Life at the coalface in North Karamoja

Chris Howles

In September, I went up to the Diocese of North Karamoja in northern Uganda for four days. It is right up on the Uganda/Kenya/South Sudan border and, to reach it, I flew there on a small MAF plane. This Diocese is perhaps the poorest, most remote diocese in Uganda and the parish of Rev Peter Henry Otyang - one of my former students - is the poorest, most remote parish in that diocese. It was a different world to Namugongo, which is already a different world to the UK. I was moved, inspired, rebuked, saddened and motivated.

I began my visit in the neighbouring diocese of Karamoja and visited a small lay-reader training school that two of my former students are teaching at. They're doing brilliant work with 28 young Christian leaders – basically replicating what they learnt at Uganda Martyrs Seminary (UMS). The on-site accommodation was 18 men sharing one small room.

I went back to the home of one of the teachers who I knew and he gifted me this karamajong wrap. The hat is made of human hair and ostrich feathers. 


We then drove for a couple of hours to get into the Diocese of North Karamoja. As the photos show, it is poor, desolate, immense, beautiful, hot, dry and fascinating. You can't get any further in Uganda than this from the wealth and power of Kampala. Here, cows are everything: food, drink, security, status, power, respect. 


Most of the time we were with Rev Peter, my former student. He is a nobody in world terms, but a giant spiritually-speaking. He has my absolute respect and needs all our prayers. Pray that the Lord would sustain him. There is so little input and encouragement for him. Pray that God would hold him firm, pick him up after disappointments, cheer him during the hardships, and refresh him through bible teaching and Christian fellowship somehow. A few days after visiting him he was involved in a motorcycle accident and was raced to hospital to have his spleen removed. Pray for him as he continues to recover. 

This is where he lives (his vicarage!). His parish has not a single centimetre of tarmac in it, nor an Anglican church building. The six or seven congregations he is responsible for all meet under trees. The parish is over 80km across but Rev Peter has no motorbike or bicycle and there is no public transport. He gets no salary - the total weekly giving across the parish can be less than £8. He survives on what he can dig and grow, plus the occasional help from well-wishers.

The congregations are 95% or more women. The absent men are often out drinking local brew, out with the cows, deeply animistic, or all three. There is little Islam but a lot of pluralism, syncretism and animism. The parish is rife with various social problems: drunkenness, domestic violence, and more. Pray for Christians to shine like stars in the sky as they hold out the word of life in this crooked generation (Philippians 2:15-16).

Whilst I was there, Paul (an AIM missionary) and I did some training from 2 Timothy with some key Christians from the area. It was so 'easy' for us to do but was so appreciated and well-received.

I often dislike living in Kampala and UMS is not always easy but when we see the extraordinary work Rev Peter is doing with his training from here we remember why UMS is so important in the Church of Uganda. It was a joy to see the fruit of the college’s work evident hundreds of km away from Namugongo. 

The harvest is so, so plentiful but the workers so, so few. We need to urgently pray that the comparatively-abundantly well-resourced southern and central parts of Uganda would lift their eyes up to the needier parts of their own country a little. For many Christians here the boundaries of their mission field are the edge of their own diocese. We have a dream at UMS of training a new generation of passionate, sacrificial missionaries within Uganda who will go out with God’s word to the Karamajong people as well as the atheists in universities, the Somali Muslims in Kampala and other people groups within Uganda and the region. We need Ugandans to train in God-glorifying, gospel-focused, contextual, relevant mission and go to places like this. This is an exciting opportunity. Please pray! We’d also love to work on how we can bring some keen young men and women from there down to college here to Namugongo to train for ministry back in North Karamoja. Please pray!


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Chris Howles

Chris is a mission partner in Uganda, where he teaches at Uganda Martyrs' Seminary. Chris is also pursuing a PhD in Missiology with Fuller Seminary and runs From Every Nation.