Rev. Canon Odora: Ministering in post-war Northern Uganda
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/04/rev-canon-odora-ministering-in-post-war-northern-uganda/
Rev. Canon Odora interacts with a member of the congregation outside St. Phillip’s Cathedral in Gulu shortly after a service on January 1, 2019. (UCU Partners photo)By Douglas Olum
(In the morning of Thursday, December 6, I took a walk through a small town called Lacor, about three miles west of the larger and better-known Gulu Town in Uganda. I was on my way to meet a clergyman to write his story. It was only 9 O’clock, but already I saw men, both young and old, most of them dressed in torn, dirty clothes flocking alcohol shops that line the road. Many are people who lost their property to wealthy land grabbers. All are languishing in chronic poverty, thereby, using alcohol as a mean of escaping unemployment and other stability problems. This, then, is an account of one pastor doing his work in Northern Uganda.)
In the face of poverty, trauma and alcoholism, Christian preachers in Northern Uganda are faced with double-edged challenges as they strive to balance their ministry and the dire circumstances under which their flock live.
The situation is worse in rural areas where illiteracy is at its peak. In many sections, children cannot access schools.The health facilities, if any, are non-functional. And, due to the subsistence nature of agriculture, which is their only source of livelihood, people cannot afford decent lives. But these are the flocks that clergymen and women in the region herd.
“As a priest in this area, many people come to you to ask for food stuffs, financial assistance and other issues such as conflict resolution and mediation, addiction and failure to meet personal needs,” Reverend Canon Francis Willy Odora says.
Rev. Canon Odora is the Vicar at St. Phillip’s Cathedral in Gulu, about 275 miles north of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. His daily chores include:Ministering at the Cathedral, Office planning, counseling,praying with the sick, weekly ministering on a local radio (102 Mega FM) station, teaching at the Janani Luwum Theological College and pastoral visits to churches, families and elderly people who cannot walk to the church.
As he sets out to go to work in the morning, his wife, Mrs. Grace Odora, also leaves for the garden. She does most of the farming, but sometimes her husband accompanies her before he goes to work.
Residing in a small, one-level, two-bedroom house within the diocese’s premises, Canon Odora and his wife often are approached by needy persons. They seek food, school fees and other basic necessities. They only give food.
“Those that ask for what to cook, we give them food stuffs because we do not buy our food. We produce it. And it is easier for us to give because that is the only thing we have,” Canon Odora says.
Following the more than two decades of insurgency in the region, Canon Odora says, the level of desperation among Christians is extremely high. Besides the relief syndrome that has left the people constantly expectant and dependent, they are also faced with social and emotional injuries among the community, including trauma among those who returned from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) captivity and those who lost their dear ones to the conflict. These victims of what is also known as the “bush war” need reparation.
“People who have lived desperate lives and are socially injured demand a lot of attention,” he says. “The good thing is that, we had a partnership with a group called ‘Healing the Orphaned Hearts,’ that trained us, the clergy and catechists on trauma healing.”
At 58 years, Canon Odora feels exhausted, yet the demand for his service among the community is continuous. He wants to retire from priesthood. However, his greatest worry is the replacement.
Like him, tens of other senior priests are in the evenings of their service as they are counting down years before they clock their retirement age of 65. These older clergy do not match the number of new entrants into priesthood.
Many of the younger men and women coming on board are pursuing only Certificates and Diplomas in Divinity. Canon Odora says clergy with lower credentials are sometimes undermined by some members of the congregation. They are deemed incapable of analyzing, interpreting or preaching the word to congregation expectations.
“We have had instances where some parishes have rejected some clergy because of their education background or their fluency in the English language,” he says. “These are common especially in the urban areas. You know, society has changed today. The level of understanding of the people has also changed. So, they now require clergy who are highly educated who meet their standards.”
He thinks having more people pursue theological education at higher levels will keep the Church abreast with the changing society and also save it from losing believers to the mushrooming Pentecostal Churches that preach prosperity and wealth instead of true evangelism.
But, while his reasoning could be a necessity for the continuity of the Anglican Church of Uganda, the Diocese of Northern Uganda, where he belongs, is faced with a huge financial challenge: It cannot support the education for its current and future clergy. A huge reason for the gap is the financial status of most Christians that affect not only tithing but also weekly collections.
Patrick Lumumba, the Diocesan Secretary, says many times they have secured half-scholarships from Uganda Christian University (UCU) for their clergy to upgrade but have failed to raise the other half of the tuition to push them till conclusion. As a result, many of them have dropped out.
The need is great.
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