Every year on June 3rd, Christians across Uganda commemorate the Ugandan Martyrs who were killed under the reign of King Mwanga. It's not a sad day, but a day of rejoicing for people of faith because of the fact that the martyrs didn't fear death; they knew that by standing strong to their faith they would reach a new, better world after their lives on this world were over.
How did it all begin?
Christianity was very new to Uganda in 1885 when the first of 22 young Christian converts gave his life as a martyr for his faith. Christian missionaries came to Uganda and taught that both slavery and polygamy were wrong. When King Mwanga took the throne at 18, these teachings led to the persecution and martyrdom of Christians through Uganda. King Mwanga felt that through persecution the spread of Christianity throughout Uganda would be stifled and inevitably die; but in fact the reverse occurred. The Christian beliefs spread rapidly, and people responded with faith, and not fear.
Eventually King Mwanga gave the Ugandan people a choice; refuse Christianity or be martyred. On June 3rd, 1886, 22 Christians were burned in fire for their faith. The surprising thing is that these martyrs were filled with joy in the time preceding their death, and they kept on praying. Rev Dr Steve Noll, vice-chancellor of Uganda Christian University writes: “The Uganda Martyrs were not really “page-boys,” but rather royal courtiers, the king’s elite officers. When many of these courtiers embraced Christianity, Kabaka (King) Mwanga came to feel his absolute authority was being threatened. He had learned the practice of homosexuality from the Arab traders and used it as a way of lording it over his inferiors. When the Christians refused, he saw it as one more sign of their treason. So, like the young men of Nebuchadnezzar’s court, he decided to put them to the test: renounce the Christian God or die. And their response was the same: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.” (Dan 3:17-18)”
During Martyrs Day, Christians throughout Uganda often make a pilgrimage to the site where the 22 martyrs were killed. People pray, and merchants who ordinarily do business in the area will close up shop for the day. Martyrs Day is a very special day, not only for Ugandans, but for every person of faith who believes in religious freedom and wants to celebrate it. No matter what your faith, we can all agree that there should be religious freedom for people of all faiths, and today is a day that you can honor your faith and honor the people who gave their lives for religious freedom or for their religion. Find out more about African holidays and events by Clicking Here.