Severino Okoya, who is also known as Kibero, is the father of Alice Auma (Lakwena) and was the founder of the Jerusalem Melter Church in Gulu, northern Uganda. Alice Auma (Lakwena) was the leader of the Holy Spirit Movement in the 1980s in northern Uganda.
Okoya was born to Masimino Gang and Theresista Atoo-Gang of the Ayira clan, in Adjumani (where his father worked), Gulu district, on December 12, 1928. He was the third child out of the twelve children that were born into the family.
The family of Masimino Gang had a lot of problems, as eleven of the twelve children died in infancy, and only Okoya survived. Okoya recounted the family’s trials as his mother related them to him: one day, she met a big snake with twelve crowns; after that, all of her children except Okoya died. On another day, his mother left him in the house and went to take a bath. On returning, she could not find him (the baby); after a thorough search around the homestead, she found him sleeping in the kraal among the sheep. He was already transfigured into a leopard, so his mother had to perform a traditional ritual in order to make him become a normal human again. Okoya’s father Masimino Gang died in 1938, when Okoya was ten years old. Lauaka Daniel married his mother and took them to Awach, where the boy grew up.
Okoya was baptized in the Catholic faith at Lukome Catholic church in Gulu district, and was later confirmed by the Catholic bishop Angelo Negri. However, he was converted to Protestant faith by the preaching of Rev. Yonasani Ocama in Awach parish, and he became an Anglican Christian. Sometime later, around 1945, a severe drought occurred in that area. One day, his mother had gone looking for water [and fell into] a fast flowing stream, in which [she nearly] drowned. However, with the help of some other people, Okoya rescued her from death. After that bitter experience, she began to speak in different languages, as the spirit gave utterance, but people in the village thought that she was crazy. Okoya attended primary school from 1946 to 1948 in two schools: Anyadwe in Ajulu, and also in Lukodi. He was already a young man by then, and he had to leave school for financial reasons.
Okoya married Everina Ayaa of the Lukwor clan in Awere sub-county, which is now in the Pader district. They had fifteen children, among which was Auma Alice Lakwena, the first leader of the Holy Spirit rebel movements in northern Uganda. Only three of those children are still living at this time (2010).
Okoya’s prophetic ministry began on August 12, 1958. While he was reading the book of the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 42:1 ff., a light suddenly flashed into the book, and he heard a voice saying: “Okoya, I have chosen you to be my worker…” From that time on, he continued praying and dedicating himself to God. In 1967, his mother died. Okoya claims to be [able to see] the spirit of his mother on the holy mountain of God.
After the death of his mother, his children experienced strange health problems like chronic ulcers, dumbness and deafness, and insanity, and many of his children died. In 1984, a struggle for leadership arose between Okoya and his daughter Auma as to who should be the first to lead the rebellion. The conflict worsened when Auma Alice ordered the father to slaughter one of the bullocks designated for the payment of her brother’s dowry. As a result, the frustrated brother joined the army, and he died. One day, in anger, Okoya’s wife hit him until he died. He recalls the experience of being taken up to heaven where he met Moses, who gave him the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. This was followed with an infusion of many spirits, and he was told to distribute those spirits to all the people in the whole world. Okoya recuperated in the hospital and soon began preach to those who were nursing him; about twelve people became his immediate converts.
In 1986, Okoya, professor Isaac Newton Ojok, Joseph Kony (the current LRA rebel leader), and others joined Alice Auma’s Holy Spirit Mobile Force to fight the National Resistance Army led by president Yoweri Museveni. When Auma’s forces were defeated, she fled and took refuge in Kenya. Other groups fled back and regrouped themselves. Okoya became the leader of that group, which then operated mainly in Kitgum district, very close to the Sudan border.
Okoya proclaimed himself to be “God the Father.” He was assisted by an Anglican priest known as Rev. Joel Orute and an ordinand named Lakwonyero Berkley, who renamed himself Rev. John Oballim. Okoya claimed that he had been sent with a mission [and ministry] of restoring peace in war-torn Acholiland, of curing barrenness, of healing all sorts of diseases, of performing exorcisms, and of planting new altars or new shrines all over northern Uganda.
However, Okoya’s Holy Spirit Movement was well known for the atrocities they inflicted on people who defied their orders. Okoya destroyed all the traditional shrines and took away the traditional royal spear belonging to the Pajong clan of the Mucwini, in Kitgum district. He severely flogged Christians and priests who opposed his preaching. Whenever people were reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Sunday worship, saying: “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…,” he would angrily tell the congregation to say: “Our Father who is Here, Allow thy Will to be done on Earth…”
Okoya claims that he did not fight Yoweri Museveni’s army to topple the government but that he fought to defend himself and the group which was constantly being attacked by government troops in that area. In 1995, under intense pressure from government troops, Okoya surrendered and asked for amnesty and a presidential pardon. The government allowed him to settle among the people in Gulu municipality, where he built a new church for himself and a few followers, called the New Jerusalem Melter Church. Their symbol is a star, a crescent moon, and a cross, which is an amalgamation of the religious symbols for Islam and Christianity.
Okoya continues to attempt to propagate his new church and religion in the neighboring districts of Amuru, Kitgum, Pader, and Lira, but he meets stiff resistance from the people, who are fed up with the problems of the Holy Spirit Movements and his empty claims. Many times he and his close associates, including prominent church leader professor Isaac Newton Ojok, formerly the Minister of Education in the Obote II government from 1981 to 1986, are ejected from public hearings. Okoya has often been jailed briefly by district officials for confusing the masses, but many times the human rights activists have pled for him and his activities under the right to religious freedom which is enshrined in the constitution of Uganda.
Okoya claims that his church has the mission of restoring the Ten Commandments that were given to Moses, but that people have defied them. The rise and fall of Severino Okoya in political struggles paved the way for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) under the leadership of Joseph Kony. Kony is also related to Auma Alice, commonly called Lakwena (Lakwena is an Acholi word for a messenger or mediator). Auma Alice died a few years ago, but her father Severino Okoya is still alive, although aging and active in his church.
Oral Interview of Severino Okoya carried out by Rev. Luke Obote, an Anglican priest of Bungatira Church of Uganda.
This article, received in 2010, was written by Rev. Wilson Atine, DACB liaison coordinator at Archbishop Janani Luwum Theological College, Gulu, Uganda, a DACB participating institution. Rev. Atine attended the DACB Oral History Workshop held at Uganda Christian University in Mukono, October 27-31, 2008, and co-sponsored by Global South Institute.