Watoto Church: Toast to an Island of Excellence in a Sea of Mediocrity
The sweetest part of a most painful tale. When trouble arises, he often does it in pairs. On January 26, I received the kind of call everyone would dread: Mom had left to join the Lord. I needed a dozen tissues – I stopped to restock – as I crossed the country from Fort Portal in the west to Kamonkoli in the east, to say goodbye to him.
We were still grappling with this pain when, a month later, another phone call informed me that the doctors in Pretoria who had worked so hard to save my sister’s life, Dr Rose Gawaya, had given up: they needed permission to put her off life support. I was very shaken, but I decided to give her a very nice farewell that she would be proud of. The best place I could think of was Watoto Church, North, in Ntinda, Kampala.
The problem was that I am not a member of the most elite church in the country. I knew as well that the Watoto Church had elaborate systems and structures and a policy for every little thing. They don’t do anything anyway. Nevertheless, I called Pastor Joshua Mugabi who had pastored there for many years and made what I knew was a very difficult request. I told him that I would be happy to pay whatever money they asked for and that I fully understood if their policies couldn’t allow them to help me.
A few days later, I was called by two Watoto pastors – Remmy Muwonge and Bonnie Kwiringira – who told me that the church would be happy to do anything for us, free of charge. By the time Rose was pronounced dead on March 7, Watoto was ready for us and gave Rose a truly beautiful and classy send-off seven days later. I was expecting to walk my sister down the aisle to give her away for a while; so it was a little sour that I led her down the aisle–to give her to the Lord.
When benchmarking corporate governance and succession planning, at company and country level, there is no need to fly to Europe or America; just consider how the Watoto Church wove its web. It is an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity; in a country that has short-term planning, a worrying deficit of selfless servant leaders, and an unfortunate and overwhelming surplus of selfish leaders whose first instinct is to serve their self-interests at the expense of the greater good.
If you ask your “usual joe” on the street about the “great” pastors in Kampala; it is highly unlikely that Gary Skinner’s name will feature. Outside of elite and middle-class circles, few people know of him.
But the game changes if you ask about the “big” Pentecostal churches – size, popularity, or impact on the community. Chances are Watoto Church (I always call it the Kampala Pentecostal Church, KPC) is at the top of the list. And again, if you are looking for a church you can say the nicest things about, Watoto will be at the top of the list. If you ask which of the great churches, 50 years after the death of its founder, will still be strong, Watoto will top the list and the sad truth is that the list will have very few churches. In fact, for most of them, even 50 weeks later may be too long for them to stay awake.
The game gets more complicated if you apply the question to political parties; and, let’s be magnanimous here, let’s reduce the years from 50 to five. Most of those who look great right now won’t live five years after their founders leave. The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and the Democratic Party (DP) have been tested and tried, and are fairly safe, so far. The jury is yet to be elected for the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and the National Unity Platform (NUP). But you can safely bet the house you’re living in right now that the National Resistance Movement (NRM) will be declared dead as soon as its founder, Yoweri Museveni, is – even if you lower the five-year objective standard to five minutes.
Until then, let the record reflect that I have a debt to Watoto Church that I cannot pay. Asanteni sana: Pastor Joshua, Pastor Remmy, Pastor Bonnie and of course… Gary and Marilyn Skinner. Mungu awabariki sana!
Mr. Tegulle is a lawyer in the High Court of Uganda.