By John Martin
Hundreds of Ugandans and more than 30 bishops, two of them from the United Kingdom, prayed at the grave of Archbishop Janani Luwum on Feb. 16, the 40th anniversary of his death.
Luwum was arrested at the behest of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada, who was angered by the archbishop’s condemnation of human-rights abuses perpetrated by Amin’s regime. At the time of Luwum’s death, radio reports claimed Luwum died in a car accident, along with cabinet ministers Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi. When his body was released to his family, however, it was riddled with bullets.
Mission scholars have chronicled how the Amin regime inadvertently furthered the cause of evangelization in eastern Africa. Amin was a Muslim and no friend of the churches. His persecution meant that large number of Ugandans who grew up with the legacy of the East African Revival fled across borders to Sudan (north) and Congo (west).
Western missions had been present in these areas for many years, but their work bore little fruit. From the mid-1970s there was rapid growth of the church driven by Ugandans refugees who energetically shared their faith with their fellow Africans.
The young John Sentamu could often be found in the office of Archbishop Luwum, peppering him with questions about Christianity. Sentamu became a high-court judge in Uganda, but fled the country after he jailed a member of Amin’s family and began receiving death threats.
Sentamu, now Archbishop of York, said later that it was the death of Luwum that prompted him to offer himself for ordination.