Vol. 31, No. 4 -- April 2011
CHRIST LUTHERAN CHURCH OF THE DEAF
9545 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910
"We will kill you!"
From 1971 to 1979 the African country of Uganda was ruled by a cruel dictator, Idi Amin, who earned the nick name "Butcher of Uganda." His secret police gunned down Christians while they met for worship, and they targeted pastors for assassination. But all of Amin's efforts to stamp out the Christian faith and drive believers away from the church had exactly the opposite effect. Persecution deepened the believers' faith and embolden their witness.
On Easter day, 1973, Pastor Kefa Sempangi risked his life by conducting an open air service in a soccer stadium. Over 7,000 people attended. After the service, five of Idi Amin's Secret Police, wearing flowered shirts, bellbottom slacks, and sunglasses, followed Sempangi back to his little church. They closed the door behind them and pointed their rifles at Pastor Sempangi's face. The leader of the five said with obvious hatred, "We will kill you. If you have something to say, say it before you die."
Pastor Sempangi was stunned as he felt his courage and strength drain away. He thought of his family who soon would be widowed and fatherless.
Then, to his own surprise, he heard his own voice say, "I do not need to plead my own cause. I am a dead man already. My life is dead and hidden in Christ. It is your lives that are in danger; you are dead in your sins. I will pray to God that after you have killed me, He will spare you from eternal destruction."
In a moment the leader's face changed from hatred to curiosity. He lowered his gun and motioned to the others to do the same. The leader asked, "Will you pray for us now?"
"Yes, I will pray for you," said the pastor. "Please bow your heads and close your eyes." Surprisingly, they did exactly as Pastor Sempangi had asked.
Then Pastor Sempangi offered a short, simple prayer: "Father in heaven, You who have forgiven men in the past, forgive these men also. Do not let them perish in their sins but bring them into Yourself."
When Pastor Sempangi looked up into the faces of his executioners, he saw that they had changed. These were not the same men who had followed him into the church intending to kill him.
They said, "You have helped us, and we will help you. We will speak to the rest of our company and they will leave you alone. Do not fear for your life. We will protect you."
Later the assassins began attending Pastor Sempangi's church and claimed a new commitment to Jesus Christ. They helped church members whose lives were in danger, and they even helped several families escape from Uganda.
That Easter evening, as Pastor Sempangi drove home, he felt that he had passed from death to life. He now had a deeper understanding of the Apostle Paul's words:
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2.20)
A year later Pastor Sempangi and his family were force to flee Uganda. But in 1979 the tables were turned as Idi Amin fled and Pastor Sempangi returned to help thousands of children who had been orphaned by Amin's reign of terror.
(This story is found in Kefa Sempangi's book, A Distant Grief, published by Regal Books.)