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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Celebrating 50 years of Pentecostalism

When a pastor and his wife from Canada came to Uganda to preach the gospel, little did they know how far reaching their actions would be, Dennis D. Muhumuza writes.
It was all about praising and giving thanks to the Lord last Sunday when the community of Pentecostals and other believers crammed up Makerere Full Gospel Church to crown 50 years of Pentecostal movement in Uganda.

The spiritually elevating event was the climax of the Pentecostal week of activities the highlight of which was a three-day pastors’ conference codenamed ‘Jerusalem Council’ in which God’s shepherds took stock and set new goals as a Pentecostal movement.

And on Friday May 7, hundreds of born-agains marched through the city in what was dubbed ‘Abaloke March’ and crowned the day with an overnight service at Makerere University sports ground where sages of old who were present when the first Pentecostal church was planted on home soil in 1960 testified about the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit that has brought the church this far.

But what will stick in the minds of many is last Sunday’s final celebration at Full Gospel Church Makerere. Among the happiest of the guests were Pastor Hugh Layzell and his wife Audrey to whom God directed in a vision to leave the comforts of their home in Vancouver, Canada, and take His gospel to Uganda.

Pastor Layzell alluded to Mark 16: 15 in which Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to everyone everywhere. “God honoured us to come to the Pearl of Africa; to bring His gospel to this great nation of Uganda,” he said emotionally.

His wife shed tears, unable to contain the fullness of joy in her heart. It was understandable as it was almost unbelievable that 50 years later they would still be alive to witness the prosperity of the church and the gift of salvation that has since given direction to hitherto wandering souls.

As soon as the imperialist British government granted the Layzell’s permission to begin mission work in Uganda in 1960, they started preaching the full gospel of Jesus at open air meetings. The first ‘crusade’ was held under a mango tree in Nakawa but the meetings spread to Naguru, Katwe, Kibuli, Mulago and Nakulabye among other areas, and those who had come out of curiosity to hear what the bazungu were going on about, ended up getting converted to Christianity.

Audrey talked of two deaf men who got their hearing back, a Congolese man who finally spurned witchcraft and turned to Christ, and his dumb wife regained her speech, numerous other miracles and how the “gospel of power” began getting press coverage.

Alongside the preaching and healing ministry, the Layzell’s opened up their home for evening Bible classes. A year later, small Pentecostal churches began slowly but steadily sprouting around the city and in far-flung areas of Kigezi, Toro, Bunyoro, Busoga and later Ankole. Today, the country boasts of over 1,500 Pentecostal churches, with sister churches in other East African countries, and in Sudan and Congo.

The Layzell’s also bought the land on Makerere Hill on which they erected the Full Gospel Church that is today under the stewardship of Pastor Fred Wantaate. In fact, Princess Muggale, the sister to Kabaka Muteesa I of Buganda became a born-again Christian in an early open air crusade in Mengo and was to later represent the Kabaka at the official opening of this church in 1962.

At the golden jubilee celebration, it was time to reminisce; highlights of the extraordinary growth of the Ugandan church from that period were re-enacted in a captivating drama showcase including the dark seasons that the church has endured like in the late 1970s when the Amin soldiers stormed Makerere Full Gospel Church and arrested over 200 believers.

The Layzells soon after left the country and as fear and tension gripped the church, many preachers and believers went underground. But after the restoration of the freedom of worship following the fall of Amin, the gospel experienced an explosion as redeemed churches and deliverance churches synergised with Pentecostal churches to spread the fame of Jesus like never before, infiltrating every corner of the country.

As Layzell said, God was preparing the Ugandan church to be strong and reach out to other churches worldwide. “We look forward to great things ahead knowing that God has a great purpose to transform our society,” he said, “The church in Uganda is going to be a catalyst of the gospel and you will be known throughout the world as a missionary church that’s sending the gospel to other nations.”

His prophesy inspired a fresh lease of life as the worshipers lifted their hands and voices and danced. Many were clad in t-shirts written at the back: “Oh! Uganda now give thanks 2 Cor. 2: 14,” the verse that reads: “But thanks be to God, who made us His captives and leads us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now wherever we go He uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet fragrance.”

A choir of the deaf people moved the crowds the most as they used sign-language to praise God with emotions of joy and gratefulness etched on their faces. And in an end prayer after all the feasting, the celebrants cried out for new revival, calling upon the Holy Spirit to rain down with more power in the next 50 years, well knowing, at is put in Haggai 2:9 that “the future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory."

--Sunday Monitor, May 16, 2010