A campus ‘infectious’ for the gospel

15 October 2012

Alfred Olwa returns to Uganda
by Andrew Robinson, Langham Partnership Australia

Since he has been back visiting Sydney for his graduation, Ugandan Langham scholar Alfred Olwa’s Australian colleagues have taken great delight in teasing him with his newly-extended title: ‘The Reverend Canon Doctor Alfred Olwa.’ But while Alfred will miss Australian informality, he is deeply conscious of what his degree means for his ministry in Uganda.

‘In terms of what I have gone back with: it’s mind-blowing,’ he says. ‘The daunting thing for me as an individual is how to use this opportunity positively to shape ideas and decisions. I feel a huge sense of responsibility.’

Alfred has spent the last three and a half years in Sydney completing his doctorate on the work of bishop Festo Kivengere, the influential and passionate twentieth-century Ugandan evangelist. Kivengere, a close associate of Billy Graham, confronted brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin while continuing to hold out God’s offer of reconciliation and forgiveness to him. Alfred’s insights into Kivengere’s work and his theology of reconciliation have begun to open unexpected doors for him.

Having only just returned to Uganda, Alfred was asked to present a paper on Kivengere and reconciliation at an exclusive writers’ workshop. The workshop involved top scholars and theologians, international genocide-law experts from the Hague, and high government officials. The resulting book will explore the relationship between church and state in the fifty years since Ugandan independence.

Alfred has returned to the thriving Uganda Christian University (UCU), in a country where higher education is expanding dramatically. UCU has rapidly become a national leader. ‘More and more people are coming to us for postgraduate and doctoral education, because they believe we can deliver,’ Alfred says. ‘My doctorate has equipped me with research skills – I’m able to supervise other researchers.’

Alfred is coordinator of Practical Studies in the faculty of theology, which means he works to equip the cohort of 600 students, future clergy and laypeople, in preaching, mission and pastoral care – anything related to practical ministry. UCU distinctively attempts to develop its students holistically, and so Alfred’s work goes far beyond the faculty of theology. The university has 11,000 students in a range of disciplines, but even lawyers and IT specialists are also trained in Christian worldview, Old and New Testament studies and Christian ethics.

‘How do you practise law, in a pluralistic world, as a Christian lawyer?’ he asks. ‘When a lot of people are thinking that we can be corrupt and ruthless, we’re saying, “No, it’s different”. There is a way that we practice our law because we are informed by scripture.’

He says the university is ‘infectious’ with gospel work. ‘There are Christian fellowships everywhere: you just can’t believe it. You see people sitting alone, or two talking, or a group of people gathered: mediating, praying, reading the scriptures.’

But what has struck Alfred the most in his doctoral studies is the sheer universality of the gospel message. ‘This is what God is about!’ he says. ‘He sent Jesus to put that relationship right, which enables us to put our relationships right with one another, so that we can go on to be ambassadors for the gospel. But I think the challenge is that when I talk to most Australians, they just think, “Africa needs it! Africa has had a lot of wars. It’s suffered a lot of bitterness and pain.” But brokenness in the world is everywhere,’ he says. ‘Behind every person I meet, I see an element of brokenness. When you listen carefully in conversations, before long you can see it. You can see the need for the Lord, because he is the way out.’

Alfred Olwa, centre, with members of Langham Australia’s staff and board
Alfred Olwa, centre, with members of Langham Australia’s staff and board