He speaks with zeal and laughs a lot during our conversation at his home at Uganda Christian University (UCU), Mukono. Gesticulating as he makes points, the 53 -year-old Rev Canon Dr Alfred Olwa who is the Dean of Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology of UCU will on August 13, be consecrated bishop of Lango Diocese.
He vigorously peeks into his childhood first. “We were born 12 but only five are alive. Growing up in Aromo Village, Lira District, the dream to become a priest never crossed my mind. I devoted my energies to carrying around a catapult to kill birds as I attended Namasale Primary School. In fact I was a sinner then,” he says.
“At seven years, my grandfather took me to stay with them. I spent the biggest part of my childhood with my grandparents,” narrates the father of three.
In the course of staying with his grandmother whom he says was a witch doctor, Bishop-elect found his salvation here. His grandmother believed in two gods whom she served; Omara and Aguda.
“I saw many women and men coming to consult from them on matters of childlessness while others wanted to become good in bed. I heard others confess that they got children, which I’m not sure they did. My grandmother initiated me into the trade and sooner than later, I had become part of the shrine. I used to serve all the customers that came,” the Reverend recounts.
The Godly encounter
In 1982, one sunny midmorning as he lay under a mango tree, weak and sick, a group of Balokole (Pentecostals) came by. He does not know where they had come from.
They asked him, ‘Young man Jesus lived in Galilee and found people who looked nice and okay but yet deep down their hearts, they were hurting. He told them come to me and you will be fine…’ and then they asked me, ‘do you believe this?’ He was quiet for a few minutes and this marked the beginning of his salvation. He started questioning whether the gods cared about him because unlike him they healed other people.
“I could not open my eyes or get up. All I could do was stretch out my left hand and they led me in a prayer. They asked me to confess my sins to Jesus to which I replied, “I’m a thief, I sleep with women and many other sins…they told me stop there, God knows the rest. I got saved in 1982,” he says.
Getting into priesthood
After his high school, he gained more popularity and zeal to preach the word of God. He would move around villages and board buses to take the gospel to other parts of the country. However this fateful day, the driver adamantly drove him past the stop as the ‘man of God’ was engrossed in preaching.
“I was busy preaching only to put my head up and I could not tell where I was I did not have money to return. I just remained seated until I was in Kampala. I marvelled at tall buildings and the heavy traffic jam and got perplexed on where to start from,” he narrates. Short of ideas, Olwa leaned against a wall in the bus park and asked God to show him the next step. That was 1987.
“After the prayer, miraculously, I saw a Land Rover parked behind me and the occupant was a clergyman [Bishop Eliphaz Maari],” Olwa explains. Somehow, most people from Northern Uganda and the vicinities had spread word about the young man who is passionate about preaching. “I briefly introduced myself and he was quick to recognise me. He offered me a ride to his home at UCU.” They chatted at length. Bishop Maari introduced Olwa to the Dean of studies who later enrolled the latter into the School of Theology,” the Rev Can Dr Olwa explains.
He started out as a lecturer then became a researcher before assuming the role of supervisor of PhD dissertations, MA Divinity. Later, the Rev Olwa rose through ranks to dean of the Faculty of Divinity and Theology at UCU for which he had a five-year plan. “Bishop Joel Obetia broke the news that I had been elected bishop on May 31, I was dumbstruck ,” he says, adding that had he been told in advance, he would have turned the offer down because he wanted to complete his term at UCU. “However, God’s ways are not our ways,” he quickly explains.
His thinking has to shift to the bigger community of Lango Diocese.
Plans for the people
The bishop-elect says his plan for the people is laid down and he vows to be a good shepherd for his sheep but he will unleash the list come August 13.
“By law in the doctrine, I’m not supposed to mention what I’m going to do, I’m only supposed to read it at the consecration.
“My father is my role model, him and Bishop Festo Kivengere are very inspirational. Also, bishops Melchizedek Otim and [Henry] Orombi are great too. I love and admire the way these men preach the word of God and their fatherly approach,” he says. In the end, we are all called to serve God with our might. And I know He will guide me into becoming the good shepherd that He wants me to be.”
What others say
“My son is God-fearing. When he was very young, at about three, he used to play with his friends and he used to imitate those who baptise people. He would baptise his young ones. He is very humble and listening,” Okello John Micheal-82, Olwa’s father
“My father is my inspiration.I know he is called by God to serve his people. I pray that God continues to use him because many people have confessed to me that my father is the best preacher. I’m proud to be his daughter and will always pray for his life. I’m happy he is becoming bishop.” Hope Aol-daughter
“He is a father at this university and many love him. We are excited to know that God has called him to serve his people. He is reliable and a counsellor.” Rev James Ebil, friend, Archdeacon Ndejje