Janani Luwum was born in 1922 at Acholi in Uganda. His childhood and youth were spent as a goatherd but he quickly showed an ability to learn and absorb knowledge when given the opportunity. Soon after he became a teacher, he was converted to Christianity and was eventually ordained in 1956, becoming Bishop of Northern Uganda in 1969 and Archbishop of Uganda in 1974. Idi Amin had come to power in Uganda in 1971 as the result of a military coup and his undemocratic and harsh rule was the subject of much criticism by the Church and others. After receiving a letter from the bishops protesting at the virtual institution of state murder, Janani and two of Amin’s own government ministers were stated as having been found dead following a car accident. It emerged quickly that they had in fact died on the implicit instructions of the President. Janani’s enthusiasm for the good news of Jesus, combined with his willingness to sacrifice even his own life for what he believed in, led him to his martyrdom on on 17th February in 1977.
St John 12. 24-32
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Janani was fond of an expression which he learnt as young man “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.” We can see this fixity of purpose as a mark of discipleship ‘where I am, my servant will be there also’. When many of his friends within Uganda and from around the world could see the storm clouds gathering they begged Janani to escape from the country. He gently refused , saying ‘if I, the shepherd, flee, what will happen to the sheep?’
It is easy for us to be moved by the self sacrifice of another. The question comes as we attempt to live the life of Jesus today in the power that the Holy Spirit gives, in what area of life are we called to put the needs of others above our own.
Lord Jesus, some said it was thunder; we know differently, we hear you, Grant us the grace of self sacrifice, in the small matters of life as well as in the great, so that when opinions are loudly voiced, we testify with our lives, to the truth we see in you, Amen
The Rev’d Richard Church, member of Streatham URC, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship)