Meet James Hannington

Meet James Hannington, the Jim Elliot of his generation, whose earthly story ended 133 years ago on October 29, 1885. James Hannington was appointed the very first Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa in June 1884, mainly because of the growth of the church in Uganda in the 1870s. Hannington had volunteered as a missionary in 1882 after hearing of two other missionaries murdered at Lake Victoria.

Henry Stanley, the man who found Livingstone, had also reported that the King of Uganda, Mutesa I, was inviting missionaries.

However, that king died in October 1884 while Hannington was on preparing to enter Uganda from the north, and the new boss wanted to establish his power.

Previous missionaries took an arduous southern route that Arab traders had followed to the inland kingdom of Uganda, but Hannington wanted to create a much simpler route from Mombasa. He did not know that the Ugandans had a great superstition about foreigners invading from the north. His colleagues tried to alert him that his new route would cause trouble, but their message arrived too late.

When Hannington got to Uganda, he was immediately imprisoned, and after eight days of confinement during which he suffered fever, King Mwanga II had him speared to death, along with most of his African attendants who helped him enter their territory.

One of his porters, Ukuktu, undid his ropes as he was led away to be murdered. He recounted the following, as retold in the final pages of his biography: “As the Bishop walked to that spot he was singing hymns nearly all the way. As they were in English, he did not know their meaning; but he noticed that in them the word JESUS came very frequently.” His biographer comments, “Ours is the loss, and Africa’s; his the eternal gain.” Despite persecutions under Mwanga II, the church continued to thrive in Uganda during that time period as literacy increased and new gatherings formed. Today Uganda is about 85% Christian.

You can read more about Hannington’s life in his biography by E. C. Dawson, who also afterwards published his last journals.

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