Thursday, 7 January 2010

Happy New Year from Uganda

Welcome to Uganda. This is the constant refrain we have heard since we arrived in this beautiful country a few days ago. Everyone we have met has been very welcoming and pleased to see us. I’ve come to Uganda to visit the developing Methodist Church here as well as to see the work of the MRDF partner organisation Volunteer Action and Development who are based in Kampala. Anne, Jonathan and Matthew have been able to travel with me.

We were fortunate enough to be in Kampala on New Year’s Eve. The many churches were full of people taking part in watch-night services including the National Stadium hosting an all-night prayer service that was broadcast live on national television. As the New Year began we watched from one of the many hills that Kampala is built on as fireworks lit up the sky.

The following morning we travelled further East to Jinja where the Methodist Church is based. It has not always been the case that European Christians have been so welcomed to Uganda, and along the Jinja Road we came across the Namugongo Martyrs’ Shrine. Here marks the site of the torture and burning of 26 (but probably more) Christians on 3 June 1886.

The Bugandan King, Kabaka Mwanga, ordered the execution of a group of Protestant and Catholic men and woman as he was concerned by the influence of emerging Christian groups. They were marched to Namugongo, 12km from Kampala, were they were offered the opportunity to renounce their faith. They refused. Charles Lwanga, the leader of the Catholic contingent was hacked apart and burnt alive and later in the day the remaining martyrs were bound in reed mats and thrown on to a fire.

The event is now marked by a large modern Catholic cathedral and a Church of Uganda Church and memorial area nearby. Here it not only includes a depiction of the pyre but also the hut of the commander who led the burning, and he is said to have been later converted to Christianity himself and baptised as Daniel.

The town of Jinja, where we would be based for the next 3 days, sits on the shore of Lake Victoria. In 1858 John Hanning Speke was the first European to see this beautiful lake and when he returned between 1862-3 he settled on this area of Jinja as the Source of the Nile, although debate continues as to whether this really is the case. We took a small boat out on to the river and were taken to a small island where the lake meets the river, with an area of still water around which the rest of the water flows - this is said to be source of this great river. Whilst on the island we met a large group of Indians accompanied by armed Ugandan guards. They were carrying the Queen’s Commonwealth baton, which was travelling across the world prior to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October. It wasn’t something we expected to find at the heart of Africa, but then we were to be pleasantly surprised by a lot of things during our stay in Uganda.

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