Thursday, 7 January 2010

Methodist Church in Uganda - 2nd January

In 1986 a small group from the Jinja area who had been meeting together for fellowship invited the Methodist Church in Kenya to help them establish a Methodist Church in their area. 24 years later there are now around 4000 members in 34 congregations spread across 3 circuits and supported by 5 ministers and a growing number of lay pastors. One of that original small fellowship group who made contact with the Kenyan Methodist Church is now Chairman and Superintendent minister of these rapidly growing Methodist churches, and it was Rev Amooti Bagambi who met us on Saturday morning and showed us some of the work of the Methodist Church in this part of Uganda.

We started the day at the Church offices were I had the privilege to hand over a new motorbike to Thomas Kibalya, one of the local preachers who is based in a rural area. Previously he had been making do with a bicycle but as the distances between congregations grew this was becoming more difficult for him, and the motorbike, provided with the help of funds from Irish Methodists, will help him to get around the rough rural roads far more effectively.

The young and growing Methodist Church in Uganda is part of the Synod of Nairobi and all its ministers have been trained in Kenya. However few of the many lay pastors, Sunday school teachers and church leaders have received significant training and we were shown the land in the small town of Kamuli that has just been acquired with the hope of building a lay training centre on it. Later in the day we were also shown another newly acquired plot of land that they hoped to build a guest house on, in the hope that it would provide much needed income to support the work of the Church.

A little further north from the town is the main church of the Kamuli circuit, and home to Rev David Ntogohoyya and his family. We were met by other members of the church including two local preachers who were helping to build the new Sunday school. This will not only be used by the large number of children who come on a Sunday, but also as a community centre during the week. They have also developed a library for community use and buildings for chickens and pigs which will help supplement the circuit income.

The church is built at the point in the road where the electricity supply stops and so people come from miles around to watch the television (English Premiership football is particularly popular) and charge mobile phones. It is also next to the local borehole which was dug with the help of money from the Methodist Church in Britain, and Jonathan and Matthew tried to help local children with the daily task of pumping water in to jerry-cans to take home for the family. They soon realised how hard their task is.

We were visiting on 2nd January, and the day before, as in most churches around Uganda, a Watch-Night service had been held on New Year’s Eve which started at 10pm and finished at 5am. The congregation were then back again later that morning for a special New Year’s Day service. Their commitment to the Church is impressive.

We were next taken to the rural area around Butangala where we were enthusiastically welcomed by the local congregation who the local minister, Rev Richard Kyaira, said had been waiting 4 hours for us to arrive. If that were the case I’m not surprised they were so pleased to see us! There are 4 Methodist churches in this area and the hope is that it will develop in to a new mission circuit.

On the way back to Jinja we stopped at Mpumudde Methodist Church which is next to a primary school run by the Church. The large church was built 7 years ago, previously the congregation of around 70 adults and 80 children had worshiped in the school and before that in a rented building nearby. We were met by local pastor Nathaniel and Jonathan who works at the school, as well as by members of the Women’s Fellowship. Wall hangings in the church gave further witness to the significant support the Irish Methodist Church have given, and continue to give to their brothers and sisters in Uganda.

The school has 35 teachers, 28 paid by the local government and the remaining teachers paid for by the Church. The number of children at the school has rapidly increased to 1500 with a large influx of children who have fled with their families from the conflict on the northern border area with Sudan. We were told that these refugees had been welcomed and supported, although it was likely that now the situation in the north was more peaceful they may start to return. It means that whereas class sizes were at the Government maximum of 53 children per teacher, they had increased to over 100 children per class. Basic temporary buildings had been put up to cope with the numbers, but a new 2 storey block was also being built to give much needed extra classrooms.

Back in the Jinja circuit we were welcomed to Bugembe Methodist Church, the first to be built in the area and the home church of Superintendent Rev Amooti Bagambi and his family. We were entertained with singing and presented with African-style shirts and clothes. I brought the greetings of the Methodist Church in Britain and also told them how pleased we were to have travelled from the snow and ice of Leeds to join them on this warm January day in Uganda. They knew about Leeds because tomorrow Manchester United were to play Leeds United in the FA Cup and most people I’d met so far were keen Manchester United fans, including the Superintendent. I encouraged the congregation to pray for Leeds, because they’d need all the prayers they could get if they were to have a hope of winning, especially as they were to play at Old Trafford!

We finished the day back at our hotel where we met Alex Kyabawampi and Ezekiel Kisambira who have been employed as development officers by the Church. They have helped them to produce a strategic plan and put the administration and governance of this emerging Church on a sound footing. They’ve also helped to articulate the ambitious plans the Church have for new outreach, community projects and the aim of becoming first a new Synod within the Kenyan Methodist Church and ultimately an autonomous Methodist Church in Uganda.

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