Yustus Ruhindi was born in 1925 in the present day Rukungiri district. He spent most of his childhood looking after his father’s cows and goats. His father was a traditional medicine man. In 1932 Ruhindi’s family moved to Ankole where they met Erasto Gahire, a Christian and a chief in the king’s government. Gahire offered to pay Ruhindi’s school fees from primary school up to secondary level.
Ruhindi was baptized on April 12, 1935 and started primary education in 1936. In 1940 he enrolled at Mbarara High School where he proved to be one of the well-disciplined and bright students. At Mbarara High School Ruhindi met committed Christian teachers who greatly influenced his spiritual and academic life. As a result, Ruhindi decided to join the teaching profession.
In 1946, Ruhindi enrolled in a three-year certificate course in education at the Teachers’ Training College in Mukono. While there Ruhindi committed his life to Jesus Christ. From that time on he began to think seriously about joining the ordained ministry. In 1949, after he finished his program, Ruhindi was posted to Ibanda Primary School, one of the most difficult schools in Ankole. Both parents and students were uncooperative and rude to the teachers. But Ruhindi managed to draw many of the parents to himself. Through his commitment to Jesus Christ and to his work, the academic standards and discipline of the school improved tremendously. For the first time Ibanda Primary School began to send students to Mbarara High School for further studies.
At Ibanda, Ruhindi got fully involved in church activities. For instance, he assisted the parish priest by reading lessons and leading church services. He was also elected one of the church wardens.
On May 1, 1951, Ruhindi married Beatrice and they had five children. That year he was appointed headmaster of the same school.
At the end of 1955 Ruhindi resigned his post as headmaster and went to Bishop Tucker Theological College for an ordination course. He was one of the pioneers in the English class. Ruhindi’s decision to resign his post and join full-time church ministry surprised many Christians in Ankole. Why should one leave a well paying job for a deadend position in church ministry? But for Ruhindi, serving the Lord was more important than all other callings in life.
Ruhindi was ordained a deacon in 1957 and was sent to St. James Cathedral in Ruharo to work under the rural dean. At St. James, Ruhindi was introduced to different church ministries. He was in charge of the English service and taught Christian religious education in schools. Ruhindi served in Mbarara at a time when the church congregation at St. James was divided along political lines. Ruhindi however, managed to initiate reconciliation between Christians. In 1959 Ruhindi organized a Christian crusade during which the queen mother of Ankole accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. In March 1960 Ruhindi was ordained a priest. In August he left for further theological studies at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University (U.S.A.). He was the second student from Uganda to go to the United States of America for theological training.
At Berkeley, Ruhindi was exposed to many new theological ideas especially in the area of ecclesiology. He was very much influenced by the Broad Church movement as well as Billy Graham’s theology. In 1963 he returned to Uganda with a Master of Divinity. He was posted to Bishop Tucker Theological College as a tutor and a college chaplain and eventually became principal of the college. During his tenure as principal, Bishop Tucker College was transformed into a modern institution of higher learning. Ruhindi began a building project to create modern residential staff houses, dormitories, and a dining hall. The college also began a theology program aimed at attracting educated men and women to the ordained ministry.
In August of 1972, Ruhindi was invited to become the first bishop of Bunyoro-Kitara diocese. Due to the good reputation he had earned for himself at Bishop Tucker Theological College, many protested his departure. Two missionaries on the staff resigned their teaching positions in protest. They argued that the church in Uganda needed a man like Ruhindi to lead a theological college where men and women were trained for church ministry. While others in Uganda qualified to be bishop of Bunyoro-Kitara diocese, none measured up to Ruhindi’s style of leadership as a principal of a theological college. They further argued that Bishop Tucker Theological College had a greater need for trained theological educators such as Ruhindi than did a rural diocese.
Ruhindi was consecrated bishop on August 6, 1972 at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe and enthroned as the first bishop of Bunyoro-Kitara diocese on October 29, 1972. In his charge to the church, Ruhindi indicated that his episcopal ministry in Bunyoro-Kitara diocese was going to focus on strengthening the life of the congregation. In an interview Ruhindi said “I wanted the Christians in Bunyoro-Kitara diocese to realize that they were the baptized of the community of the body of Christ and, as such, they had to understand the implications of being baptized and living in the spirit of baptism.”
Ruhindi’s first priority was spiritual revival among the Christians in his diocese. By 1972, the church in Bunyoro had spiritually degenerated to the extent that some of the parishes had closed down as a result of a great rift in the Christian congregations between those who considered themselves “saved” or “committed” Christians and the nominal Christians. The “committed Christians,” though few in number, were in control of the church in Bunyoro and had made sure that all other Christians never participated in any church activity. One of the first diocesan administrators during Ruhindi’s episcopate said, “Ruhindi began by calling all the Christians to rededicate themselves to God. He considered the church to be a home for everybody regardless of their spiritual standard.”
Ruhindi’s theology was encapsulated in the call garuka which means “come as you are.” The garuka theology centered on his understanding of the two Gospel sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. Ruhindi regarded baptism as the sacrament whereby an individual is introduced into the Christian spiritual life. He believed that the waters of baptism change a Christian from the condition of guilt and sinfulness to a state of spiritual rebirth. As regards the sacrament of the Eucharist, Ruhindi believed in the real presence, the doctrine whereby the body and blood of Christ are in some way really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. But above all, he said that the body and blood of Christ were in the believers who gather for worship. His argument was that the believers are, and should always be, a holy community. He also taught that sacraments were for repentant sinners. He therefore called upon all Christians to get rid of all hypocrisy and self-justification. Due to Ruhindi’s episcopal ministry, many Christians in Bunyoro-Kitara diocese experienced a spirit of oneness and openness which eventually created equality among them.
Ruhindi’s next program was the mobilization of human resources. He said, “I knew if I had to succeed in my episcopal ministry I had to mobilize everybody, namely, the clergy and the lay people. It was my joy to see how the lay people came to support my ministry. Some top district officials came with their expertise in different fields to support the work of the diocese.” Ruhindi opened a Bible College in Hoima for lay readers. He visited many secondary schools where he attracted thousands of young people to the church. It was mainly from these secondary school students that Ruhindi got a good number of well-educated young people to train for church ministry. One of them is the author of this article.
Ruhindi was not satisfied with only training his priests locally. He therefore sent many people who had been called to the ministry to Bishop Tucker Theological College, Mukono for advanced theological studies and those at a lower academic level were sent to Bishop Balya Theological College, Bukuku. His idea was that, as citizens of Bunyoro became more sophisticated in their world outlook, the diocese of Bunyoro-Kitara would want clergymen conversant with the new outlook, so as to be able to relate the Bible and the teachings of Christ to the challenges of the day. This would only be possible if the priests had academic qualifications equivalent to those held by the best educated men and women in Bunyoro.
In 1972, there were only five active but poor parishes in Bunyoro-Kitara diocese. Ruhindi’s first challenge was to determine how to sustain and expand these parishes. He asked each of these parishes to design a five-year development program. Ruhindi said “I remember going to every parish to lead them in determining what should be their priorities in the next five years and, at first, all of them had building construction as their priority. I told them that in the next five years you cannot just be putting up buildings–there are other things of greater priority in a parish. I wanted them to tell me how in five years their parish will have affected the community around them. As I continued teaching, their priorities began to be clear–namely, evangelism, pastoral care, teaching, health, education and income generating projects.” By 1977 the number of parishes had increased to forty.
With the increase in the number of parishes, Ruhindi’s next challenge was to find ways to sustain these parishes and the diocesan office. He realized that parishes in Bunyoro-Kitara diocese were operating on a very tight budget. Not only were church workers paid very little money but it was not uncommon for them to work for months without a salary. Much of the money needed to run the diocese came from Ruhindi’s friends in the U.S.A. but it was not enough. He could not see why the church in Bunyoro could not be self-reliant. In an interview, one of the parish priests who worked with him said, “Bishop Ruhindi used to say that he does not want to be a bishop of a diocese which is very poor in the midst of plenty.” Ruhindi therefore launched the Bunyoro-Kitara Diocesan Self-Reliance Program. He invited the staff of Christian Rural Service to Bunyoro to teach people about crops and animal husbandry, hygiene, food nutrition and family planning. In order to improve the health standards of the people, he opened several health clinics in his diocese. Through the Bunyoro-Kitara Diocesan Self-reliance Program, the standard of living improved for many people.
Under Ruhindi’s leadership, the ministry of Bunyoro-Kitara diocese soon made a difference in the lives of people completely consumed by their struggle for survival. Soon their lives were filled with promise, potential, and hope for a future. People in Bunyoro began to make plans and acquire property they never thought they would be able to buy. Families in Bunyoro began to give their children the kind of education that would give them a world of constructive choices. By the time Ruhindi transferred to North Kigezi, Bunyoro-Kitara diocese, which had always came in last in every aspect of the church’s life, was listed as the third most successful diocese in the church of the Province of Uganda.
In 1981, Ruhindi felt the call to go and develop his home diocese in Rukungiri. He was enthroned as the first bishop of North Kigezi in Rukungiri on April 12, 1981. The situation in North Kigezi was not very different from that of Bunyoro-Kitara diocese in the 1970s. He therefore used the same theology and strategy for church growth and development. Although many Christians in North Kigezi resisted his sacramental theology, his ministry in this diocese was saved by the 1988 Lambeth Conference’s support of his theology. According to Ruhindi, the success in his episcopal ministry was the result of mobilizing people for various tasks in the diocese. He said, “My work as a bishop was to lead them with ideas, to hear the response of the people, to listen to them– not to try to impose anything on them.”
In January 1996, Ruhindi retired from his episcopal duties and died of what the doctors called natural causes on February 28, 2006 at Kadic hospital in Kampala at the age of 81. At his funeral service, the president of Uganda characterized Ruhindi as a man of vision and a practical church leader who could make his God-given vision live in the hearts and actions of men and women under his care.
“Bishop Tucker Student Profiles,” [compiled by administration], 1950-1960.
Bishop Yustus Ruhindi, interviewed by the author, March 2004.
Kyamanywa, Nathan. Ebyafaayo by’Ekanisa ya Uganda omu Bunyoro 1895-1995. Kampala: Earnest Publishers, 1996.
“Minutes of Bunyoro-Kitara Diocesan Council” [compiled by] diocesan secretary, 1972 to 1981.
G. Nyamayarwo, diocesan council member during Bishop Ruhindi’s time, interviewed by the author, August 2004.
Wilson Turumanya, former diocesan administrator during Ruhindi’s time, interviewed by the author, January 2005.
New Vision Newspaper, February 28, 2006.
New Vision Newspaper, March 4, 2006.
This article, received in 2006, 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.