Ugandans are celebrating the birth of a new circle of four Mennonite churches in southwestern Uganda. The churches, inaugurated in December 2006, are the result of development efforts begun in June 2004, by the Kenya Mennonite Church (KMC).
The constitution for the new national church has been written, and Ugandans are serving as its leaders. They have begun the process of registration with the Ugandan government as the first Mennonite Church of Uganda and hope to receive national registration within a few months.
Mennonites are among the heirs of the ‚Äòradical Reformation‚Äô. With a strong emphasis on discipleship (following Jesus), peacemaking and social justice, they have in the past faced severe persecution. There are some 1.5 million Mennonite and Mennonite-related Christians across the globe.
The story of the latest Mennonite growth goes back several years, according to Jewel Showalter of EMM in the United States.
It began when Bishop Moses Otieno, now moderator of Kenya Mennonite Church, began to dream after his friend Ignatius Byamugisha, a Ugandan Church of God district superintendent, asked, ‚ÄúWhy don‚Äôt you plant a Mennonite Church in Uganda?‚Äù
Ignatius was Moses' room-mate at Kima International School of Theology where they both studied after Moses was ordained bishop of the Seaya district of the Kenyan Mennonite Church in northwest Kenya near the border of Uganda in April 1995.
After three years of special friendship and study together, Ignatius planned to return to his home in Uganda, two long days‚Äô travel from Moses‚Äô home while Moses would remain in the Seaya District in Kenya. Moses invited Ignatius to minister in Mennonite congregations of western Kenya.
Ignatius, on the other hand, offered to help plant Mennonite churches in Uganda, setting off Moses' dream. Others in KMC leadership shared his vision, and Moses led several exploratory trips to Uganda.
In June 2004, KMC sent John Otieno, their first international missionary, to southwestern Uganda. As he surveyed western Uganda, John looked for widely scattered communities where no vital congregations existed. ‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt want to compete with other evangelical churches,‚Äù he explained.
As the first four young fellowships took shape, Otieno did not serve as pastor, but rather worked behind the scenes in coordination and supporting local leaders.
‚ÄúThe tithe from a large estate which Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) sent to partner churches for mission in 2004 helped provide the impetus for launching the Ugandan mission from Kenya,‚Äù Kevin Yoder, a worker in Kenya with EMM and Mennonite Mission Network explained. ‚ÄúAnd now we have the joy of partnering and praying with them as they go.‚Äù
EMM first sent missionaries to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in 1934. Then in the 1960s the Tanzanians began to plant churches in western Kenya. Less than two years ago the Kenya Mennonite Church began sending missionaries into Uganda.
Richard Showalter, president of EMM, and Yoder attended the first baptismal and communion service of the new conference of churches and witnessed the purchase of its first property in December 2006.
(With acknowledgments to Mennonite World Conference.)