and remarked, “What you are saying resembles what I have read in this book.”* The man had only a limited interest, and I was very eager to read his book as well as his stack of Watchtower magazines. So in this case the householder agreed to place literature with me!
But I had yet to find my fellow worshippers. Brother Mundua had mentioned that there were Witnesses in Jinja. Thus, I resolved to find the brothers there. After spending almost an entire night in prayer, I set off early the next morning without even having breakfast. The very first man I met as I started walking was carrying a clear plastic bag. I could barely believe my eyes when I saw that he had an Awake! magazine in it. I had found one of my brothers!
In 1984, I was thrilled to attend the first class of the Pioneer Service School in Uganda. And who should be with me in the class? None other than my dear brother John Mundua. Even now, at 74 years of age, he continues to serve faithfully as a regular pioneer.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now out of print.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now out of print.
[Box/Picture on page 113]
He Finally Found the True Religion
A sister asked a missionary, Mats Holmkvist, to meet with Mutesaasira Yafesi, who had been a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Now he was interested in Jehovah’s Witnesses and had prepared a list of 20 neatly printed questions. When he met Mats, he presented the list to him.
After a two-hour Bible discussion, Mutesaasira stated: “I think I have finally found the true religion! Please come and visit me in my village. There are other people who want to know more about Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Five days later, Mats and another missionary set out on a motorcycle to visit Mutesaasira in Kalangalo—a 70-mile [110 km] trip over difficult and muddy paths through tea plantations. They were surprised when Mutesaasira took them to a thatched hut that had a sign saying “Kingdom Hall.” Yes, he had already prepared a structure that could be used for Bible study and meetings!
There were ten others who were interested as a result of the truths Mutesaasira had shared with them. Bible studies were started, and Mats, undeterred by the long distance, conducted them twice a month. The Bible studies progressed well. More than 20 people have become publishers in Kalangalo, and a congregation is flourishing in the nearby town of Mityana. In the meantime, Mutesaasira made rapid progress and was baptized. He is now well into his 70’s and serves as a congregation elder.
[Chart/Graph on page 108, 109]
1931 Robert Nisbet and David Norman preach in East Africa.
1950 Kilminsters move to Uganda.
1952 First congregation is formed.
1956 First baptism takes place.
1959 Foreign brothers provide spiritual help.
1963 Gilead missionaries arrive.
1972 First district convention is held.
1973 Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned and missionaries expelled.
1979 Ban is lifted.
1982 Missionaries once again allowed into the country.
1987 The Watchtower is translated into Luganda on a regular basis.
1988 First permanent Kingdom Hall is dedicated.
2003 Branch office is established.
2007 New branch facilities are dedicated.
1930 1940 1950 1960 1980 1990 2000 2010
[Maps on page 73]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
DAR ES SALAAM
[Map/Picture on page 87]
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Brother Hardy and his wife traveled through most of Uganda in six weeks
[Full-page picture on page 66]
[Picture on page 69]
David Norman and Robert Nisbet brought the good news to East Africa
[Picture on page 71]
George and Robert Nisbet and Gray and Olga Smith with their vans on a raft ready to cross a river
[Picture on page 75]
Mary and Frank Smith, just before their marriage in 1956
[Picture on page 78]
Ann Cooke and her children with Brother and Sister Makumba
[Picture on page 80]
Tom and Bethel McLain were the first Gilead-trained missionaries in Uganda
[Picture on page 81]
The first missionary home in Jinja
[Picture on page 83]
Gilead missionaries Barbara and Stephen Hardy
[Picture on page 85]
Mary Nisbet (center) with her sons Robert (left), George (right), and William and his wife, Muriel (rear)
[Picture on page 89]
Tom Cooke delivering a talk at the “Divine Rulership” District Assembly in Kampala
[Picture on page 90]
George and Gertrude Ochola
[Pictures on page 94]
In spite of the ban, our brothers continued to meet together
[Picture on page 95]
[Picture on page 96]
[Picture on page 104]
Stanley Makumba with his wife, Esinala, in 1998
[Picture on page 107]
Heinz and Marianne Wertholz attended the first class of the Gilead Extension School in Germany
[Pictures on page 118]
[Pictures on page 123]
Modern Kingdom Halls are quite different from earlier structures (left)
[Pictures on page 124]
Branch Committee: Mats Holmkvist, Martin Lowum, Michael Reiss, and Fred Nyende; office building (below) and residence (right)