Bishop John Henry Okullu was an outspoken critic of the Kenyan government in his sermons and publications on issues of human rights and justice, advocating a multiparty system of governance.
Okullu was born in 1929 in Ramba Village, Asembo Central Location, Siaya District, Nyanza Province in Kenya. He was the first male child to survive after nine children had died in infancy and childhood. His father, Ong’owo Adero and mother, Ngore Nyar, daughter of Alaro named him Okullu after a renowned harp player. He was baptized in 1947 and given the names John Henry. His nicknames were Oke K’Ochieng and Wuod (son of) Ngore. He is a Luo from the Kokise kinship and is fluent in Dho Luo, Luganda, Swahili, and English.
John Henry started school at the age of 13. He went to Kima for upper Primary School education in 1946 but left without a certificate as a protest against the injustice in the school. He worked in the Ramba gold mines to earn money for his tuition and studied at home, receiving the Cambridge School Certificate in 1961.
A year after his father died, he was married to Esther Benta Nyambok in 1951 after selling his father’s property for bride price. The Okullus have 6 children and 14 grandchildren.
From 1963 to 1965, he studied at Virginia Theological Seminary in the U.S.A. and received a Bachelor of Divinity degree. In 1973, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree by the same institution for his exemplary service.
Before his ordination in 1957 as a deacon and in 1958 as a priest, Okullu served the Luo community as a lay person at Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala, Uganda. From 1962 to 1971, he was the editor of a Christian Newspaper in Uganda called New Day, known for its fight for justice. He moved to Kenya and worked with other Christian English and Swahili publications such as Target and Lengo involved in the struggle against social and political injustice in Kenya.
He was consecrated as the first black provost of the Nairobi All Saints Cathedral in 1971 and bishop of Maseno South Diocese where he served until his retirement in 1994. He initiated the building of several churches in the diocese which he divided into three, placing bishops in each one of them. In the diocese, he discouraged the excessive feasting during funerals which left the relatives of the deceased poor, even though it went against local African tradition.
During his ministry, Okullu served on many national and international committees as well as numerous local bodies. He started a financial company to provide loans for the poor and initiated development projects including educational institutions, agricultural and health programs and water supply to the rural parts of Kenya. His last project before he died was Friends of Democracy. His dream was the creation of a Kenya which would be democratic and economically viable.
Oscar Hosseya, research, Pan Africa Christian College, Nairobi, Kenya.
John Henry Okullu, Church and Politics in East Africa, (Nairobi, Kenya: Uzima Press Ltd., 1974).
——–, Church and Marriage in East Africa, (Nairobi, Kenya: Uzima Press Ltd).
——–, Church and State in Nation Building and Human Development, (Nairobi, Kenya: Uzima Press Ltd., 1984).
Quest for Justice: An Autobiography of John Henry Okullu, (Kisumu, Kenya: Shalom Publishers, 1997).
This story, submitted in 2000, was written by Dr. Francis Manana, Professor of Evangelism and Missions and DACB Liaison Coordinator, Pan African Christian College, Nairobi, Kenya.