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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Will the newly named Watoto Church change the destiny of Africa?

The house literally went down in Busega, Kyengera, as Kampala Pentecostal Church (KPC) celebrated 25 years of existence last week , writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

E xuberant volunteers lined up both sides of the road, waving flags, singing songs of welcome and crying out “Happy Birthday” to the arriving guests. Children played video games and jumped on castles with wild abandon. In the amphitheatre, adults engaged each other in the game of cards, played pool and played table tennis.

The stage exuded glory. The sound system was perfect. Mr. Exodus stole the show from Wilson Bugembe and Martin Sseku with Ganja man – the song that has popularised him in the gospel circles; the song in which he tells of how God changed him from “liquor-man ganja-man to preacher man”.

“If Jah is standing on ma side, then why should I be afraid to preach the gospel of my life,” he sang the melodious chorus.

And the now charged crowds lapped it up, danced and shot their arms in the air, completely carried away. The Watoto Children’s Choir evoked a hush with their sweet little voices, and Judith Babirye was overwhelming with her heavenly voice.

Not even the afternoon downpour could foil the fullness of joy. Here was celebrating God’s faithfulness, appreciating the prosperity He has earned KPC, and most of all, the lives He has touched through His church.

A 17-year-old girl, Percy, could not contain her gratitude. In a poem, she praised KPC, calling it “…a mother with a joyful spirit that touches every one who knows her…a home of the homeless…the lamp holder of the Pearl of Africa…”

It was in the thick of a civil war in Uganda in 1984 that God asked Ps Gary Skinner and his wife Marilyn to head to Kampala and plant an English-speaking church in the heart of the city.

At the time, as Marilyn said, this was a country people were not running to but a country everybody was running away from. But they heeded God’s call and that made all the difference. The church began in a room in Imperial Hotel with 75 people, but the number went up so rapidly they had to find a bigger place.

After more than a year in prayer, a door was opened and they got and later modelled what to-date remains the sanctuary that is on Kampala Road. It’s also out of the upsurge in the congregation that God impressed it upon Pastor Gary Skinner to turn KPC into a cell-based church as the best way of reaching out to every member of the congregation.

Today, the church has 1550 cells and over 20,000 people, but it’s for its charity that it’s renowned. Pastor Gary said it all began when God showed him in James 1: 27 what He considers pure and lasting religion: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.

This led to the birth of the Watoto Childcare Ministries in which 1,700 children are cared for, and Living Hope Ministries which has changed the lives of over 1,000 HIV/Aids positive women and widows.

The church has also reached out to the afflicted community in Gulu by opening a church there whose membership is now at over 1,200 people, and a ministry that rehabilitates former child rebels, bringing hope to the victims of war.

During the celebrations at Busega, it was known that KPC has changed name and everyone was awaiting the revelation. When Pastor Gary revealed the new name to be Watoto Church, the announcement was received with the longest and loudest standing ovation.

Watoto is Swahili for children, and in a country where 78 per cent of the population is under the age of 30, it’s only a matter of time and the future of the country will be in the hands of the young generation.

That’s why Watoto Church has as well started a school of community leadership in which over 300 young people pick leadership skills.

Pastor Gary is optimistic that in the next four to 20 years, the best pastors, scientists, economists, doctors, business men and political leaders who are not tainted by corruption, will emerge from the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to redeem the future for Africa.

“This nation has more young people than it has all people; this nation belongs to young people,” he said. “I believe this is the generation that needs to rise up and change the destiny and the future of this country of Uganda.” He shared his dream – a dream in which Watoto Church will be replicated across Africa, starting with South Africa and Zambia; before the sprawl covers the rest of the continent.

“God has spoken to us clearly,” he said. “We have had 25 fabulous years but it’s in the past, there are now 25 phenomenal years ahead of us…in the next 20 years I believe we can see, through, Watoto, two million desperate African children restored. God who has brought us to this place will not abandon us now and leave us to our own devices; Jesus is our pastor and I want you to know that He has a bright future for us.”

Wild exclamations of hallelujah went up, followed by the fireworks. The cake was cut and enjoyed, along with the icing. The masses soon found their various ways back home with happy hearts.

--Sunday Monitor, April 26, 2009