St. Janani Luwum Day (February 16)
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), an American writer, humourist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer also known by his pen name Mark Twain once remarked: “The two important days in your life are, the day you are born and the day you find out why.” The former day is important because without it, one wouldn’t exist. While the latter day is important because one discovers why he has been born. On 6th January, 1948, a young schoolteacher in Northern Uganda—Janani Luwum had his second important day when he realised why he was born.
On his conversion to Jesus Christ, which others would like to refer as conversion to Charismatic Christianity, Janani discovered why he was born: to serve the Lord Jesus Christ even to the point of death. On his conversion, Janani is said to have remarked:
“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 his people, if it is God’s will, I do the same.”
Twenty-nine years later, Janani indeed shed his blood for God’s people, he was murdered in a cold blood by the then tyrannical president of the Republic of Uganda Idi Amin Dada.
Born in 1922 in the remote village of Mchwini in the North of Uganda, Janani Luwum became a schoolteacher and later committed his life to the service of God and eventually ended in Church ministry. He joined theological training and was ordained priest in 1956. Ten years later, Janani took a high-profile leadership position in the Province of the Anglican Church of Uganda as a provincial secretary. Three years later, Janani was elected and consecrated bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Northern Uganda on 25th January 1969. Because of his excellent leadership skills and courage, in 1974 Janani was elected the archbishop of the Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga-Zaire during the turbulent regime of president Idi Amin. As he foresaw twenty-nine years ago, Janani Luwum’s life was indeed “poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from his faith” (Philippians 4:17).
Archbishop Janani Luwum’s legacy is self-proclamatory. Janani Luwum indeed offered himself fully to the service of Christ. I read some of his Charismatic experiences with a lot of awe. On his conversion, Janani longed to see everyone around him converted too. His desire to see his people know Christ is evidently seen in his post conversion statement: “When I was converted, after realising that my sins were forgiven and the implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I was overwhelmed by a sense of joy and peace. I suddenly found myself climbing a tree to tell those in the school compound to repent and turn to Jesus Christ. From time to time I spoke in tongues. I stayed up that tree for a long time.”
Janani was a typical Zealot, he was zealous to see that his local church never dies and he was ready to die for the church. After a year of his conversion, Janani was quoted while preaching at an open-air meeting saying;
“The Holy Spirit has been showing me how 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 fall on me. I totally surrender myself to the Church.”
Janani’s legacy goes beyond his zeal for the church to his zeal for the Nation. He loved Uganda, he loved Ugandans and he wouldn’t like to see his countrymen live in oppression—in fact, not just an oppression but mass extrajudicial killings by the president. Janani played his prophetic role as a Christian leader by confronting the face of injustice. He wouldn’t like to see the church he led side with the oppressor by keeping silent in the face of oppression. He articulated: “What is important for the Church is her commitment to the Christian principles and ideals and she must always be conscious of her role of leading her people to stand firm on these ideals. The Church is sometimes referred to as the ‘conscience of the people’ through her members and leaders in public life who speak for the poor and the ‘underdog’ of our society.”
Three years into service as the Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire, as the church was preparing to celebrate a centenary of ministry in Uganda, Janani Luwum was brutally murdered on 16th February, 1977 by president Idi Amin Dada. The man of God was not a coward, he had discovered his purpose of life—to serve Christ with an undivided allegiance. The evening when he was last seen by his brother bishops, one of the last words Janani spoke to his colleague bishop Festo Kivengere was an affirmation of what he spoke after his conversion; “They are going to kill me. I am not afraid.” Indeed, the man of God was killed not so many hours after he made this statement. Today, Janani Luwum is regarded as one of the twentieth century martyr and saint by the Global Anglican Communion. His statue, erected in July 1998 stands high at the Western Entrance of Westminster Abby in London.
The legacy of Janani Luwum speaks volumes. If there is but one inspiration from the life of Janani Luwum I am to mention, it is the discovery of the purpose for his birth. On his encounter with Christ, Janani’s eyes were opened, the Lord Jesus revealed to Janani his calling. Before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, he was set apart to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. From the day he discovered why he was born, Janani seemed to have lived every single moment of his life to fulfil his life’s purpose. There is nothing more precious than to discover your purpose in life. Only God, the creator of every single individual can reveal the purpose for our individual lives. It therefore is prudent for us to pray to God as the Psalmist did; “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me” (Psalm 57:2 ESV).
When we discover the divine purpose of our lives, we can fully commit our all to it, even to the point of death.
This is why Janani Luwum was able to courageously say: “I am prepared to die in the army of Jesus,” because he knew that he was born to serve in the army of Jesus. Have you discovered why you were born?
Rev. Julius Izza Tabi is a PhD in Theology Student of Uganda Christian University with a research interest in Moral Theology and African Christian Theology. Julius is also a reader in Integral Christian Education, Philosophy of Christian Education and Inculturational Theology. Rev. Tabi is a Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Ma’di and West Nile in the Church of Uganda. He is the Dean of Students’ Affairs and a Lecturer at the Arua Campus of Uganda Christian University. Julius, his wife Oliver and two sons; Samuel and Shemuel live in Arua, in the West Nile Province of Uganda.
 The biography and sayings of Janani Luwum quoted have been picked from “The Legacy of St. Janani Luwum 1922-1977” edited by Okello Modicum, 2015 and “All the Rage from the Church of Uganda” in Courage 1(3), 2009 published by the Church of Uganda.