Mwanga, 20-year-old king of Uganda, was an evil and cruel person. Christianity had come to Uganda only a few years before. Still, there were many believers, including a number of young men from among the king’s servants. The chief of the king's 200 servants, Joseph Mukasa, was a Christian.

Now the king liked to involve himself with his servants in homosexual activities. So Joseph warned the young Christians, "If the king tries to get you to do wrong things with him, refuse." Joseph tried to hide any of them that the king had his eye on.

King Mwanga discovered what was happening and was furious that the Christians would not do as he wished. His prime minister, Katikiro, also hated Christians. He hated Joseph especially because he had foiled a plot that Katikiro was planning against the king.

This was Katikiro's chance to get even, so he urged the king to get rid of Joseph. The king didn't need much persuading, and Joseph was condemned.

On November 15, 1885, just before the executioner cut off his head, Joseph gave him a message for the king. "Katikiro is having me killed unjustly. I forgive him, but he had better change his way of life!"

After the king had Joseph killed, he thought, "Now the other Christians will be afraid. There will soon be no more of them."

How wrong he was! The Christians feared that this was just the beginning of persecution. So they met each night in secret to pray and to be strengthened by each other and by God.

Each night more and more people joined them. In one week 105 new people were baptized!

One day about six months later, the king saw Mwafu, Kalikiro's son. He asked him, "Where have you been?"

"I've been with Dennis Sebuggwawo, who takes care of your weapons."

"What were you doing there?" demanded the king.

"Dennis is my cousin, and he's teaching me about Jesus.”

Dennis heard and saw what was going on and carne to Mwafu's help.

''What is this?" the king shouted at him. "What have you been doing with Mwafu?"

"Teaching him religion.”

"You know I've forbidden this, and yet you dare to teach this religion to my prime minister's son?" The furious king seized one of his soldiers' poisoned spears and thrust it into Dennis's throat. Dennis suffered all that night and died the next morning. He was 16 years old.

The king was determined to root out this religion. The next day he called all of his servants together and locked the doors. He said, ''Those of you who are Christians, line up along that wall. The rest stay with me."

About 30 of his servants lined up along the wall.

"Are you Christians?" he asked.

"Yes," came the answer.

"You wish to remain Christians?"

"Yes," they answered with one voice.

"Then you'll all die!"

King Mwanga had them tied up, and that afternoon they began the 27-kilometer march to Namugongo, the hill of execution. Five of them didn't make it to Namugongo but were killed on the way. One was beaten with sticks, two were speared. One had his arm cut off, then his head. One had his hands cut off, then his arms, then his feet. Then pieces of skin were pulled off and he was left to die.

When the condemned slaves arrived at Namugongo, they had to wait seven days till everything was properly prepared. On the day of the executions, the guards tied each one up hand and foot, then rolled them up individually in reed mats. They lined up the rolled-up mats like logs in a row on top of a wood pile. Then they piled more wood over them.

The men who were to light the fire made fun of the Christians. "Let's light this fire and see if the God you believe in will save you from it!"

One Christian named Bruno called back, "You can only burn our bodies. You can't burn our souls!"

Then the torches touched the dry wood. Above the noise of the crackling flames came the sound of voices praying. The fire and smoke swept upward toward the sky.

It was Ascension Day, June 3, 1886. That same day the souls of the Uganda martyrs ascended to God.


From: They loved their enemies by Marian Hostetler, pag. 37-39, 1988, Herald Press,  Scottdale, Pa, USA.