If He Could Touch Inmates, He Can Touch the Wounded North

SOURCE: Weekly Observer

August 26, 2009

By Michael Mubangizi

If Rev. Canon. Johnson Gakumba had a choice, he would have voted someone else as Bishop of Northern Uganda Diocese, but the House of Bishops, considered the humble Gakumba the right man for the job.

The House of Bishops on August 8, 2009, elected Gakumba Bishop of Northern Uganda. He will be consecrated on December 20, 2009 at St. Philips Cathedral, Gulu replacing Rt. Rev. Nelson Onono Onweng.

Currently a Vicar at the Church of the Resurrection, Bugolobi Church of Uganda, Gakumba told The Observer, "I never expected it; in fact I prayed against it. There are people with Masters and higher qualifications than me," says Gakumba who has a bachelor's degree in Theology.

Because of that, Gakumba says he was hesitant to submit his CV and only yielded at the insistence of the Diocesan Secretary of the Northern Uganda Diocese.

"Serving as a Bishop in a place like Northern [Uganda] is not easy but I can't betray the confidence of the House of Bishops and I am sure by God's grace I will do the work."

Gakumba likens his reluctance to be a Bishop to an aversion expressed by people like David, Moses, and Jeremiah who according to the Bible tried to evade God's calling.

"I think it is human to always give excuses. You remember Jeremiah and Moses said they didn't know how to speak."

Although he has served in Kampala diocese for the last seven years, Gakumba says he has since his ordination been a staff of Northern Uganda Diocese where he was installed as a canon. Gakumba is a humble, soft-spoken man. During the interview, I had to be extra attentive not to miss a word because he spoke in low tones.


Born in 1959 in Masindi, Gakumba lost his father at an early age and was raised by Mr and Mrs Leuben Kyenkya.

"My father died when I was young, I am unable to know how old I was when he died," says Gakumba, who was hesitant to talk about his early life.

He however recalls that he started smoking at an early age copying Kyenkya (RIP) whom he kept referring to as his father during the interview. "He always sent me to light his cigarettes. That is how I became addicted to smoking to a point where I couldn't sleep without smoking."

Gakumba's education was often disrupted because he lacked school fees. This explains why he has no ordinary level certificate. Because Kyenkya couldn't afford fees, after his primary education, Gakumba went to Kenya with Kyenkya's daughter who had offered to educate him there.

But this was never to be as she lost her husband in an accident which ended Gakumba's academic pursuits.

Gakumba had to look for his school fees and upkeep. "That is how I resorted to all ways of surviving. I did all sorts of jobs including being a shamba boy in Kenya."

It is this lifestyle that Gakumba says exposed him to, "moving out in discos, drinking, sexual immorality..." However this was short-lived as he got saved in 1979 which he says was a triumph over these vices.


He later returned with Rev. Modicum Okello, a priest from Northern Uganda who was a Deacon at St. Christopher Church (Nakuru-Kenya) where Gakumba served as a Sunday school teacher.

It was upon his return in Gulu that he joined priesthood.

He joined Archbishop Janan Luwum Theological College (Gulu) for a provincial certificate in Theology where he wrote an entry examination because he had no O level certificate.

His entry into priesthood was a dream come true.

"I wanted to be a pastor because I thought men of God are holy. I also wanted to put on a collar." But after his years of priesthood, Gakumba says not all church ministers are holy.

"I have discovered that not all of them are holy. Some of them preach what they don't practice."

This has also been educative.

"It has taught me that no human institution is perfect, including the church."

Gakumba also holds a diploma and degree in Theology.

Gakumba recalls serving as Deputy Principal at St. Janani Luwum Theological College Gulu when he only had a Diploma, to the chagrin of people with more qualifications.

In fact his degree programme was sponsored by some of the white tutors at the college, who were impressed by his work and wanted him to overcome that academic shortcoming.


As kids grow up, they have childhood dreams but this wasn't the case with Gakumba because of a difficult childhood.

"I was struggling to survive, meeting immediate needs, how could I have long term dreams? I had left that to chance."

Gakumba however says because of his calm, peaceful, non-confrontational demeanour, people often said he would make a good pastor.

He adds that when he stopped joining colleagues for drinking sprees, some of them remarked rather prophetically, "leave him, he wants to be a bishop."

Gakumba also talks of a lady who always addressed him as Rt. Rev., a prefix for Bishops, which he now holds.

"I never took them seriously but now I think people can prophesy. So there is power in tongues."

After his ordination in 1984, he was posted to (All Saints Church Kitgum) as a deacon for one year. He has also served at Christ Church Gulu from where former Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo in May 2002 transferred him to Luzira Prisons as a Chaplain until his transfer to Church of the Resurrection Bugolobi Church of Uganda last year.

"Before my posting, people looked at being transferred to Luzira as a punishment but I left it attractive to serve in Luzira."

 He however admits its problematic preaching to inmates without offending them.

He was however consoled by Bible stories about prisoners, "we are all prisoners of sin that is why Jesus said, He would come to set captives free."

Noting an unforgiving heart between inmates and people they allegedly wronged, Gakumba started a peace making course which he said yielded forgiveness between inmates and their accusers.


He says he will take this gospel with him to Northern Uganda where he foresees need for reconciliation.

He also says people need to engage in income generating activities to overcome poverty.

This is part of his challenges, "I will have to look after myself, my clergy and the flock who are poor because they have spent many years in camps."

But he also sees opportunities in his posting. He says the restoration of peace and the displaced peoples' return to their homes is an opportunity, "for evangelism and ministry."


So will he fit in out-going Bishop Onono Onweng's shoes?

"I will go with my shoes. He has done his best and I will be judged after my tenure."

Onono has in his numerous roles also been involved in the South Sudan mediated Juba peace talks under the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace initiative.

Gakumba says he is not new to the peace process. He says he was part of the religious leaders that formed the "Acholi for Peace and Reconciliation Movement" which transformed into the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace initiative.

Gakumba is married to Christine Oroma, the mother his six children.

Nicholas Kisakye, the Head of the Laity at the Church of the Resurrection Bugolobi Church of Uganda says they will miss Gakumba.

"He has been a wonderful pastor, a team player, a listener and problem solver."

Kisakye adds that Gakumba identifies people's gifts and talents and either advise them on how to exercise them or give them opportunity to use them which he says will make him a good Bishop.

Gakumba believes his deprived childhood has been a blessing in disguise.

"It has taught me to have a heart for the needy, orphans and to value people irrespective of their class."

Looking at his journey from Shamba boy to Bishop, Gakumba is best placed to advise against judging people by their present stature.