Bishop Festo Kivengere, 1919-1988
In our community, after Christians were liberated by the power of the risen Lord, people of all sorts were shaken by contact with them.
Take, for instance, a Muslim shopkeeper. One day a customer came into his shop and said, "Here, these 200 shillings are yours. I cheated you out of this money and you didn't find out." He explained how it happened.
"Well! Why do you bring it now?"
"Jesus has changed my life and has told me to pay my debt to you. I felt poor with 200 shillings in my pocket, but I am a rich man now that you have them. Please forgive me."
In those days that was a lot of money, and so when the man left,
the shopkeeper's mouth was gaping.
Some British officials were jarred. At times there were so many people waiting outside to return or pay things that the district commissioner complained that it was hard to get his work done.
A man would say, "I have evaded my taxes for ten years; here is a cow to pay them."
Another would say, "Here, sir, please take this shovel which I stole from the government when I worked on the road crew."
The officer would ask, "Why did you bring it back?"
"I was arrested, sir."
"Who did that?"
Some British colonial officers were educated agnostics, but they learned some practical theology from humble people.
When Jesus took hold of me, these believers in whose fellowship I found myself said, "Be careful to obey the Lord. Do quickly whatever He tells you to do."
Gradually I realized that I had a lot of things to make right. The Monday morning after I met Jesus, before starting to teach my class in the boys' school, I asked them to forgive me for treating them as mere cases to receive instruction. I told them that Jesus had turned me around and opened my eyes to see them as my precious brothers.
Most of the boys were glad. All were surprised.
After school and on weekends, Jesus sent me to the town and through the fields to people I had cheated, slandered, or hurt, to ask forgiveness. Paying debts came easy. When the risen Christ takes His throne in the heart, no poverty is there, because He is King, rich in mercy, grace and fullness. The Holy Spirit floods the heart and liberates the whole personality.
My uncle, the chief, resented what had happened to me because I had been his stalwart ally.
He crossed my name out of the tribal book as dead.
Then one night his wife was converted in their bedroom. There was no preacher there. The Holy Spirit simply penetrated the room. The woman woke up crying like a baby and began asking my uncle's forgiveness for a great many things. He shouted, "This thing is invading even the bedroom at night. There is no privacy left!"
Our women used to put veils over their faces to hide their beauty. Now the chief's wife put off the veil and began to speak publicly. Everybody expected her to collapse and faint, but she told the new things that Jesus had done for her. She was talked about everywhere, and my uncle was sick with anger. Whatever had happened to tradition and the ancient culture?
After fifteen years of battle, in the year 1956, my uncle surrendered to Jesus Christ. He returned thousands of shillings to people he had falsely fined. People he had oppressed he summoned and asked to forgive him. He emptied his bank account and gave back many head of cattle. All knew that the chief had changed, and his enemies became his friends.
At his funeral, there was a great gathering. Christians were singing "Hallelujah" and speaking the praises of the Saviour. The occasion became a resurrection as well as a burial because a number of people came to the Lord, including his own elder brother, another uncle of mine who had been a staunch pagan.
One day soon after I met the Lord I felt God was saying to me, "Go and be reconciled with your step-father." He was not a Christian and things had been bad between us for years. So I went to his home with a feeling of fear. What would he do to me?
He was sitting outside his home. He looked at me coldly. I mumbled and blurted out something about the hatred I had had for him being gone and that I loved him now.
"I knew you hated me," he observed, studying me.
"You knew only a little. I came to tell you the whole story and to say that it is all over. Please forgive me."
An hour later he rose and put his arms around me, and we stood there for a while. I was overcome. I never expected such a reaction, but love is a language which anyone can understand. The barrier was gone and we became friends; our homes are open to each other.
Nothing short of Jesus' poured-out love on the cross could have made possible the mending of that estrangement. Not even the tribal ceremony of the "Karabo" (Atonement) could have done it.
In our tribe the "Karabo" was a ritual that was supposed to end hatred and revenge. It was done after there had been a murder, usually an accidental one when people were drunk. It was in order to prevent more killing, for otherwise revenge would have been taken on all the members of the murderer's clan.
When the family of the killer acknowledged the culprit's guilt and sought reconciliation, then all the elders of the tribe were called together in solemn assembly under the sacred oak in the presence of the king.
With all the witnesses around him, the priest slaughtered a perfect cow or sheep at the junction of two main paths. Both the offender and one of the offended, in slow motion, and savoring the meaning of it, laid down their weapons. Together they came to the sacrifice and plunged their hands into the blood. Then they soberly shook hands, each using both hands.
An audible sigh of relief could be heard around the circle. Dancing and celebration followed. Now there could be no more thought of avenging the dead. The heads of all the clans had witnessed that the guilt was taken care of and the hatred was supposed to be dissolved. The customary laws of hospitality were restored and normal brotherly loyalty in the tribe observed. Outwardly this worked, but it takes the far costlier sacrifice of the bleeding love of God's Son to heal inward resentments.
I experienced the effectiveness of that healing on a weekend soon after. The Holy Spirit had reminded me that I hated a white man — a missionary. He lived fifty miles away, so I thought I need not do anything. But the Spirit said, "Take your bicycle on the weekend and go to see this man. Now that you are liberated, he is your brother."
"My brother? An Englishman?" I nearly fell over.
"Yes, your brother. You have hated your brother."
"What shall I do when I see him? You know him, Lord."
"Yes, I know him. Tell him that you love him."
That fifty miles to Kabale had never seemed so hard. The rivers seemed much wider than usual and the escarpment steeper than I had ever seen it. Approaching the house, I was tired and frightened and hoped he was not at home.
He was there, and suddenly I was standing in his proper English living room telling him what Christ had done for me, that I was free, and saw him now as my brother.
"I'm sorry," I said. "For the past five years I have hated you and talked against you. I must have made your life terribly difficult. Please forgive me."
English though he was, there were tears in his eyes and we put our arms around each other. When I left, I was no longer his enemy but his beloved brother. What a change!
On the way home, my bicycle flew as if it had a motor on it. My heart was beating fast, my world was different, and in that house there was no longer a lonely "European" but a brother — a true brother to this day. Many times since then I have proved that the cross is the end of race prejudice, and of separating walls of all kinds.
Zacchaeus, the little publican, came into that same kind of joy after he had been at a distance from society [Luke 19:1-9]. In Jesus there was a hand outstretched to restore him to the humanity he had lost. The warmth of God's Son penetrated that guilty heart, releasing him from his prison.
I can see him standing there, his face relaxed, with the corroding forces of selfishness removed. His values had changed and he couldn't help saying, "Master, if I have cheated or defrauded anyone, I will restore it fourfold!"
The scribes must have fidgeted. They had never heard anything like that before.
The following day in his office, "Zack," as I call him, was explaining to a man about his taxes: "You paid sixty, but ten of that I stole. I am returning fourfold, so here, take this forty."
"Wha-at! What happened?"
"Jesus of Nazareth came home with me, and I no longer feel the same. I have discovered myself and you too!"
When that man told his news, there must have been a line-up outside Zack's office. So enmities died and walls were removed in the light of the love of God...who gave the gift of humanity and knows how to restore it.
I don't believe that those first wonderful days were the last time in Zack's life that he knew the fresh joy of restoration into the love of God and the love of his fellows. If his experience was anything like mine and others, he heard again and again, in the years that followed, that quiet Inner Voice [John 16:8] that spoke of what had gone wrong to bring in tension or a barrier, and he took the quick way back into fellowship — the way of the cross.
Source: “Love Reconciles,” in Revolutionary Love by Festo Kivengere, 1919-1988; [pp.25-30, 1983,
] CLC, PA