Vision from Vancouver
More than 50 years ago, the journey to the founding of this church commenced, in Vancouver, Canada. “The year was 1956 at Glad Tiding Missionary Society Church,” says Ps Jotham Mutebi, retired chairman of Full Gospel Churches of Uganda. “During a prayer session, a young lady in the church; Maureen Maglardi saw in a vision the word “Uganda” in neon lights. She felt that this vision constituted a divine call to her church to take the gospel to Uganda.”

“But no one in the congregation knew where Uganda was located if at all it existed,” recalls Ps Hugh Reg Layzell, Senior Pastor and leader of the Full Gospel Mission to Uganda, the first Pentecostal gospel mission in the country. “We checked on the world map.”

Layzell wrote to the British governor in Uganda seeking permission to begin missionary work in Uganda. He was referred to the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Uganda who advised against granting permission to a Pentecostal church missionary society. “We learnt that the archbishop was dissuaded by leaders of the mainstream churches from giving us permission because they had witnessed the Pentecostal wave in India and did not want the same to happen here saying we would take away their believers,” said Layzell.

Later they were to connect with the Elim Missionary Assemblies of Lima, New York under Rev I.Q Spenser already operating in Kenya with whom they secured audience with then Acting governor to Uganda, Sir Charles Hartwell. In April 1960, permission was granted and on May 1, 1960, the group arrived in Kampala.

A new life at Makerere
Naguru Full Gospel Church however remains a small little known church perhaps because the Full Gospel Mission to Uganda chose to establish its headquarters at Makerere. At the same time, a church was erected at Naguru, a huge tent was pitched at Makerere where present day Makerere College girls’ hostel is located.

Land was then bought where the present day 2000-seater Makerere Full Gospel Church is located. The tent was replaced by the church. If you went to Makerere Full Gospel Church today and saw a big writing on the wall “The glory of the latter house shall be greater than then former” now you know why. Makerere became the centre of all the Mission’s activities. That is where they built a Bible school; Glad Tidings Bible College.

Surviving the harsh regime

The early converts sung “Ggugudde, Ggugudde” (fallen is the baggage of sin) and to many in the 60s and 70s Makerere Full Gospel Church was known as Ggugudde church. From here other churches were planted. Then disaster struck in the 1970s when then President Idi Amin Dada banned Pentecostals.

They ignored the ban. Amin ordered attack on the church. “It was a Wednesday in April 1978 at about 5.30pm,” recalls Ps Mutebi. “I was at the pulpit preaching when the army invaded us, they started firing at the roof and the pulpit where I was standing.” Ps Fred Wantaate, then a student at Makerere University was at the university sports field. “We saw smoke all over. We thought there was nobody still alive in the church,” he recounts.

“When the firing intensified,” Mutebi narrates, “People stood up, raised their hands and prayed in tongues. The firing ceased. Soldiers moved nearer to the believers to listen to what the believers spoke.” Of course they could not understand anything.

Perhaps frightened by the strange language, the soldiers ordered them out of the building, beat them and the leaders, six of them taken to Nakasero State Research Bureau. Meanwhile, the soldiers looted all the church instruments.

At the State Research Bureau, they were asked whether they did not have radios to hear what the president said. They were charged with treason. Mutebi says a soldier sarcastically asked them whether they had ever read in their Bibles about the men who were thrown in the fire but were never burnt. He said he had a jerry can of petrol that he was going to pour on them, light a fire and see if they too would not burn.

“He was a ruthless and arrogant man who would do anything,” says Mutebi. “He then tried to open our cell but the key failed. I think that’s when God saved us.”

Amin had apparently killed the spirit of public meetings but not the spirit of devotion to God. “We operated underground,” says Ps Obedi Rubayiza. “Believers started meeting in their homes.” Rubayiza explains that when Amin was toppled in 1979, believers who met in homes then began holding open-air meetings everywhere. “These were what people referred to as mushrooming churches.”

After 24 days of incarceration, these prisoners of faith were “miraculously” released. “It was a miracle to escape death at the Nakasero dungeons,” says Mutebi. Mutebi, 68, retired last year. Ggugudde has since become brand name for the church’s 10-storied building complex. The church celebrated 50 years of existence in 2010.