Devastating Enlightenment


Tears streamed down my face as I listened to a Ugandan pastor one Sunday morning in the spring of 1977. I was completing my last semester of law school, and this pastor was describing the horrors experienced by Christians living under the brutal regime of Idi Amin.

The pastor was regarded as an enemy by Amin and had to flee the country while the rest of his family was in hiding. Several times the pastor reentered the country to meet with church leaders, who continued to hold worship services in clandestine locations. His plea was impassioned: “Cry out to God for my homeland! Pray for believers who are suffering and dying!”

He recounted several stories of people who had been dragged from their homes in the middle of the night and ordered to recant their faith in Christ. If they refused, they were gunned down on the spot. Men, women and children were slaughtered indiscriminately. At times, entire villages were massacred.

The depth of this dictator’s depravity is nearly impossible to fathom. It is estimated that 300,000 or more died under his cruel hand. One news account reported, “So many corpses are thrown into the Nile that workers at one location have to continuously fish them out to stop the intake ducts at a nearby dam from being clogged.”

Idi Amin was known by several names. The people of Uganda called him Big Daddy. Newscasters referred to him as the Butcher of Africa. He liked to call himself the Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea. Such incredible arrogance! No wonder he saw Christians as a threat to his rule, since they served and worshiped the one, true Lord of All.

For the eight years that he was in power, Amin lived in opulence while his subjects endured poverty. He had four wives, 30 mistresses and anything money could buy. Anyone who dared oppose him was summarily eliminated, usually along with that person’s family. Even Amin himself could not calculate the amount of blood that was shed by his command.

As I listened to the stories, I could not help myself—I wept. I tried not to be obvious. It wasn’t “macho” to sit there and cry uncontrollably. My tears were evoked in part by the sheer enormity of the crimes that were committed, and because I was appalled to think that I, 24 years old and about to graduate from law school, was so completely ignorant of the reality that Christians were suffering in other parts of the world. How could I be so out of touch? Here I was, comfortable in my American church while my brothers and sisters in Christ were being maimed and killed for their faith. It was a devastating enlightenment.

I didn’t grow up in a missions-oriented church, and no one had ever told me about the persecution of Christians in other places. Today, I know that more Christians have died for their faith in the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries combined. And the persecution continues. If the first years of the 21st century are any indication, and if the political and social realities of our current world order remain in place, this century will far outpace the last in the number slain for faith in Christ.

That Sunday morning, half a lifetime ago, is one reason why I cherish my place in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. I shed those tears in the sanctuary of the church I pastor today. Three decades hence, I continue to grieve for lost humanity and weep over the cruel ravages of sin. The cry of that Ugandan church leader is joined by a countless throng of others—some voices near at hand, some more distant—and we must never lose our zeal for the redemptive work that has been appointed to the Church.

“Bear the news to every land—Jesus saves! Jesus saves!”

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