Making an impact: Bundibugyo, Western Uganda

The staple diet of the Church of Uganda’s BUILD Unit is to train trainers who reach out to local church leaders across Uganda with essential biblical knowledge and ministry skills. Those leaders, in turn, influence co-workers and churches, and the lives of those around them. But the BUILD team is also involved in direct work with individual churches and communities in a range of ways, which has included schools work and basic HIV & AIDS education for example.

One intervention grew from an invitation to train leaders in the neglected area of Bundibugyo in the west of Uganda, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. And, following a recent BUILD training event there, it is worth looking back at the genesis of the work there around a decade ago.

Bundibugyo is a community with significant deprivation: with few committed Christians and high levels of drug and alcohol abuse. Livelihoods have suffered through poor farming practices, low education levels and a lack of financial skills with which to handle the modest income from crop sales. In the midst of this poverty trap, a Uganda-based agricultural business – one that is committed to the area and has a Christian director and ethos – constructed a beautiful new church building, St Philip’s, to replace one on the Church of Uganda land the company had purchased for its new factory.

However, to some peoples’ surprise, very few came to the new building, the real church had yet to be built. BUILD was invited into the situation to not only train leaders and build a congregation, but to reach out with the gospel, influence other churches in the area and bring change to people’s lives. The approach was simply to equip church leaders to handle the Bible and to help them apply it to areas of church and community life, alongside additional training in sustainable agriculture. Using the new church building as a venue, training began with 30 local leaders in 2008. Within a year numbers had grown, with over 125 involved, increasing to 140 by 2010. Follow-up training was done in six local centres, with one church attracting over 150 participants. Wider evaluation of BUILD’s impact in the area found numerical growth in congregations; improved stewardship and giving; new Bible study groups and youth groups forming; and people gaining and using new agricultural skills. And many had transformed attitudes to saving and a more hopeful outlook.

When these localised efforts began in 2008 there were fewer than 20 people attending Sunday worship in the new church building. Now over 400 people gather regularly to worship the living God, with youth fellowships, children’s activities and Bible study groups in place. And with a well-trained leader to oversee the people he has equipped, the groups are sustainable. The church also reaches out to those around them in different ways. This mission focus continues so that at one event at the beginning of this month 132 people responded to the gospel. The church building now has a real church at its heart – a congregation that understands its purpose and is reaching out to the community to which it belongs.

Finally, one other unexpected outcome early on in the outreach was the first ever writing and translation in the local minority language. Lubwisi had no orthography let alone Scriptures. Local leaders were asking for genuine local training, not in their second language or third language, but in their first. Partnership with translators and others providentially led to the first writing and part of the Bible in Lubwisi: Second Timothy, the text BUILD Module One is based on, so that leaders could begin their learning in their own language.