Sosthenes Yangu Ayume Dronyi was a prominent advocate of the Revival Movement and the Africanization of church music in Madi and West Nile diocese. He is well remembered for his lively preaching, his testimonies, and his advocacy of African church music.
Dronyi was born in 1923 or 1924 to Yangu and Aya. He had a normal childhood, spending most of his time looking after his father’s goats and cows. But he quickly earned a reputation as a serious learner when opportunity arose in 1936. In his early days, Dronyi was well known for his extraordinary strength and courage and none of his friends would ever challenge him in a fight.
In 1936 Dronyi began his studies at Arua Primary School. As a student at Arua Primary School he always had the highest score in the term examinations. In 1942 he left Arua Primary School and went to Nyapea Junior Secondary School where he spent only one year. Dronyi felt that Nyapea was not an ideal place for him since it only offered academic and not professional courses. In 1944 he began the program at Boroboro Teachers’ Training College. He graduated as a grade II primary school teacher in 1948.
Dronyi’s spiritual journey seems to have begun when he was at Boroboro Teachers’ Training College. Several students at the college had committed their lives to Jesus Christ and their testimonies during Christian gatherings usually stirred up considerable controversy among the student community. During the meetings, these particular students would attack the moral laxity of the other students. At first Dronyi attended these meetings simply to participate in the controversy. Eventually their testimonies heightened Dronyi’s conviction of his own sin although he did not commit his life to Christ at that time.
In 1949, as a young schoolteacher, Dronyi was converted to the charismatic Christianity of the East African Revival. He began to seriously think of abandoning teaching and forsaking everything to preach the Gospel. He immediately became an evangelist, warning against the dangers of drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and practicing witchcraft. Dronyi attracted large numbers of people, some who came to hear the Gospel, others who came out of curiosity, just to hear him preach.
When Dronyi’s piety became generally known in Arua, he had the honor of being distinguished by some of the other lay preachers as their leader. His status in society as a teacher meant that he was well respected and admired by the public. From the time Dronyi was saved he began to aggressively evangelize for the Lord. He developed new strategies of open-air preaching. Lusania Kasamba, one of the team leaders in the Revival Movement, described him saying, “Dronyi would preach while moving swiftly from one spot to another, dancing and shouting as if possessed by the Holy Spirit. He would give testimonies of his evil past life and how Jesus Christ had saved him.”
This new practice of open air preaching was unknown in Arua. In every village Dronyi visited, he announced his purpose and there the crowds who assembled would be roused anew with proclamations of the evangelical doctrines of hell and heaven which very few indigenous priests and European missionaries were willing to tolerate. Dronyi always told his listeners that God had called him to be an evangelist first to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit and secondly to ask men and women to put their trust in God through Jesus Christ and to accept Him as their Lord and Savior.
In 1960 Dronyi married Lois Adrili. Peter Taban, diocesan secretary of Madi and West Nile diocese, spoke about her role in Dronyi’s preaching ministry, saying, “The secret of Dronyi’s success in his preaching ministry rested in the happy fact that he had one of God’s greatest and best gifts–a godly, praying wife. Adrili’s work was to pray for Dronyi and dedicate him to God.”
By the 1960s Dronyi was convinced that an evangelist such as himself should never rest or take a break from his task. He resolved to undertake an itinerant journey of lay preaching throughout Uganda, the Sudan, Congo, and Kenya and embarked on missionary journeys to these countries. Simple but extraordinary, Dronyi’s message proclaimed that Jesus Christ had conquered the spirits troubling people in Africa through His death and resurrection, that Christ’s return was imminent, and that people should therefore prepare for His return by undergoing a radical conversion. Conversion, according to Dronyi, entailed obeying the Ten Commandments, keeping the Sabbath holy, accepting the Bible as the Word of God, and publicly burning the fetishes from African traditional religion which were thought to keep evil spirits away.
Although Dronyi’s mode of preaching was humble in nature, it was eventually recognized as a sufficient vehicle at that time for bringing the Word of God to the local people. Kasamba, a team leader in the Uganda Revival Movement, said, “One of the fruits of this lay and out-of-door preaching was the number of people who would come to the Lord during Dronyi’s missionary tours. In his preaching he would openly challenge the European missionaries, the clergy and the laity to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Through him hundreds and thousands of Christians in Uganda, Kenya, Congo, and the Sudan accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.”
Dronyi challenged whoever accepted Jesus Christ as his or her personal Lord and Savior to be involved in the preaching of the Gospel–a task, he argued, not only reserved for the European missionaries and the clergy. Through his challenge of the status quo, Dronyi freed the proclamation of the Christian message in Madi and West Nile diocese from the monopoly of European missionaries and the clergy. The Madi and West Nile diocese has adopted Dronyi’s strategy of lay involvement in the preaching ministry.
As a saved man, Dronyi considered that Christian care was of paramount importance. In accordance with his natural compassion for the poor and his eagerness to obey Christ’s command to minister to the sick and the widows, he began to pay regular visits to the sick and dying poor, to whom he imparted the consolations of eternal life. He thus became a missionary among the sick in Arua hospitals at a time when such a ministry was most needed because no church had yet taken the responsibility of setting it up.
Dronyi is also remembered in the West Nile region and in the Church of the Province of Uganda as a strong advocate for the indigenization of church music. When European missionaries came to Uganda, they sponsored the translation of missionary hymns into local languages and imposed foreign Christian music on the people. Through repeated singing, foreign Christian music became part of the local people’s collective memory and African music was dismissed as pagan and satanic.
In his sermons Dronyi criticized European missionaries and African church leaders who opposed the use of African music in church services. He argued that music, whether secular or Christian, is a sign of one’s cultural identity and membership in a particular group. On several occasions he condemned the European missionaries’ denigration of traditional rites and customs that were not contrary to biblical teaching. He also attacked their attitudes of racial superiority and paternalism, and their desire to keep the African church in bondage to Europeans for as long as possible.
Dronyi never believed that European missionaries knew better than the Africans themselves what was best for African Christians. He therefore sought to promote an African expression of Christianity through culture and tradition particularly in the area of African music. He always said that as the indigenous expression of the Christian faith meets real and local needs the joy of the Lord overflows among His people. According to Kasamba, Dronyi’s goal “was to see indigenous people use African Christian music in expressing their faithful hearts before the Lord…. to see them have the freedom to worship with what came from the bottom of their hearts as African Christians.”
During Dronyi’s time church authorities condemned the use of African musical instruments in the church because of their “primitive,” “pagan,” and secular associations. For Dronyi this was unfair to African culture because Western church instruments were also used for secular functions. At a time when African musical instruments were condemned as satanic, Dronyi saw nothing wrong with using them during church worship and he composed many African Christian songs which called for their use. In all his Gospel crusades, Dronyi used drums, shakers, and horns. He gathered around him young men and women and taught them to play African instruments. He also encouraged these young African Christian musicians to pass on their new skills to other believers, especially those from other cultures who were interested in the Africanization of church music. On this issue, Dronyi reportedly told his critics that no matter what they did to exclude African instruments from the worship service, one day those musical instruments would find their way back into the church.
Thus in the 1960s, Dronyi led the way in the reclaiming of the African expression of spirituality. Since his time, the indigenization of church music in the Church of the Province of Uganda has long been realized. African Christians in Uganda–especially the younger generation–respond to harmonies and rhythms that they already know from their African culture. They do not have to learn a new musical language in order to worship in the church. Local instruments such as drums and adunggu that were initially forbidden by the Madi and West Nile diocese have become the most widely used instruments in church services, thanks to Dronyi’s influence.
Although Dronyi did not have a sure means of income to support himself and his family, his zealous missionary labors introduced him to wealthy men and women of likeminded spirit who were eager to support his efforts in his preaching tours.
Dronyi’s preaching style caused some discomfort among Madi and West Nile diocese authorities who thought he was going too far. Many people–especially local government authorities–thought Dronyi was disturbing the peace which had reigned in the area for many years. European missionaries and church leaders in the West Nile region perceived Dronyi’s evangelism efforts as spiritual extremism and took him for a fanatic and a lunatic.
Days and weeks of fasting, and all the other severe disciplines to which he had long exposed himself undermined Dronyi’s health. He died on March 12, 1971 at five p.m. in Arua Hospital of high fever and severe dehydration.
The Christian Church especially in Madi and West Nile diocese today enjoys the results of Dronyi’s sacrificial ministry. His level of spirituality, enthusiasm, and commitment to the Revival Movement has become the yardstick used to measure the spirituality of church workers in Madi and West Nile diocese. Today if one does not give his or her testimony as Dronyi did, that individual cannot easily be admitted to the church ministry in that diocese.
“Minutes of Madi and West Nile Diocesan Board of Mission,” 1969 to 1975, [compiled by] mission coordinator.
John Anguyo, principal of Uganda Christian University Study Center, Arua, interviewed by the author, January 2005.
Stephen Gelenga, former youth/mission coordinator of Madi and West Nile diocese, interviewed by the author, June 2005.
Lusania Kasamba, one of the team leaders in the Revival Movement in Uganda, interviewed by the author, December 2004.
Peter Taban, Diocesan Secretary of Madi and West Nile diocese, interviewed by author, January 2005.
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.