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Festo Kivengere

1919 to 1988
Anglican (Balokole Mvt)
Uganda

Festo Kivengere, "the Billy Graham of Africa," was a Ugandan Christian leader who
faced the wrath of the brutal dictator Idi Amin. Unlike Janni Luwum, who had been
killed by Amin, Kivengere and his family fled the country. He returned after Amin's
downfall to continue an active ministry until his death by leukemia in 1988.

Born in 1919 in a rural setting among the semi-nomadic rural pastoralists of


southwest Uganda, Festo Kivengere belonged to a pagan ruling family. He spent his
early life as a cattle herder, where he would read children's books about Jesus while
herding calves. At about age ten he joined a mission school established in his village
and was eventually sent away for higher education, after which he returned to his
village as a teacher. Converted to Christianity during a revival meeting, Kivengere
became a pastor and eventually Anglican bishop of Kigezi. After study in England and
a trip to Australia he was asked to translate into Swahili the sermons of the American
evangelist Billy Graham, who developed such confidence in Kivengere that he told
him, "Don't bother to translate literally. You know what I mean, get that across."
Kivengere and Graham became lifelong friends. The young African evangelist shared
the platform with Graham on American revival tours and eventually formed his own
African Evangelic Enterprise.

His own growth in the church coincided with the increasing excesses of the ruler who
has been called "Africa's Hitler," and Kivengere was forced to flee his country. But he
was not bitter because of the experience. He wrote a book called I Love Idi Amin in
which he wrote, "On the cross, Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, because they don't
know what they are doing.' As evil as Idi Amin was, how can I do less toward him?"

Kivengere had met with Idi Amin to voice his opposition to the killing in 1973 of
three men from his diocese by a government firing squad on a trumped-up charge:

February 10 began as a sad day for us in Kabale. People were commanded to come
to the stadium and witness the execution. Death permeated the atmosphere. A silent
crowd of about three thousand was there ready to watch. I had permission from the
authorities to speak to the men before they died, and two of my fellow ministers
were with me. They brought the men in a truck and unloaded them. They were
handcuffed and their feet were chained. The firing squad stood at attention. As we
walked into the center of the stadium, I was wondering what to say. How do you
give the Gospel to doomed men who are probably seething with rage?

We approached them from behind, and as they turned to look at us, what a sight!
Their faces were all alight with an unmistakable glow and radiance. Before we could
say anything, one of them burst out: "Bishop, thank you for coming! I wanted to tell
you. The day I was arrested, in my prison cell, I asked the Lord Jesus to come into
my heart. He came in and forgave me all my sins! Heaven is now open, and there is
nothing between me and my God! Please tell my wife and children that I am going to
be with Jesus. Ask them to accept him into their lives as I did." The other two men
told similar stories, excitedly raising their hands, which rattled their handcuffs.
I felt that what I needed to do was to talk to the soldiers, not to the condemned. So
I translated what the men had said into a language the soldiers understood. The
military men were standing there with guns cocked and bewilderment on their faces.
They were so dumbfounded that they forgot to put the hoods over the men's faces!
The three faced the firing squad standing close together. They looked toward the
people and began to wave, handcuffs and all. The people waved back. Then shots
were fired, and the three were with Jesus.
Forgiveness, reconciliation, and proclamation were the three cornerstones of
Kivengere's ministry, which continued until his death. Uganda, the country with
perhaps the largest number of martyrs per square kilometer in Africa, also has one
of the densest populations of active witnessing Christians.[1]
Almighty God, ruler of all nations, we give you thanks for the steadfast witness of
your servant Festo Kivengere. Through his life we learn of your enduring presence
among us; through his death we know that pain and fear are left behind at the gate
of your eternal kingdom, where dwell the blessed dead in life everlasting, with Jesus
Christ our Savior. Amen.

Frederick Quinn

Festo Kivengere: Keswick Theology Matures in East Africa


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Theologically, the influence of Keswick theology upon the East Africa Revival
cannot be overstated. For Joe Church, the team approach to evangelism was
performed in little ‘Keswicks’ across East Africa.[1] More has been said about
this in my previous post. Still, while there is reason for critique of Early
Keswick Theology in Europe or America,[2] there are at least two positive
effects of Keswick theology on the East African movement.

First, the emphasis on personal and public confession of sin led to a perceived
atmosphere of humility. More than anyone, the missionaries were in need of
this. One of the hallmarks of missions in the high imperial period was an air of
superiority and paternalism from the missionaries towards “primitive” peoples.
Had this attitude remained, the people of East Africa may have spiraled back
into paganism. Keswick theology begins with human sin and moves individuals
toward introspection, repentance, and daily consecration. The most obvious
sins of the missionaries were pride, prejudice and racism. The public
confession of these sins to the nationals not only humbled the missionary but
elevated the national. A sense of equality emerged. Christianity moved from
being perceived as a European religion to an African religion (really, a global
religion).
Second, prior to the revival, many of the “Christians” of East Africa were but
baptized pagans. Paternalism breeds weak Christians. This has been
increasingly documented by missiologists. The Enlightenment driven
missiology, that emphasize external conformity rather than worldview change,
encouraged this type of syncretism.[3] The implementation of Early Keswick
Theology exposed these falsehoods. Personal salvation was emphasized;
furthermore, a certain level of Christian fruitfulness was expected. Right or
wrong, there a clear dividing line between filled/unfilled, saved/unsaved was
being drawn. Legalism aside, baptized paganism was no longer an option.

On the other hand, negatively, Keswick theology led to all sorts of other
legalisms, elitisms, and excesses. These have been roundly identified, though
not always blamed on the views of Early Keswick Theology. The excesses
have been blamed on the Africans’ culture, not on the theology that drove the
movement. That is unfortunate.

Joe Church, William Nagenda, Festo Kivengere

Sermon: The Triumph of God’s Glory — Festo Kivengere

Festo Kivengere and the Maturing Global Movement

Nonetheless, the Revival movement did not settle for an imported theology.
Particularly with Festo Kivengere, the movement matured. John Senyonyi
identifies three emphases in Festo’s preaching: (1) the Cross of Jesus; (2) the
Love of Jesus; and (3) the Holy Spirit.[4] Festo became an international
advocate for the love of Christ, exemplified in the cross. The Cross is where the
love of God is exemplified, in that Jesus paid for sin. At the cross, all sinners
are seen equally. The love of God was demonstrated in the cross because that is
where Jesus died on behalf of sinners. The Holy Spirit testifies to the Jesus
through the word. It was Jesus who went to the cross to conquer sinners’ sin.
Rather than preaching “Revival” or about the revival, Festo preached Jesus.
Senyonyi argues that this is where Festo excelled over the revival, in that he
focused so much on the love of God through the cross.[5] The revival message
was not that revival had come; rather, the revival message was that Jesus had
come, died on the cross for each sinner, and raised from the dead. The revival
quickly matured because of this christo-centric focus. This also led Festo and
other revival leaders to fight against splinter movements within the revival that
tried to add another step in the gospel, such as the “reawakening” movement.
[6] That the revival leaders took these steps without outside intervention
demonstrated the maturity of the revival. Therefore, the revival may have
begun as Keswick, but as its leaders matured, so did its theology.

Another key element of the revival was that it was trans-denominational. The
Keswick Ruandan mission found more in common with the various Protestant
Alliances than with the Anglican Church. The ‘balokole’ never split from the
Church of Uganda, to its credit, but the revival was not solely among
Anglicans. Brethren, Seventh Day Adventists, Mennonites, Baptist, Methodists,
etc, were all touched by the revival both within and without East Africa. Festo
Kivengere, though an Anglican Bishop, ministered largely in the broader
evangelical world, through the East African Evangelistic Association, and
through the global ministries of Billy Graham. Therefore, the revival had a
definite global evangelical flavor.[7]