I was born, sixth of 13 children, on 10 June 1949 into Uganda’s Buffalo Clan.

My parents feared that I would not survive the night, I weighed a little over 4lbs, so I was baptized immediately.  I was very sickly as a young boy and growing up I thought of studying medicine and initially wanted to become a surgeon.

I used to walk to school with my brothers and sisters, our primary school was a mile away and it meant getting up early. We were taught by English missionaries. We used to recite our times tables along the way to pass the journey time. Later on, when I went to Secondary School, the journey was 12 miles, so I had to walk 24 miles each day. I was very fortunate because an English teacher, John Morris, kindly bought me a Raleigh bicycle to help me get there and back with all my schoolbooks. That made a huge difference to my school-days.  He also taught me drama, which I enjoyed very much.  It was a great delight to me to produce and act in plays with my friends.  Later, I went on to study engineering for a short period before transferring to study law at Makerere University and at the Law Development Centre. 

The first call to ministry came when I was ten years old and I haven’t looked back since. I started preaching at the age of 17. Ministry comes out of our response to be a follower of Jesus.

As the African proverb says, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

Growing up in a large family and living in a village there was always a sense of togetherness and of each person making a valuable contribution. 

Mum looked after everyone and above her kitchen sink was a sign that read ‘Divine service offered three times a day’. She was an inspiration to me and taught me how to cook.  My mother used to say to me:

John, God gave you two eyes, two ears and one mouth. Use them in proportion

So I try to listen twice as much as I speak.

Dad was a Headteacher who encouraged all of us to do our best and one of my earliest memories was that he gave each of us a small plot of land to grow vegetables and fruit together – I earned the fees I needed to finish school by gardening.  Dad was also a preacher and his hospitality was such that there was always room for one more.

At the age of 24, I became an Advocate of the High Court of Uganda and was called to the Bar and the Bench.  In 1973, Margaret and I married.


Source URL: https://www.archbishopofyork.org/john-sentamu/uganda/family-and-growing

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