What’s church like in Uganda?

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Zillah Whitehouse shares how growing up in a student church in Manchester prepared her for the joys and challenges of the church she attends in Uganda.

Working with students

I have now lived in Mbarara for nine years, where I teach Physiotherapy in the University. My church is St. Luke’s Chapel which is the Anglican church for the Mbarara University of Science and Technology. It is a medium sized church for Uganda with about 300 people worshipping together on Sundays – over 90% of them are students.

Discovering your role…

Laura is a physio student and member of St. Luke’s who has recently attended the Kairos course, which encourages people to think about their role in God’s mission.

“I thank God that I had an opportunity to attend the Kairos course because my knowledge and approach to missionary work has changed, especially reaching out to the least reached people groups of the world. I have always had a passion for missionary work from the day I understood that God desires that all men are reconciled unto himself. Through Kairos I have learnt how to effectively preach cross-culturally. This has enabled me to preach even to my friends and students who come from other faiths, countries and cultures at the university where I am currently. I have also developed an urge to pray more each day for the least reached people groups that more missionaries will be sent to those countries.”

Student churches are vibrant places. The energy is contagious. When I was growing up I wanted to be a student; now I am twice their age I feel I am being kept young! St. Luke’s has a structure that is more like a university Christian Union with students heading most of the ministries. They do a great job!

Raising up young leaders

Uganda has one of the youngest populations of the world with 77% of the population under 30 years old. This means that university graduates quickly take on leadership roles within their jobs and churches. Churches such as St Luke’s and the nearby University Baptist Church are ripe as training grounds for future leaders. The AIM team that I am part of in Mbarara has the privilege of being able to work with these young people as they grow in their faith and develop understanding of their unique giftings. For those I teach as well, I get to walk alongside them for a large part of their life and share the challenges of integrating faith and work. We don’t do this alone. St Luke’s has a small but strong non-student fellowship of professionals who are purposeful about engaging in building one another up and supporting the students’ work.

A counter-cultural calling

These churches are also sending churches. University courses are three to five years and then the majority leave Mbarara to find jobs elsewhere in Uganda or abroad. At the moment the main pull is to the cities or more resource-developed countries where remuneration and living standards are better. But increasingly there are students who are trying to pursue where God may want them to go even if this defies the cultural expectations. There are many challenges, pressure to fund younger siblings through school or to get married quickly, can be strong. However, St. Luke’s, along with other churches in Uganda are beginning to explore how to respond to this and their role in God’s mission to reach all nations. It is a joy to be able to share with them in this.

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There are so many ways you can be a part of reaching Africa's unreached peoples with the good news of Jesus Christ.