Apolo Kivebulaya was born around 1864 in Uganda, as part of twins. He was apprenticed to a medicine man. When Apolo found out that this medicine man was tricking his patients out of their possessions he turned to the Islam. Then he met the explorer Mackay and he became interested in Christianity. At his baptism in 1895 he took the name of Apolo, from Acts 18.25 where Luke describes the eloquent man Apollos, “well versed in the scriptures, spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus". The name "Kivebulaya" means "from Europe" and was given to him because he wore a suit under his white cassock.
He studied for catechist and completed two missions then; when he heard that the Anglican Church of Uganda was seeking a missionary to go to Boga, (which lies now in the diocese of Boga, flourishing with at least 28 parishes, Apolo was successful!) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo he offered to go. He walked to his new place, over the Rwenzori Mountains carrying a bible and a hoe as his luggage. It is such a simple statement to make: walk cross the Rwenzori mountains… In fact, it was a walk of at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) and it is over a not at all easy terrain; the Mountains then were snow-capped like the Kilimanjaro, (now, due to the climate change, the glaciers are rapidly melting) and enjoyed much rainfall. Also, of course, in his day there were not any ready-made trekking footpaths; nor any tourist hotels. Nowadays the Rwenzori Mountains are part of the National park of Congo, joined to the National park of Uganda and on the Unesco world heritage list.
Apolo took the hoe on his walk, because, a short time before he left, two other missionaries had come from Uganda to Boga, who had been obliged to return home because they were not willing to work with their hands and could not feed themselves. You must be fired with real zeal to spread the Word of Christ, to undertake this kind of journey.
Apolo was ordained a deacon on December 21, 1900 in Toro and then a priest in June 1903 in the Namirembe Cathedral and then he returned to Boga. Apolo declared the year 1921 "the year of the Gospel." Encouraged by the Lord, he took the gospel to the inhabitants of the forest: the Walese, the Wanyali, and the Wambuti (the latter are “pygmies”, this is a literal quote from the original article, not mine expression). At the time that Apolo went to them, almost nothing was known about these people, but the neighbouring tribes feared them and said that they were cannibals). He said: "Christ appeared before me as a man. It was like seeing a man who was my brother. He said to me: 'Go, preach in the forest, because I am with you. I am who I am--this is my Name.'" Apolo went amongst these peoples as a friend, eating their food and sleeping in their houses. He baptized pygmies for the first time in 1932. Apolo died on May 30th, 1933 at Boga, his mission field. Contrary to tradition, he was buried with his head toward the west (not the east) at his own request. In doing so, his desire was to indicate that the gospel needed to be taken to the western part of the country.
I took almost all material on the life of Apolo from Yossa Way, who published it in the Internet source DABC (I used version A).
DACB means Dictionary of African Christian Biography. In their own words: “The mission of the DACB is to collect, preserve, and make freely accessible biographical accounts and church histories--from oral and written sources--integral to a scholarly understanding of African Christianity.”
Most articles are written by modern day African scholars. This is the most informative source for Christianity and the lives of Christians on the African continent. As the DACB states in its own words: "While the growth and character of Christianity in Africa is without historical precedent, information on the major creative and innovative local figures and leaders of this growth—from local evangelists and pastors to nationally known Christian leaders—does not appear in standard historical and biographical reference works on the continent." The whole DACB serves for me as a strong reminder how incredibly Europe, America centred we are, even as Christians who really should know better if we but listened to our Lord.
I also used another source Project Canterbury, where written by Roome, a small book about Apolo as missionary to the “pygmies” is published. Though the foreword to this book is written in a style that really makes me grit my teeth, in revulsion at the patronising expressions used, at least it contains at the end some authentic letters from Apolo himself and Roome does show deep appreciation and admiration for Apolo.
In this book I also found one of Apolo’s prayers written on the first page of his 1933 diary from the C.M.S:
"O God our Father and His Son Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, bless me in the country, forests, lakes, and in mountains where You have enabled me to pass to do Thy work for Thee among Thy people. Grant me to be loved by Thee and Thy people. Amen.”
Amen indeed, for this Anglican saint.
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