Monday, September 14, 2009

"To whom are you loyal?"

Worshipping in a Lingira Island church with drums and voices as the only instruments.
Loyalty is a quality I admire. But, determining at whose feet your loyalty lies is of utmost importance.

As I was reading up on Ugandan culture a few weeks ago, I came across a remarkable story that I knew I wanted to share with all of you. It is the story of the "Ugandan Martyrs."

Before Uganda became a British protectorate in 1894, it was known as the Kingdom of Buganda, which was ruled by kings or "Kabakas." As Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries from France and England began coming to the kingdom and evangelizing, they found success in converting members of the court of King Mutesa I.

"The Christian religion was received with much excitement by the converts but it came with its own requirements. It denounced all the native religious behavior and practices as heathen and satanic. Therefore joining it meant a commitment to break away from the old life style, make and adopt new alliances, and adjust to new moral and religious standards, adherence and allegiance."1

Although King Mutesa himself never turned to serve the King of Kings, since he would have to forsake his pagan ways, he did not prevent the spread of Christianity among his subjects. But, just a few years after the arrival of the missionaries, the king died in 1884. The kingdom was left to his young son, Mwanga II. As a prince, Mwanga had been enthusiastically supportive of the missionaries, but he did not emulate his father's tolerant ways when he assumed the throne.

King Mwanga became "an intolerant and vicious persecutor of Christians"1 and other foreigners. He believed he was losing a grip on the loyalty of his subjects.

"The converts had diverted their loyalty to some other authority and their allegiance at all costs could no longer be counted on."1

Perhaps most humiliating to the king was that his pages, the least of his servants, rejected his immoral ways. It was simply unthinkable that a page would reject the wishes of a king.

Not even a year after Mwanga assumed the throne, he ordered the execution of the first three Christian martyrs, who dismembered and burned on January 31, 1885. Later that year and in the following year, many others, including a senior advisor to the king, were killed for their newfound faith.

This time of persecution climaxed in May 1886. No longer willing to suffer the divided loyalties of his court members, Mwanga demanded they make a choice - either completely obey his orders or continue with their faith and so choose death. Approximately 33 Ugandans, Catholic and Anglican converts, including 12 boy pages, chose the latter. They collected the bamboo sticks that would be their means of execution and were burned on June 3, 1886, feet first over a slow fire to give them opportunity to recant. It is recorded, however, that instead they sang praises to God as they died. In the following months, other Christians were also burned or speared as they chose the Heavenly Kingdom rather than that of King Mwanga.

The spark from these martyr's faith ignited the spread of Christianity in Uganda. Those who had observed the martyr's deaths sought out instruction in the Christian faith and thus the followers of Jesus multiplied in Uganda. Hundreds of loyal Catholics and Protestants suffered horrible deaths. However, "...conversions outpaced executions as the church went underground." 2

The Ugandan Catholic martyrs were canonized as saints in 1964 and June 3 is observed nationally as "Uganda Martyrs Day." It is estimated that 80% of Uganda's population is Christian, including Catholic, Anglican and Protestant believers. This small east African country has the largest percentage of professing Christians of any country on the continent.
Pastor Moses shares with a small mainland church. (It had three walls and a tarp for a roof.)
I wish I could say persecution in Uganda was limited to the reign of Mwanga, but Muslim dictator Ida Amin murdered some 500,000 of his countrymen, among them 300,000 believers, during his reign of terror from 1971-1979.

I imagine that those loyal Christians of more than 100 years ago had no idea how the spark of their faith would ignite a nation. For me, personally, I am grateful for the sacrifice of these souls for they helped lay the groundwork of what is occurring in Uganda today. There is much Christian activity in this nation. When I was there in 2006-07, I was so blessed as I met and became aware of many missionaries and nationals dedicating themselves to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Uganda.

So, before I wind up this post, may I ask "To whom are you loyal?" You may or may not ever have to face death for your faith, but if you did, what would you answer? May I note that the Ugandan martyrs were killed not just for a verbal profession of faith, but because they lived loyally to Jesus. They would not have necessarily been a threat if they had only been followers in word, but not in deed. Are you living loyally to Jesus today?

Other sources:

Baptism in Lake Victoria.


  1. What a powerful question! I do want to live in such a way that when persecution comes, the unbelievers would pinpoint me instantly as one of those loyal Christians! Such a history makes me grateful for America's history, which thus far has included no such persecution.

  2. I am thinking that I should go back and read through Foxe's Book of Martyrs! It is amazing how inspiring this story was and other accounts of Christians loyal to Jesus can be.
    Loyal to Jesus!

  3. Thank you, Lauren and Mikaela, for your comments! The testimonies of persecuted Christians, from the past and present, are truly an example for all of us. While I question the depth of my courage and loyalty if I faced such times, I know it is only by God's grace that we are able to stand for Him. I am very thankful for the men and women "who have gone before" to inspire and encourage us.