I have always held a special curiosity about open air preachers. What is the catch? Is it evangelism all the way or is there monetary attachment? The scorching sun and the unforgiving drizzles, the looks of reproach from uninterested people and most importantly, the message that never quite gets home. How are the results measured? Too many questions!
I saw him on Kampala road, pacing about as he preached. He was smartly dressed, in a blue short sleeved shirt tucked neatly into a pair of khaki trousers. His voice was almost a whisper, but nevertheless the effort to magnify it was visible from the veins that formed lines along his temples.
His name is James Byaruhanga. A Born-again Christian who has dedicated his life to serve the Lord by preaching the Gospel.
“I got saved in 2000 when my friend took me to church,” he tells me. “I was born an Anglican and raised in a strictly Anglican family. By that time, I did not believe in those Balokole things.”
After several years of dealing with family feuds and misunderstandings that escalated into witchcraft, James turned to salvation for solace. “I was being attacked by witchcraft from some family members and I was also battling several addictions. I used to booze a lot and when I went to church, I was delivered from all these spirits.”
James was born in Kiruhura district where he lived before he came to Kampala to pursue the big city dream. He went to Bulemba Secondary School where he completed his senior one. “I only stopped in senior one. My father died and he was the only one paying our school fees.”
He is currently employed at a Law firm where he works as a security guard at night and hopes to start up his own business one day. “I would like to open a restaurant to supplement my income because I have come to see that salary alone cannot sustain a family in Kampala.”
A life of servitude
“It all started as a dream. About six years after I got saved, I started having these dreams of God telling me to go and preach His word. It happened three times and every time the dreams got more vivid. I couldn’t ignore them anymore. I spoke to my pastor and asked for his guidance.” His pastor encouraged him to heed God’s call to spread the gospel. Bible in hand, he set to fulfilling his destiny.
There is no possible gain for him. He lives in service of the Lord. “It is not like I wish to start a church, no. All I am doing is in response to God’s call. I am doing this to bring salvation closer to people, so more people get saved.” Knowing that he is doing God’s work is all the satisfaction and fulfillment he requires. “In fact, if I miss a day without preaching, I feel sad. I feel like the day has not been good.”
The insults from random people calling him a thief and carjacker is one of the biggest challenges he is faced with every day. “Many people are convinced that all of us are thieves and we are the same people who kill people with stones and iron bars… Most cases victims of con men often attack us thinking we are the con men. Also now there are so many false prophets that it is hard to tell who is the true one. People think we are all false prophets.”
The scorching sun and indifference of passersby do not greatly affect him and his mission as he manages his expectations and is always prepared for the day. He tells me vibrantly that he is always prepared to manage the challenges of the day. “When I come to preach, I know that not everyone will hear what I am saying, but maybe one person will hear something that will have an impact on them… Some people come to the street for survival, hoping a kind stranger will give them 1000 or 2000. But I come when I have eaten and I come with my water if it is very hot, such that my focus is not broken.”
As we departed, I asked James for his favorite Bible Verse. He quoted John 3:3. John 14: 6 and Isaiah 61:1. Scripture that highlights salvation and Jesus, as the way to heaven.
John 3:3: Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again. (GNB)
John 14:6: Jesus answered him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me. (GNB)
Isaiah 61:1: The Sovereign Lord has filled me with his Spirit.
He has chosen me and sent me
To bring good news to the poor,
To heal the broken-hearted,
To announce release to captives
And freedom to those in prison. (GNB)