Ugandan bishop, people ‘going through pain’

By on February 1, 1999
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The lines of agony and loss are etched deeply into the face of 62-year old MacLeord Baker Ochola. He is not a bitter man. War has devastated his land and people. His wife was torn apart by a landmine in May of last year, his daughter died in the face of terrorists.

Nevertheless, the Bishop of Kitgum in Northern Uganda remains resolute in the face of suffering and pain. He is not alone. His people share his grief and loss. Above all else Bishop Ochola knows that God has walked with him through the valley of the shadow of death and he fears no evil.

“We are going through our pain together,” he said in an interview at Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, PA, which is where he came to preach on Persecuted Church Sunday (Nov. 8).

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‘On one day alone 400 of my people were massacred.’ Rt. Rev. MacLeord Baker Ochola

Bishop of Kitgum in Northern Uganda

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He came to shatter the silence. “Enough is enough. This 12-year-old war must end,” he cried from the pulpit. “On one day alone 400 of my people were massacred. All were Christians,” he said, the tears welling up in his eyes.

“Everybody in my diocese is traumatized. People are dying in war, of famine, malnutrition, drought, diseases, and we have moral problems resulting in large numbers of people dying of AIDS. On top of this, some 360,000 refugees have poured into the Sudan, 140,000 of whom are Christians. They are looking for safety and food. Our resources are few. Livelihoods and livestock are exhausted. We need help.”

However, the bishop is not allowing the circumstances of his life to defeat him. He sees hope. Eighty per cent of the six million people in Uganda are now Christian (20 per cent are Muslim). Forty-five per cent are Anglican and 51 per cent are Roman Catholic. They work together where they can to resolve the massive problems they face daily in their land-locked country. Militancy is not a problem in the northern part of the country. “Our priests bury three to five people every day from starvation,” said the bishop.

Bishop Ochola is no armchair bishop. He’s an evangelist who started out proclaiming the Gospel from the roof of his car in Northern Uganda 20 years ago. Today he has some 26 parishes, five archdeacons and his diocese covers 16,000 square kilometers. Unnumbered thousands of converts can be found in the second-largest diocese in the Province of Uganda as living proof that the Gospel changes lives and works even in one of the most distraught places on earth.

“Persecution and suffering make you strong,” he said. “You know the presence of the Lord in the deepest crisis. The blood of the martyrs is still the seed of the church. We are going from strength to strength. It brings us all closer together. The family unit and the extended family remain strong, and we are raising up the next generation of seminarians for the expanding mission and growth of the church.”

To get an idea of what it costs to maintain a diocese, Bishop Ochola receives a monthly salary of about $400. His 31 clergy receive less than $150. His five archdeacons get almost $300. He needs about $115,000 a year to run the whole diocese as well as to educate his ordinands. He has no income, assets or ability to contribute to those operating costs. There is no funding from any source.

Bishop Ochola has no phone and must drive 500 kilometres to Kampala to make a call. Electricity is sparse and he would love to have a four-wheel-drive, even a used one, to get around his diocese. A satellite telephone and a laptop computer are luxury items he dreams of, “just to be in touch now and then with my fellow Ugandan bishops,” he said. He smiles at the thought of such advanced technology. “Perhaps one day it will be possible.”

This article first appeared in the Christian Challenge.