Okusinza mu Luganda #9: “It’s about being part of people’s lives”

by Shanon Shah

In the second part of this interview, Stephen Kafeero explains how his spiritual conversion led him from his childhood Catholicism to a rejuvenated balance of worship at Okusinza and Liberty Christian Fellowship in Camberwell. Along the way, he and Shanon Shah celebrate the ways in which they have been brought together by the fellowship of Okusinza mu Luganda.

Shanon: We’ve talked about happy memories and experiences, but could you talk about the biggest challenge you’ve experienced so far?

Stephen: I don’t know whether it’s a regret, because God does take you through things for a reason, but I feel I lost a few years in between, those gap years I was talking about, between my first degree and my masters. I feel I lost a chunk of my life. I wouldn’t look at it as a period when I did anything productive. I don’t know whether to call it a regret, because perhaps that’s a period in which I matured. And that was for almost 10 years.

Courtesy of Stephen Kafeero

Shanon: Basically, between your 20s and your 30s?

Stephen: Yes, it was only from my 40s that I experienced a new life. I got married in my 40s. But now when I look back, much as I was enjoying partying, clubbing and other fun things before that, I should have done more to better myself.

Shanon: But from what you are saying, maybe that needed to happen so that you could be where you are now.

Stephen: I don’t know if it needed to happen, but I feel that where I am at now, I understand life better because of that period. Because I see in some other people who have filled those years – they’re feeling now that they are missing something. But for me, I feel like I’m appreciating life more because I have started to live life. I have started to understand life. But for some people I know, they feel like they’re fatigued. They think, “Oh no, I’m 50 now.” And I think, “No! There’s still so much of life to experience.” There are still people to love, there are still people to serve. You see what I mean? Maybe that’s what you mean, maybe that needed to happen for me to start living life now. I feel like there’s so much still to give to the world.

Shanon: If you don’t mind me asking, what exactly happened in that 10-year gap?

Stephen: I was just working in a restaurant. Get paid, buy cars, buy clothes, go out, drink, go home, sleep, wake up. Two things I did during that period, or just after, was that I bought two properties. That’s the very positive thing about that period. But apart from that, it was just waking up and going through the motions. But now, I don’t drink, I don’t party, I read books, I engage with people. I feel there’s something in me that’s about making life better for myself and my neighbour. Back then it was all me, me, me.

Okusinza Service, Giles' Blessing (2018) (courtesy of Shanon Shah)

Shanon: When did you discover Okusinza?

Stephen: So, I’m born again. I go to a Pentecostal church, which my wife Irene goes to as well. And we both were teaching Sunday school there. Then I got involved with her in a relationship. We got closer and she introduced me to Okusinza mu Luganda, which met once a month. I never knew about it because of my previous lifestyle (chuckles). I visited and got myself involved. Because even though I’ve always been with people from Uganda and from different nationalities, I’ve never been in a community of only Ugandans. When I was introduced to Okusinza mu Luganda, I thought, “My people can get together in one place and speak the same language.” That’s why I got involved. This was towards the end of 2008.

Shanon: During the 10 years that you said were lost to you, were you not going to church during that time?

Stephen: I was Roman Catholic. A nice, holy, devoted Catholic boy. Once a month you go for confession, you confess your sins, when of course you know you will do them again and come back the following month.

Shanon: Was that your upbringing? Is your family Catholic?

Stephen: Yes, my upbringing was Catholic. Also, all the schools I went to were Catholic. Which is interesting, because it seems like all around the world, Catholic schools tend to be very good.

Shanon: Yes, even in Malaysia, a lot of our good schools were set up by Catholic missionaries.

Stephen: Yes, it’s that discipline in them.

Shanon: What brought you to the Pentecostal church?

Stephen: You have to believe that sometimes God brings you to certain things in your life. A friend of mine came and told me, because I used to like to meet new people, “After your Catholic service, come visit my church.” And this was a very good friend of mine. When I visited his church, the pastor – this was Easter 2007 – he preached about Jesus dying on the cross.

This was not my experience with the Bible as a Catholic. You’re supposed to have it, it’s a holy book – but you’re not supposed to read it. You can read Scripture, but you can’t question it. But then when I attended that Pentecostal service, the pastor explained how Scripture applies to life. In my mind, I was thinking, “Whoa! How did he do that?” It became so interesting, because I thought the Bible was just a story book. But here was someone reading something and applying it to life.

When I left that service, I started becoming more inquisitive about the Bible. I went back to that church the following Sunday, and the pastor preached another sermon from another part of the Scripture, and I thought, “Whoa!” I got sucked into trying to understand the Bible. I started enjoying reading it. So that’s how I ended up in a Pentecostal church.

Shanon: Do you still attend that church?

Stephen: Yes, it’s in Camberwell. Liberty Christian Fellowship. But the way I look at church now is more about meeting people, sharing my love with them. Church is not just attending a service, sitting, listening and then going home. It’s about fellowship, it’s about being part of people’s lives. That’s how I look at it.

Okusinza Nativity Play (courtesy of Shanon Shah)

Shanon: I feel the same way. Scripture and fellowship have to go hand in hand.

Stephen: They have to. That’s how Scripture comes alive. Even you calling me now, you’re calling me because of Okusinza, right?

Shanon: Absolutely.

Stephen: We are making a connection, you are smiling, I’m smiling, and to me, even though I’ve been alone in my house for a few months now, I’m able to communicate with people. When I get off this call, I will feel good, and then tomorrow will be a new day. Whatever it brings, I will embrace it.

Shanon: And the reason why I wanted to do this project is because I’ve been going to St John’s for 10 years, and I started becoming close to some of the Ugandan members of the congregation. And then five or six years ago, Giles and I finally were both able to attend the Martyr’s Day service – before that I was always overseas in Malaysia or busy because I was in the middle of my PhD. But now Giles and I have been going every year, and also to the carols service. When I knew that the 30th anniversary was going to happen, I approached Reverend Godfrey Kaziro, Alice Mwanje, Dorothy Mukasa, Tim Musajjakawa and a few others and I said, “I want to help with this.” I wanted to share this story with the rest of the St John’s congregation, with the Waterloo Festival, and also for these interviews to be a resource for Okusinza to use for its own 30th anniversary celebrations.

Stephen: What was your PhD in?

Shanon: Religious Studies.

Stephen: You’re taking it deep!

Shanon: (Laughs.) Yeah, that’s what I transitioned to. And I did it at King’s College London, just next door. I wanted to ask, at Liberty Christian Fellowship, is there a large number of Ugandans?

Stephen: Back then, yes. But now they’ve kind of dispersed. When I joined it was mainly Ugandan, but now it’s about 30 per cent Ugandan. You get mainly West Indians, some West Africans. And it’s the younger crowd in their early 20s and early 30s. The older Ugandan crowd left. Maybe they felt the word wasn’t relevant to them. Things have really changed.

Shanon: OK, and are the services there in English?

Stephen: They’re in English, because of the multiracial mix of the congregation. They’ve always been in English. It’s only Okusinza that does it in Luganda.

In the final part of the interview, Stephen talks about the joys and challenges of sustaining Okusinza mu Luganda.