Rags To Riches In Africa: Become a Pastor

Jim Burroway

July 3rd, 2010

Dan Savage was tipped to a Ugandan Pastor that is speaking at a Seattle-area church, and asked me if I knew who he was. I hadn’t heard of him, and neither had any of my Ugandan contacts. So I responded:

I’m afraid I’ve never heard of this guy. Uganda is crawling with evangelical pastors. All it takes is a white shirt and a tin-roof shack somewhere and suddenly you’re a pastor. And in some cases you don’t even need a shack. Just a street corner will do. And if one of them can finagle a trip to the US where Ugandan pastors are very fashionable, they’ve hit the motherlode.

I have no idea whether this Frank Butyai is legitimate. But the larger point stands: becoming a pastor in a desperately poor country has been a proven pathway to riches, so says The Economist:

Ms Wanjiru’s own church, Jesus Is Alive Ministries, is a good example of the new genre. She can draw 100,000 worshippers to a meeting. Add in a visiting televangelist and the number can rise to as many as 500,000. Ms Wanjiru has lived the Pentecostal dream. She is from a poor family of casual labourers and eked out a life as a housemaid and toilet cleaner before working her way up to a marketing job. She then experienced a vision from God calling on her to save Africa. These days videos, CDs and other accessories can be bought from her website using credit cards or phone credit. She makes good use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media. She is not afraid to court controversy, last year baptising the boss of the Mungiki organised-crime outfit, Maina Njenga. Mr Njenga’s gang had been involved in extortion and had a history of hacking off the heads of its enemies.

But the business of owner-operated churches is competitive. A few dud sermons and the crowd thins. That is one reason why they are so upbeat and aspirational. …However, there is also plenty of hucksterism. You will be blessed with health and wealth by God, congregants are told, especially if you give generously. As in other parts of the world, the new churches in Kenya and Uganda provide a place for the ambitious poor to get ahead….

Pastor Samuel "Kiwedde" Muwanguzi's Humvee, complete with vanity plate.

Get ahead, indeed. The sight of Ugandan pastors driving Humvees and other expensive SUV’s is not uncommon. And of course, you can’t talk about Evangelical pastors in Africa without mentioning Martin Ssempa:

A Ugandan Pentecostal preacher, Martin Ssempa, for instance, has mined a rich seam of homophobia in Uganda to help build up his standing. He and other Pentecostals pushed for the tabling of an anti-homosexuality bill in the Ugandan parliament, which advocates spying on gays and proscribes imprisonment for sodomy. Earlier versions of the law called for the death penalty in some instances. [Editor’s note: This is incorrect. Despite reports like this to the contrary, the bill has never been officially modified to remove the death penalty.] Mr Ssempa has in the past had ties with a prominent American evangelical, Rick Warren (who has condemned the anti-gay law), and with Uganda’s born-again first lady, Janet Museveni. “In Africa sodomy is an abomination,” he says. Some of his actions, such as screening gay pornography to his congregants, look clownish and self-publicising, but Mr Ssempa has been astute in targeting students at Makere, Uganda’s best university.

One of Ssempa’s most reliable backers in America continues to be Las Vegas-based Canyon Ridge Christian Church, which remains a member in good standing of the Willow Creek Association.

Ben in Oakland

July 3rd, 2010

So a good portion of the energy of organized religion is about creating a pathway to riches? Who woulda thunk something like that? Only a cycnic could think so!

A new SUV and a a nice house? What we have here is a clear demonstration how grinding poverty can wear down your aspirations like the sea and a sand castle, or at least a failure of imigination.

It actually rmeinds me a bit of a Sholom Aleichem story, wherein a very poor but incredibly virtuous man dies, goes to heaven, is given a stupendous welcome by the assembled hosts, and is told by god he can have whatever he wants.

“If it’s not too much trouble, could I have every day, please, a hot roll with fresh butter?”

What is an SUV to having your own private castle on Lake Gandolfo, wearing ermine and scarlet like some sort of babylonian whore, and having your own private chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo. Sow small and you reap small.

Blessed are the poor, indeed! On the other hand, as Imelda Marcos once said…”Better nouveau riche than no riche at all!”

John in the Bay Area

July 3rd, 2010

In most societies there have been 3 ways to power and wealth.

1. Military and royality. Military victories create kings, chiefs, warlords, etc. who pass on their power and wealth.

2. Industry. Make something, create something, provide a product and build a business.

3. Religion. Become the local priest or priestess, witch doctor, immam and work right on up to multinational positions like Pope.

Nothing new here at all.


July 4th, 2010

ha ha ha!!!

I must say that is funny.

Matter of fact, most Ugandan pastors are rugs to riches story.

Dont know much about Ssempa (though I suspect that he is one of them.), but, best example maybe Pastor Robert Kayanja.

He didnt finish his formal schooling. Started preaching. First Church was a papyrus walled enclosure. Not even able to afford mud and wattle…

Today, he has a worldwide ministry, talks of buying a jet, and his main church is Miracle Center Cathedral. A super mega church. His ‘Miracle centre’ brand has a branch in every town and city, and he owns his very own television station and channel. No wonder Ssempa is jealous!

Even today, on every day of the week, you will find on the busier street corners of Kampala a hoarse voiced preacher pastor… I think that is their elementary education. The charismatic ones always end up graduating in the land of opportunity… the great US of A. I wonder why…?! Or, should I anyway?


July 4th, 2010

L. Ron Hubbard once remarked that the easiest way to become wealthy in the US was to found your own religion.

paul j stein

July 6th, 2010

OK, so the writing is on the wall…Start a GAY, LESBIAN, TRANSGENDERED,BI-SEXUAL Church and get the tax exempt benefits. Pull the money from mainstream churches. With the talented GLBT persons in this World it would be well run, fabulously tasteful, the place for weddings,resort activities,family oriented for the growing market of GLBT persons with children. Go after all that available GLBT money, make the mainstream churches jealous.


July 15th, 2010

As someone who has personally known Frank Butyai for a little over a year now, I can say he is no evil man. His ministry is in helping educate the children of Uganda and provide housing for a limited number of orphans along with other efforts to promote stronger families, etc.

Over 10 people from my very close family (and many more from my church and others) have traveled to Uganda and helped build Frank’s latest orphanage, met with the kids, etc, etc.

PS: Also, his vehicle leaves much to be desired.

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