Yokana Mukasa Balikudembe was born on October 13, 1917 in the present day Masindi district to Isaaka Mukasa and Malyamu Nankya. His parents were converts to Christianity.
He was baptized on November 23, 1924 and began his primary school studies at Kabalega Central School in the present day Masindi district the same year. In 1932 he transferred to Kigaya Primary School. Despite his Christian upbringing, Balikudembe was unwilling to make any Christian commitment at that time. After spending one year at Kigaya Primary School, Balikudembe went to Duhaga Central School from 1933 to 1935. Balikudembe was one of the brightest students at Duhaga Central School, excelling not only in academics but also showing exceptional character. A strict and highly disciplined student, he attended all extra curricular activities including Christian Union, today known as Uganda Scripture Union.
Balikudembe’s spiritual search seems to have begun while he was at Duhaga Central School. During an interview with the author on February 21, 2005, Balikudembe said: “I would have studied for a well paying job but my heart was set on doing something for Jesus Christ. For me as a young man at that time this meant working in the church as a schoolmaster.” In 1935 he qualified for the teachers’ training course at Mukono Teachers’ Training College but he could not go because he was not yet eighteen. After waiting for at least two years he finally was able to begin the program for the primary teachers’ certificate in education in January 1937.
After his course at Mukono ended in December 1940, Balikudembe became headmaster of Duhaga Boys’ Primary School where he stayed for eight years teaching and talking to his students and staff members about the love of Jesus Christ.
In January 1949, Balikudembe began studies at Makerere College and graduated in December 1950 with a grade III certificate in education. In 1951 he was posted to Kikoma Junior Secondary School.
In 1952 he married Norah and they had ten children. Around this time Balikudembe began to seriously consider going into full-time church ministry. Balikudembe explained, “My call to the ordained ministry came as a result of my desire to do things properly.” He talked about how he was disappointed at that time by many church congregations in Uganda where the people did not know how to sing and read the Sunday lessons properly. From this time onwards, Balikudembe offered his services to the church in addition to thinking about full-time church ministry. In 1953 Balikudembe began an ordination course at Bishop Tucker Theological College.
After his ordination in 1954, Balikudembe was sent to Kasawo Church Teachers’ Training Center where he spent one and half years training catechists for the Buganda and Busoga regions. He faithfully served in that position until September 1956 when he left Kasawo to pursue further studies at Ridely Hall in Cambridge. While in England, Mukasa worked in Plymouth and Busvele parishes. In May 1957, after finishing his studies in England, Balikudembe was appointed tutor and chaplain at Namutamba Teachers’ Training College. In January 1961, Balikudembe was transferred to Bishop Tucker Theological College where he worked for nearly two years. In all these training centers, Balikudembe was ranked as one of the most efficient tutors. He was loved by both his colleagues and his students and he led many of the people he met to the Lord.
In September 1964, he spent one and half years at Heron College which is a part of Western Ontario University in Canada. He returned to Bishop Tucker Theological College in May 1966 and spent the next two years teaching theology courses.
In January 1968 Balikudembe was appointed dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe at a very difficult period in the history of the church in Uganda. At that time there was some controversy over whether St. Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe should become the seat of the archbishop or remain that of the bishop of Namirembe, the oldest diocese in the Church of the Province of Uganda. Balikudembe argued that Namirembe had always been the see of the bishop of the Diocese of Uganda, formed in 1895 by being carved out of Mombasa Eastern Equatorial Diocese, which was part of the Diocese of Canterbury at the time. The controversy was laid to rest when, with Balikudembe’s guidance, Kampala Diocese was created out of Namirembe Diocese and Nakasero Cathedral became the seat of the archbishop and bishop of Kampala Diocese.
Today some people believe that during his time as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe, Balikudembe acted more as a politician than a church man. Balikudembe explained, “It was a very difficult position to occupy, and these were anxious days in the history of the Baganda Christians in Namirembe Diocese. But although some people have always mistaken me to have acted more as a politician than a churchman, I eventually won a reputation for creative and active leadership. I promoted a new vision of Kampala Diocese and Nakasero Cathedral as the seat of the Archbishop of Uganda and bishop of Kampala with energy and commitment.”
After working as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe for five years, Balikudembe was consecrated and enthroned as the first bishop of Mityana diocese in a spirit-filled worship on May 29, 1977. This was a crucial time in Uganda when Christians were being persecuted under Idi Amin’s regime. Many Christians’ testimonies about the death of Archbishop Janan Luwum on February 16, 1977 put Uganda in the international spotlight. In his charge on the day of his consecration and enthronement, Balikudembe said that the process of “becoming” as a diocese required persistence and hard work from all the clergy and the laity. He urged everyone to take to heart the realities of this time of suffering and political turmoil in which they were living and asked them, as a new diocese, to find appropriate ways to respond to the core teachings of Jesus Christ at a time when God’s people in Uganda desperately needed to know that Jesus Christ still reigned.
Many years later, in an interview on May 18, 2005, the third bishop of Mityana Diocese reflected on Balikudembe’s legacy saying, “On assuming duty after his consecration and enthronement as Bishop of Mityana, Balikudembe set out to administer his diocese and did so with a high degree of administrative competence. One of his major assignments was the creation of parishes.” Indeed, Mityana Diocese had only eight poor parishes when Balikudembe became bishop, whereas by the time he retired, the number had grown to thirty rich parishes.
From the outset, Balikudembe wanted to fight poverty, ignorance, and disease in his diocese. He therefore invited Action Aid to work with him to realize his dream. Action Aid built many schools and hospitals, gave the church vehicles and building materials and helped set up various development projects. Balikudembe also invited World Neighbors Organization to teach the people in his diocese agricultural skills. Thanks to his efforts, Mityana Diocese joined the rank of the rich dioceses in the Church of the Province of Uganda during his term of office.
As Balikudembe always attached great value to education as a key to success, he was especially interested in the training of his diocesan clergy. As a result, four bishops have come out of Mityana Diocese and they are now serving in the Church of the Province of Uganda.
Balikudembe was also involved in building ecumenical relations in his diocese between the major denominations in Uganda, namely the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches. He believed that the role of any church was to meet the needs of the local community and that if Christian denominations in Uganda continued to engage in religious wars against one another, the needs of the local community would never be met. According to Balikudembe, the church in Uganda is called by Christ to shed the Gospel light on God’s poor and broken people, rather than to allow inter-denominational quarrels to perpetuate the darkness of Uganda’s painful history that has shamefully defined the church.
Balikudembe also believed that Christians in Uganda are called to live in a unity that respects diversity. He upheld the value of denominations but he also underlined the inherent dangers, saying, “Christians in these denominations are called, as Christ’s own, to respect the dignity and wholeness of every human being. For every person is as precious and valued as God’s own son, Jesus. We are called to protect the body of the living Christ here on this earth against the forces that would destroy it.” The Uganda Joint Christian Council deeply respected Balikudembe’s position on ecumenism and invited him to preach at nearly every gathering on ecumenical relations.
In his free time, Balikudembe wrote books. He realized that many Ugandan Christians do not have the culture of reading and writing and he wanted to lead by example. His first book, entitled Okubatiza Abato (Infant Baptism), came out in 1987 in response to the critics of the theology of infant baptism. His second book, Okunyonyola Katekisimu *(Exposition on Catechism, pub. 2001), dealt with ecclesiology and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. His third book, entitled *Omulokole Byasaana Okukola (What a Saved Person is Supposed to Do, pub. 2003) gives advice to newly converted Christians. In his fourth book entitled *Okukyalira Kwomusunba *(The Bishop’s Pastoral Visits, pub. 2004), Balikudembe talks about his experience as a diocesan bishop, discussing the problems a bishop faces in his work as a spiritual leader. His books are unique because they were written in the local language called Luganda.
Balikudembe was scheduled to retire in 1983, but as Uganda was politically insecure in the 1980s, the Mityana Diocesan Synod asked him to continue as bishop for five more years. Again in 1987 when he was supposed to retire, the archbishop of the Church of the Province of Uganda asked him to attend the 1988 Lambeth Conference before retiring. Balikudembe therefore officially retired in 1989 at the age of 72. He was known throughout his ministry as a great spiritual leader, a peacemaker, and a very kindhearted person who accepted everyone in his diocese and encouraged their active participation. He died on October 17, 2005 at the Uganda Heart Institute at Mulago Hospital at the age of 88 after battling for a short time with heart, liver, and kidney ailments.
Yokana Mukasa Balikudembe, interviewed by the author, February 2005.
Dunstan Bukenya, the third bishop of Mityana diocese, interviewed by the author, May 2005.
Balikudembe, Yokana Mukasa. Okubatiza Abaana Abato. Kampala: Centenary Publishing House, 1987.
——–. Okunyonyola Katekisimu. Kampala: Centenary Publishing House, 2001.
——–. Omulokole Byasaana Okukola. Kampala: Centenary Publishing House, 2003.
——–. Okukyalira Kwomusumba. Kampala: Centenary Publishing House, 2004.
This article, received in 2005, was researched and written by Rev. Dr. Christopher Byaruhanga, 2005-2006 Project Luke fellow and Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Uganda Christian University, a DACB Participating Institution. He is also the liaison coordinator at UCU.