Bro. William Okello's Testimony
About October 1976, my course at Wilson Airport came to an end and I had to return to Uganda. I was posted to Entebbe International Airport to commence work as an air traffic controller. I believe the protective hand of God was behind this timing, for a few months prior to my departure, the Israeli commandos had swooped in on the airport and rescued Jewish hostages held captive by Palestinian guerrillas. At that time the country was under the leadership of a ruthless president - Idi Amin. His response to the Israeli raid was immediate. A number of air traffic controllers were rounded up and summarily put to death and their bodies dumped in a forest on the clearly unreasonable charge they had connived with the Israelis.
When I arrived at Entebbe I was put in a hotel for two weeks and required to find my own accommodation after that. My first move as a Christian was to look for a fellowship of believers of like faith but there was none. At the hotel I became acquainted with a couple that belonged to the Deliverance Church (I made mention of this church earlier in the story). They offered to put my family up in their home after the expiry of the two weeks allowed us at the hotel. Then I was to experience my first major test of faith. By now I had a clear understanding of 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, especially verse 17, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord." On the basis of this, I flatly refused to join their church and stayed home on Sundays and from other meetings. They took offence at this and, after consulting their pastor, gave me an ultimatum: I had either to be seen to be one of them or I had to pack my belongings and get out of their house within two days. I told them this notice was rather too short and not the sort one Christian would give another.
Towards the end of the two days, they firmly reminded me of the deadline. I pleaded with them to allow me a few more days to organize to send my family to the village. After I had dispatched my family to the countryside, I packed all my possessions in a room and since I did not feel welcome anymore, I chose to spend that night in intense prayer in the thick woods at Entebbe Botanical Gardens. This was my first (and solo) overnight prayer meeting! The next day, I went back to check on my belongings and went out again asking God to lead me to where I could find a room to rent. Those were very difficult times in Uganda and the construction industry, like the rest of the economy had ground to a halt due to the government's so called 'economic war' initiated by the expulsion of Asians who had been the economic power bloc in the country. As a result vacant properties were almost impossible to come by. Then I met one of my senior managers at work during this walk about. I stopped him and inquired about the availability of a room in his servant's quarters. Yes, there was a room at his place he told me and what was more he would offer it to me cheaply. I rejoiced at this development, thanked God for it and moved in immediately.
The year now was 1977 and I had already introduced the Message to my brother Charles, who in turn introduced it to our other brother Peter (both have been active pastors in Uganda for several years now). That is when I came to discover that the Message had already taken root in my hometown of Soroti. Through these brethren, I learnt that there were indeed believers at Entebbe where I was based. However when I met them I was somewhat disappointed because they were borderline believers of the Message and did not have a proper regular service. God led me to organize them into a regular church with Sunday and mid week meetings at my residence, and that was my first call into the pastoral office. We were about ten souls and due to the great expectation placed on the year 1977, our small fellowship went into serious prayer. As we had no building suitable for overnight prayer meetings, we usually gathered at the shores of Lake Victoria by the Entebbe Botanical Gardens sitting on hard rock and calling upon the Lord throughout the night. There were usually three of us but the third brother could not stand the bitter cold compounded by the breeze from the lake and would not continue for long.
This was a small sweet fellowship full of zeal as is usual in those with newfound faith in the Message and it worked - for sometime. I say for sometime because later in the year the government under Idi Amin outlawed all religious movements in the country with the exception of the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and the Islamic religions. All churches of born again Christians were closed and whatever meetings took place were held in secret in private homes. (On hindsight, I believe that God was behind this ban, because the infant Message churches at that time were enduring persecution and mockery from other 'born again' Christians. Tracts were being circulated warning the others against the Message. I remember one describing us as 'spiritual pickpockets' due to the fact that the Message was drawing believers from other churches. After the government ban, this persecution dropped dramatically and by the time the new government came in the Message had gained strong ground).
Now our meetings at Entebbe were being held at my residence, which was in the servants' quarters of the said manager. We had a straight choice: either to continue the meetings or bow down to the government ban and break up. We elected to continue the meetings. This created a concern in my landlord and he reminded me of the ban on religious sects and that he did not wish to have his home used for defying the government. To make matters more complicated, my next-door neighbour at the servants' quarters was a soldier in the army, and what was more he was from the same tribe as Idi Amin! However he and his wife were quite friendly towards my family and I did not view him as a danger. About two weeks after my landlord had reminded me of the illegality of sects, he asked me to quit his property. Of course I could understand his concerns, but as we had such zeal for meetings and for the Message, we could not countenance discontinuing prayer services. Again I did what I had done before: I prayed and went for a walk about in search of a vacant room. God in his goodness led me to a room in downtown Entebbe (the previous property had been in the suburbs). It was bigger than the previous one, but in a further test of nerve the landlady was from among 'Amin's people'! I had no choice however but to accept her offer of the room. Because most of the believers were students, the time came when their studies had to end and they had to leave Entebbe. As a result we did not have many meetings at this new place.
As I mentioned earlier, the economic situation in Uganda at this time was quite bleak indeed. The monthly salary would last about four days or at best a week that was when spent on the very bare necessities. To make ends meet we fried peanuts and made the housemaid to sell them in the market by the roadside while my wife and I cultivated food crops in whatever land was available in the town. This was the practice for most urban workers throughout the country and the town and city councils turned a blind eye to the use of their parks and plots for agricultural purposes. Short of abandoning employment or engaging in criminal acts there was practically no alternative for most workers. Graduates in employment lived in garages and so my room was modest in comparison. Because planting one's own crops was the main means of sustenance, I was therefore quite pleased when God, not long after, provided me a better place - a small bungalow rented by my employer and which was allocated to me as a matter of priority due to my having a family. It was set in about one acre of fertile land and full of several kinds of fruit trees. The landlord gave me full authority to use his land to plant whatever I had need of and he charged me to ensure none of the surrounding villagers made use of his land. In short, he gave me custody of his land and this was because he lived in another part of the country and only turned up once in a while to check on his estate. He also gave me permission to eat of the fruits of the fruit trees in his land. I could hardly have wished for more and for the first time I had no food problems and was now able to buy things I could not afford before.
(Next: Interlude - How the Message first came to Uganda)