Kivebulaya, Apolo (A)
Apolo was an Ugandan missionary considered the principal pioneer of the Anglican church in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
He and his twin brother Kato were born in Kiwanda (Uganda) in 1864. There were three other siblings in the family.
His original name was Waswa Munubi; “Apolo” and “Kivebulaya” are two foreign names he took later on. He chose the name Apolo during his baptism in 1895 because he remembered another Apolo who “being fervent in spirit, spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus” (Actes 18:25). The name “Kivebulaya” means “from Europe” and was given to him because he wore a suit under his white cassock. Apolo’s fiancee died before they married so he decided to be single. He realized later that it was God’s will he remain single in order to better fulfill his mission in the Congo.
Before becoming a Christian, Apolo was a Muslim soldier against the Christians. He was also an avid hemp smoker. During his military service, he deserted and fled to Ankole where he joined the Protestants (Anglicans). He was attracted by the Christian life, especially the example of Mackay, a missionary from CMS/London who arrived in Uganda in 1878. He said: “At that time I was reading Matthew’s Gospel which I liked very much, especially chapter five verse 13. This passage helped me to become a Christian and to abandon my military service.”
He started studying for baptism in 1894 and was baptized on January 27, 1895. In June of the same year, he decided to become a catechist and followed a basic biblical studies program in Namirembe (Kampala). When the catechists from Toro explained the need for people to serve in their region, Apolo was the first volunteer to go to Toro.
Apolo’s ministry in Toro was very effective and he was very satisfied with it. But a need for catechists arose in Nyagwaki (near Mount Rwenzori) and Apolo was sent to that area on May 9, 1895. But among the Bakonjo in Nyagwaki, Apolo did not think that his work was successful: “I was not happy because no one wanted to be baptized even though they would come and listen to the gospel.” A few months later, Apolo was called back from Nyagwaki. At the same time, the Anglican Church of Uganda was seeking a missionary to go to Boga, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Apolo offered to go.
Apolo left his country in December 1896 and walked over the Rwenzori mountains. When he saw the smoke beyond the river Semliki, he was convinced that there were human beings living there. He crossed the river and walked 50 miles through the forest to Boga. He only took along his Bible and his hoe. He carried his hoe to make sure he would survive in his new mission field because earlier, two other missionaries, Petero and Sedulaka, from Uganda who had come to Boga, had had to return home because they were not willing to work with their hands and could not feed themselves.
Apolo preached the gospel in Boga and some of the people became Christians. But the majority were offended by his preaching, because it was against traditional practices, especially polygamy and the drinking of alcohol. Chief Tabaro was one of those who were offended and as a result, he forbade the Christians to build a church and ordered them not to give Apolo any food, but instead to let him die of hunger or be driven away. But it didn’t discourage this servant of God and he continued his ministry in Boga.
In 1898 the chief’s sister who lived in Apolo’s household died by falling accidently onto a spear that had been carelessly left in the tall grasses at a building site. Apolo was blamed for her death and was locked up, beaten and then sent to Uganda to be tried.
There he had a dream which greatly helped him in his spiritual life. He said: “I saw Jesus shining like the sun. He said to me, ‘Take heart, for I am with you.’ Since that year whenever I preach, people leave their old customs and repent.”
When Apolo was released, chief Tabaro asked him to return to Boga and Apolo agreed. There the chief became a Christian and a close friend of Apolo.
Apolo was ordained a deacon on December 21, 1900 in Toro and then a priest in June 1903 in the Namirembe Cathedral. Contrary to Anglican tradition, he refused to wear the pastoral collar for personal reasons. Nevertheless, he did wear the liturgical robes.
Apolo declared the year 1921 “the year of the Gospel.” Encouraged by the Lord, he took the gospel to the inhabitants of the forest: the Walese, the Wanyali, and the Wambuti (the latter are pygmies). He said: “Christ appeared before me as a man. It was like seeing a man who was my brother. He said to me: ‘Go, preach in the forest, because I am with you. I am who I am–this is my Name.’”
Apolo went amongst these peoples as a friend, eating their food and sleeping in their houses. He baptized pygmies for the first time in 1932.
Apolo died on May 30th, 1933 at Boga, his mission field. Contrary to tradition, he was buried with his head toward the west (not the east) at his own request. In doing so, his desire was to indicate that the gospel needed to be taken to the western part of the country.
His prophecy is accomplished. The Anglican Church is now one of the great churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Anne Luck, *African Saints: The Story of Apolo Kivebulaya *(London: SCM Press, 1963).
——–,* Omutukuvu omwafrica* (Mwanza: Inland Press,1966).
J. W. Roome, Apolo, the Apostle to the Pygmies (London: Hunt-Bernard, n.d.).
Yossa Way, “La Notion des fêtes dans le judaisme et son implication dans l’Eglise Anglicane du Congo,” mémoire de licence soutenu à l’I.S.T.B., 1998.
——–, Kwa imani Apolo: Maisha ya Apolo Kivebulaya (Great Britain: Paradigm Print, 1960).
This article, received in 2002, was researched and written by Rev. Yossa Way, Project Luke Fellow and Professor of Theology at the Institut Supérieur Théologique Anglican in Bunia, Democratic Republic of the Congo.