Meeting Janani Luwum

Janani Luwum, as Bishop of Northern Uganda, had heard that I had arrived in Gulu and he came to meet me

After completing my law degree, I became a barrister before becoming a judge in the Uganda High Court. 

I was posted to Gulu, Northern Uganda, by the Acting Chief Justice, Mr Justice Saied of the High Court of Uganda – to get the Courts going again in the absence of the Chief Magistrate. This was an area that had suffered greatly from the brutality of Idi Amin's regime. Gulu itself had more widows and orphans at that time than elsewhere in Uganda.  

Janani Luwum, as Bishop of Northern Uganda, based in Gulu, had heard that I had arrived in Gulu and he came to meet me. This tall, imposing figure gave me a huge hug – I almost disappeared in his bosom. ‘Praise the Lord and thank you for coming to this strong and yet currently sad part of Uganda. God has answered our prayers!’

Back at his residence, a fairly humble homestead, a feast had been prepared. Janani Luwum lost no opportunity in telling me that he wanted to build up this muganda from the South into a strong future judge, like the Acoli tribal warriors. He asked me to become the Chancellor of his diocese and to assist him in alleviating the plight of many refugees from the Sudan. ‘We must be Christ to these people: Be our advocate and take up their cases. The local prison is filled to capacity with innocent people suspected of opposing the government. Even wearing a mini-skirt is a crime.’

We must be Christ to these people: Be our advocate and take up their cases.

Bishop Janani Luwum

This was a task I gladly undertook, and Janani Luwum was a wonderful pattern and witness, and an inspiration to me as I worked with him amongst the troubles and challenges in this part of Uganda.

Janani Luwum strongly believed that it was the abdication of power in the country, like the World Bank, Tribalism, Idi Amin, who were only too ready to flex their muscles. It was important for the Church to learn and develop the proper disciplines of exercising power.

Abdication of the exercise of power was not a moral option. For him, abdication was as much an abuse of power as was the oppression of others with one’s power.

For, as John Stuart Mill said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” (Address at the University of St Andrew, 1 February 1867)

As a High Court Judge, I was aware of the danger faced by many ordinary people who fell foul of Idi Amin’s army.  I sometimes judged that it would be safer for someone to be sent to jail even if they were innocent, in order to keep them out of harm’s way.  I was outspoken against the deportation of the Ugandan Asians and I refused to overlook the crimes of one of Amin’s cousins and sent him to prison. As a result, I was arrested after defying an order to deliver a non-guilty verdict and then badly beaten in a prison cell. I suffered severe internal injuries but throughout my imprisonment and the beatings the words of the bible came to me -Colossians 3:3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’  No matter what they did to my body, it would not change me as a person. Soon after, Margaret and I were forced to flee Uganda or be killed. It was just three weeks after we had married.

Janani Luwum was one good man who could not keep silent in the face of the cruelty and oppression practised by Idi Amin and his soldiers. He had committed his life to Christ as a young school teacher in his home village. When he surrendered his life to Christ in 1948 – a year before I was born - he spoke these prophetic words:

Today I have become a leader in Christ’s army. I am prepared to die in the army of Jesus. As Jesus shed his blood for the people, if it is God’s will, I do the same.

Bishop Janani Luwum

He may not have realized that such wholehearted commitment may bring its own dangers. But in the years between making that statement and his martyrdom in 1977, he had gone on to become ordained, to take up a key leadership role in the Church of Uganda, never ceasing to preach the joy, peace and forgiveness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all he met. When he was murdered, I vowed that “You killed my friend, I take his place”.  30 years after Janani’s death, I launched the Archbishop Janani Luwum Trust in Westminster Abbey.

Janani Luwum never feared to challenge those whom he felt were deserting the Church in Uganda. Eleven months after his conversion he was moved to address an open-air meeting at All Saints Church in Kitgum.

The Holy Spirit has been showing me now many educated men are deserting the Church. When the Church dies out of existence, they won’t be there to take the blame. I feel deeply convicted that if the church faces extinction in this my native land, I will be around to die first before the Church falls, collapses or dies. It will have to collapse on me. I totally surrender myself to the Church.

Bishop Janani Luwum

He would constantly quote a saying from his apprenticeship as a hunter, "The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it."

During his ministry he confronted tribalism, religious rivalry and despotism in Uganda. Today he would be busy confronting the demons of our time: Idolatry (the worship of God falsely conceived), materialism, sectarianism and race-ism.

His heart would be rent open by the suffering and oppression in the world. Janani would have thundered, "Enough is enough". His spilled blood is crying out not for vengeance but for justice and reconciliation.

Janani Luwum's martyrdom, witness, came because he daily walked Jesus, daily lived Jesus and daily knew Jesus. And like the hymn of the Uganda Martyrs, he was set free to soar, and make his eternal home with Jesus Christ:

Daily, daily sing the praises

Of the city God hath made;

In the beauteous Field of Eden

Its foundation-stones are laid.


If I had wings

I would fly and go

To that beauteous city of God.

Whose foundations by Christ were laid.