Heroes of the Faith: Apolo Kivebulaya

Some heroes of the faith are forgotten and deserve rediscovery. One of these being Apolo Kivebulaya, a remarkable church worker in Africa for 40 years and a reminder of the way so many African Christians have spread Christianity on that continent.

Apolo was born into a peasant family in 1864 in Kampala in what is now Uganda, and given the name ‘Waswa’. It was a time when his world was beginning to change dramatically. The extraordinary carving up of the continent by the European powers had begun, and alongside came European missionaries with the gospel. The first missionary arrived in Uganda in 1877 and Christianity spread rapidly. It soon met opposition and in the middle of the 1880s the king ordered the brutal killings of Christian converts – the famous ‘Uganda Martyrs’. Sometime afterwards, Waswa became a Christian, taking the name Apolo after Apollos, the church leader of Acts 18. He was baptised in 1895 and immediately began working with the Anglican Church. He was briefly married but his wife died; deciding that God wanted him to remain single, he chose not to remarry.

A man of incredible energy and enthusiasm, Apolo began church planting. Under the leadership of the Church Missionary Society he worked in the foothills of north-western Uganda and, clearly gifted in evangelism, saw numerous conversions and the start of many new congregations. Soon Apolo accepted the challenge to go west to evangelise the tribes in the Belgian-controlled area that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and set off, crossing the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains in winter. Of the moment when he was finally able to gaze westwards into the heart of Africa he wrote: ‘I stood and looked far away to the Congo. The prospect terrified me.’ Yet driven by his faith, his courage and his compassion for those who did not know Jesus, he went onward.

Despite now finding himself in a very different culture, his powerful preaching met with great success. Less popular, however, were his demands, not just for conversion, but for a changed lifestyle. Finding an opportunity to expel him, a chief had Apolo escorted back to prison in Uganda. There, greatly discouraged, Apolo had a vision in which Jesus appeared shining like the sun, telling him, ‘Take heart, for I am with you.’

Eventually, Apolo was released but the Belgian colonial authorities ha