This weekend we celebrate the life and martyrdom of the Most Reverend Janani Jakaliya Luwum, Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Bogo-Zaire. He was murdered by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin on February 16 (or 17), 1977.

I wrote this about Archbishop Luwum on IRD’s website, and in my book, Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007):

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth; the Spirit and the gifts are ours, thru him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever. 

(from “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” Martin Luther)

On February 16, 1977, the Most Reverend Janani Jakaliya Luwum was arrested by the state security in Uganda and brought to the palace of Idi Amin. On February 17, a government spokesperson claimed that Luwum had died in an auto accident. His battered body was sent to his home village of Mucwini, Kitgum District, in Northern Uganda in a sealed casket. He was killed for daring to confront the evil of Idi Amin’s regime. In his honor, we are posting an excerpt from Faith McDonnell’s book, Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007), that tells the story of Uganda’s famous archbishop.

(from Chapter 6: A New Darkness Descends)

The Road of Suffering

What does a road of suffering look like? It all depends where that road happens to be. Christ carried His cross to Golgotha on such a road. There are many versions of the “Via Dolorosa” for those who walk in the steps of Jesus Christ. Often the road of suffering in Uganda has been strewn – literally – marked with the blood and bones of God’s children. During the time of dictator Idi Amin, roads, hotels, the river Nile and even airport runways became places of great suffering and death. …

The Subversive Archbishop

…Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum, recognized as the first martyr of the second century of Christianity in Uganda. Archbishop Luwum died at the hands of Idi Amin in February 1977 because he dared to confront the regime with the evil of its repressive and violent actions. …

In 1948, Luwum gave his life to Christ through the East African revival movement. Throughout his ministry, he worked for both spiritual renewal and a strong, self-supporting Church in Uganda. …

Luwum was consecrated as the Anglican Communion’s Bishop of Northern Uganda in 1969. Ironically, Amin, then chief of staff of the army, attended the open-air consecration with Prime Minister Obote. As bishop of northern Uganda, Luwum gave a place of welcome and refuge to Sudanese fleeing from the conflict in southern Sudan. The archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan was one of those refugees. Luwum also began implementing his vision for the Church as a key leader in civil society and as an economic support to the community in northern Uganda. …

Luwum was as concerned for the spiritual welfare of his people as he was for their physical well-being. As a leader whose own Christian experience had been shaped by the East African revival, he stressed the importance of a personal relationship with the Lord of the Scriptures for both his flock and his clergy. He frequently led evangelistic missions and preached throughout the diocese. He identified, discipled, and mentored young church leaders, including Henry Luke Orombi, who, at this writing is now the archbishop of Uganda.

Enthroned as archbishop in 1974, Luwum urged his church to reform in advance of the centenary celebration of Christianity in Uganda in 1977. It soon became clear, though, that God had placed Luwum in office to confront the evil enveloping Uganda under Amin. According to the Janani Luwum Trust in the United Kingdom, Luwum “exercised exceptional and courageous leadership when he opposed Idi Amin’s regime of tyranny, gross human rights violations, and ‘islamisation’ agenda in Uganda.” Luwum warned that “the Church should not conform to the powers of darkness.” …

On February 8, 1977, the archbishop and most of the bishops of Uganda met to write a letter of protest to President Amin. … Archbishop Luwum went to see Amin and delivered the protest letter. He was accused of treason, the evidence being a document supposedly written by former president Obote that implicated the archbishop. Luwum and two Christian cabinet ministers were arrested and held for military trial on charges of treason.

On February 16, 1977, Amin summoned religious, government, and military leaders to Kampala to condemn Luwum for “subversive acts.” The archbishop and six other bishops were publicly arraigned in a sham trial for smuggling arms, but it was clear that it was Janani Luwum with whom Amin was concerned. As the church leaders were ordered to leave, one at a time, Archbishop Luwum said to Bishop Festo Kivengere, “They are going to kill me. I am not afraid.” He told the bishops not to be afraid, that he saw “God’s hand in this.” …

The last that his friends saw him, Luwum and the two cabinet ministers, Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi, were being taken away in a Land Rover. The next day, February 17, a government spokesperson claimed that Archbishop Luwum had died in a car accident. Later (to explain the bullet holes found in his body) the story was changed. Luwum had been shot while trying to escape from soldiers taking him to detention.

What is believed to have happened is that the archbishop was taken to the Nile Mansions Hotel for interrogation. When he refused to sign a confession, he was beaten, whipped, and finally shot, possibly by Idi Amin himself, as he prayed for his tormentors. …

In Kampala, a memorial service was held for Archbishop Luwum at a grave that had been prepared for him right next to the grave of martyred missionary Bishop Hannington. Some 4,500 people attended the service. Another 10,000 attended a service for Archbishop Luwum in Nairobi. …

Westminster Abbey martyrs. Archbishop Luwum on the right.

Contagious Courage In June 1977, more than twenty-five thousand Ugandans gathered in Kampala to celebrate the centennial of the first preaching of the Gospel in Uganda. Many of the participant had fallen away from their faith but had come back to Christ as a result of seeing the courage of Archbishop Luwum and other Christians in the face of persecution and death.


One Response to The Body They May Kill: Remembering Archbishop Janani Luwum

  1. Very Rev Dr Deji Okegbile says:

    A true missional leader, a pope will never had in Africa. They can kill the body, but your uncompromising legacy abides.

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