This is the day that Bishop James Hannington was martyred. It was 1885 and the place was Uganda, Africa.
Of all the nations in Africa, Uganda was the most responsive to the gospel in the early missionary days. In the 1870’s mission work began in Uganda with the favour of King Mutesa, who died in 1884. Mutesa’s son and successor, King Mwanga, opposed all foreign presence, including the missions. He was suspicious of the Germans who were grabbing territory.
Hannington was to become the first martyr in Uganda. Adventurous from his youth, young James blew off his thumb while experimenting with black powder. In time he became an Anglican clergyman and was successful in his parish work.
He had already been ordained to the Anglican clergy when he read Grace and Truth. And it was this, he tells us, that caused him to “spring out of bed and leap about the room rejoicing that Jesus died for me!” (Crusaders for Christ, by A. Borland, page 46).
In 1882 he left England to carry the Gospel to Uganda. He failed to reach the African nation, due to fevers which left him unable to walk. When he walked, he tied his hands around his neck to relieve the agony in his arms. Yet he made humorous sketches of his plight and recounted the story of his adventures for his young relatives.
Recounting his own misadventures and the deaths of other missionaries claimed by illness Hannington told his readers, “What your uncle under went is only what many out there are going through, and must continue to go through, before a native ministry can be raised up to carry on the grand work of evangelising Africa.” He did not know then just how much he would have to undergo.
Following his recuperation in England Hannington made a second attempt to reach Uganda. En route he is credited with starting the first mission station in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. “First mission station in the area [of current Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro] opened at Moshi, on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, by Bishop James Hannington, just a few weeks before he was martyred by the Kabaka of Buganda.”
Hannington decided to approach Uganda from the north, but was suspected of being in league with the land hungry Germans. A huge war party of 1,000 Ugandan soldiers was sent to intercept him. They took him prisoner on October 21, but showed some leniency. They allowed him to view the Nile.
During the next week Hannington kept a diary of his tortuous ordeal. He was cruelly treated, bound, dragged along the ground, starved and shut up in a native hut without ventilation.
“In spite of all, and feeling I was being dragged away to be murdered at a distance, I sang ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus’ and laughed at the very agony of my situation.”
Eight days later “a gunshot was heard and Bishop Hannington fell, his body speared by the two natives who stood at his side …” He was 38 years of age.
We know most of this tragic detail because one of the Ugandans kept Hannington’s journal and sold it to a later expedition.
Hannington was not the only one killed, as others in his travelling party suffered the same fate. Hannington’s last words are recorded as: “Go tell your master that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.”
But Hannington’s blood was not the last to flow in Uganda. The first native martyr was the Roman Catholic Joseph Mkasa Balikuddembe, beheaded for rebuking the king for his debauchery and for Bishop Hannington’s murder. Then in 1886 32 men and boys were burned at the stake, including many from King Mwanga’s household.
In recent history, the tyrant Idi Amin killed Christians in Uganda. In 1977 the Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum and many other Christians suffered death for their faith under Idi Amin’s rule.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.