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Published Date: September 5, 2003

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Hope and Joy in Uganda: African Men and Women Embrace Biblical Equality

Good news about the church in Africa is hard to find. We hear that the continent is without hope — dying through war, famine and AIDS. But if the church is there, then God is there — and hope is, too.  

When Dr. Anne Mikkola, a Finnish economist, was called to go to Uganda, she knew little about the country beyond the political turmoil that makes the news. Her calling came through a series of e-mails among friends involved in women’s ministry. One of those e-mails reached a “completely unknown man from Uganda” who said he was praying for Mikkola. 

That man was Medad Birungi, an evangelist who heard through a mutual friend about Mikkola’s teaching at a previous conference. He was overjoyed that they shared a vision of biblical equality. 

“It was really a direct leading of God — definitely not my plan,” said Mikkola, “I had no idea whatsoever to go abroad, not to mention Africa.” In May 2002, Birungi asked Mikkola to join a team that was planning to speak in September at a seven-day conference in the capital city of Kabale titled “Woman Don’t Cry.” Mikkola and two companions had only a few months to prepare.

Mikkola thought that biblical equality found enough challenge in Finland, and she could not imagine its reception in a country and culture so far away. “None of us had ever been to Africa and we were to go all by ourselves, invited by a man none of us knew,” she said. It was a leap of faith unlike she and her two companions had ever made. “[But] knowing that somewhere there were real people who would want to hear the message that God had put on my heart was just so overwhelming that there was no doubt ― I had to go,” she said. 

Once Mikkola arrived in Uganda and spoke for the first time, she was overwhelmed at the response. “It was totally amazing how these people in the midst of revival received the message of equality with joy, men and women alike,” she said. “They spread anything I [said] like fire around!” Women were not the only ones who received the message. Of the 300 people attending the conference, she estimates that about 20 percent were men.

Mikkola’s concern that the women would be left without support after the conference also diminished the first night. “I was touched by the realization that these women already had a support network for women in the surrounding areas,” Mikkola recalled. After meeting the women, Mikkola and her companions felt free to teach fully in the spirit of Galatians 3:28.
 
More opportunities to witness and discuss biblical equality opened up both during and after the sessions. One morning, as Birungi translated, Mikkola presented a 30-minute message of biblical equality on a radio program that reached 6 million people. 

“[Later that day] we went to visit an evangelistic outreach in a very poor village,” said Mikkola. “The women in the little countryside huts heard it! You cannot imagine how this made me feel. I had thought people in my home country did not understand me because of my ‘academic’ biblical argumentation that did not relate to their lives. And now here in Uganda these women, not all of whom were literate, understood what I said.” 

Another thing became clear as the guests and their hosts came to know each other: The problems in Finland and Uganda are much the same. “Sexual habits are equally loose,” said Mikkola. “Many men in Finland have problems with alcohol; so do Ugandans. Both in Finland and Uganda women do most of the homework and manipulate their husbands at home [because they are not] able to have a voice outside of home. … The similarities were striking; the devil’s patterns are the same everywhere.”

Uganda has faced many challenges as well as victories, according to Birungi, the conference’s organizer. Known as the Pearl of Africa because of its rich natural resources, Uganda was devastated by the decades of Idi Amin’s dictatorship and the AIDS epidemic. The traditional role of women in a culture that assigns a “bride-price” on one hand and a low status on the other leaves women vulnerable to AIDS and abuse. 

Since the late 1980s, however, the country has rebuilt. Revival has touched every level of society, including members of the government. Uganda’s AIDS initiatives make it the only country in Africa seeing true progress against the disease. Education is a funding priority and is available to girls more than ever before. 

“Uganda seems to have been in winter both politically, socially and economically as far as female equality is concerned,” said Birungi, invoking Isaiah 43:18-19. “But now we are in spring and many things are coming up and life is springing out and God is doing a new thing. This is bringing hope and joy in Uganda, but it is a result of fervent, desperate and persevering prayers of the saints ― and many tears. 

“The message of CBE has been very highly welcomed in many churches and institutions of learning,” he added, “but in villages and rural places and among the Moslems and traditionalists it has not been easy. We have been misunderstood and persecuted by men whose position is being threatened and church leaders whose theology we have challenged.” However, Birungi believes that it is a battle worth fighting. 

The conference and the team’s visit gave Birungi’s ministry new focus — evangelizing and preaching a biblical understanding of the mutual worth of men and women. The organization has made a commitment to address the burden the low status of women places on society. 

The organization, Swallow Evangelistic Revival Ministry, took its name from Psalm 84:3 — a verse in which Birungi sees hope for women in Africa. “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young — a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God.” 

“We are using a Christian and evangelical voice to preach biblical equality and people are amazed to discover the truth,” said Birungi. “We have boldly talked about it, and the response is overwhelming.”