Uganda, a country that remains one of the poorest nations in the world, is home to the Batwa people. Once known as “pygmies,” which means small-stature hunter-gatherers of the equatorial forests, the Batwa are believed to be among the first inhabitants of the earth and one of the oldest surviving indigenous tribes in Africa.
Once known as “pygmies,” which means small-stature hunter-gatherers of the equatorial forests, the Batwa are believed to be . . . one of the oldest surviving indigenous tribes in Africa.
Traditionally, the Batwa lived in the forests high in the mountains in harmony with Uganda’s famed gorillas. In 1991, however, the Ugandan government forcibly expelled the Batwa from their land to save the endangered mountain gorillas. Using violence, they destroyed the Batwa’s homes and properties and killed their livestock. A massive deforestation effort destroyed the Batwa’s ability to survive and make a living based on the woodland resources.
Where they once ruled the forest, the Batwa people now reside in town slums, where they are left to beg for their survival. Displaced and never properly resettled, they are among the poorest populations in one of the poorest nations. The Batwa have suffered widespread discrimination and have largely been considered unlovable and unreachable.
In 2012, Pastor George Mbonyebyombi of Kisoro Baptist Church, a church closest to the slums where many of the Batwa live, was overwhelmed with a passion and burden for the Batwa people. He made it his mission to bring the gospel to them and has since planted three churches to minister to them.
The Batwa are now active members of these churches.
“We wish to see more transformation happen in these communities,” said Pastor Mbonigaba Johnson of Rukeri Baptist Church, one of Pastor George’s church plants. “We long to see these church plants strong and established in the Word to the point of the Batwa boldly proclaiming the gospel of truth.”
Pastor Johnson is working with WordPartners to help train the Batwa to faithfully teach God’s Word even as they help this community break the cycle of poverty and dependence that has plagued them for decades.
The movement of these churches is also helping to break the cycle of discrimination among Ugandans against the Batwa.
“The gospel reaches everyone.”
“Though stigma and discrimination toward the Batwa are still present in the community, the attitude of the members within the three church plants has completely changed,” says Pastor Johnson. “We eat with the Batwa, and they participate in all church activities. The church choir includes both the Batwa and non-Batwa. We stress that you cannot preach the gospel to people if you discriminate against them.”
Romans 1:16-17 is Rukeri Baptist Church’s key verse: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (ESV).
“I am strongly convicted that the Lord is urging us to reach the unreachable tribes in our communities,” says Pastor Johnson. “The gospel reaches everyone.”