What you need to know:
- Missed. Hugh Layzell pioneered work for Pentecostal movement in Uganda, writes Claire Balungi.
Before he succumbed to old age at 93 on September 22, pastor and missionary Hugh Layzell had made a remarkable milestone in Uganda. This was from 1960 and the subsequent years in the Pentecostal Church.
To date, it is unlikely that you will get the accurate statistics of people who subscribe to the Pentecostal denomination in Uganda, for the movement is not after recording numbers. It is about spreading the Gospel to unreached places, and so Layzell’s journey to Africa started with a prophetic vision on a Tuesday evening in 1955.
Before he would pack and travel with his wife and three children to Uganda, a young woman named Maureen Gargladi received a vision with the word ‘Uganda’ lit against a backdrop of neon flame. That is how they knew that they were being called to take the gospel to Uganda, a destination at that time unknown to any member of the congregation at Glad Tidings Temple, Vancouver, Canada.
After a series of prayer, seeking and waiting, Layzell – raising the flag for Glad Tidings Missionary Society, joined the Elim Missionaries at Mombasa, Kenya to reach out to Africans. At this point, the permit for the Pentecostals to enter Uganda had been denied by the British governor of Uganda who made it clear that the Anglicans and Roman Catholics would be the only Christian missions in the country.
Witnessing the miracle-filled Osborne Prayer Conference in Mombasa where many Kenyans gave their lives to Christ and got healed, Layzell would later work with a couple of these evangelists to start the Pentecostal Church in Uganda.
The vision and prayers of five years were fulfilled when the door to Uganda opened for Glad Tidings Missionary Society in April 1960. Being the first person to receive official permission to build a Pentecostal Church in Uganda, Layzell is believed to have laid the foundation for the Pentecostal movement in the country.
In the heart of Buganda Kingdom, Kampala, Layzell launched the Glad Tidings Mission and breathed nothing less than the Gospel of power, which came to be known locally as ‘Enjiri Erina Amaanyi’.
The early converts in Layzell’s ministry sang, Gugudde, loosely meaning, “The baggage of sin has fallen.” It was an expressive chorus Christians sang vibrantly. In the 1960s and 1970s, Makerere Full Gospel Church was known as Gugudde Church. Where this church and the Glad Tidings Bible College stand today was a forest that Layzell cleared and pitched a huge tent whose memory stirs nostalgia in those who witnessed his service.
Upon Layzell’s death, Gugudde TV broadcast a bulletin and hosted a couple of guests who had met and witnessed Layzell’s ministry back in the day.
Pastor Obed Rubaiza recalls that after Sunday worship, the Christians would break off for lunch and return to “the tent” with people from all walks of life. The tent that Layzell pitched became a symbol of communion for all.
For gospel that started in “open air”, as Layzell and his team started preaching in open streets and markets in Nakawa, Kibuli and Mengo, it is rather a big deal that churches that owe their existence to Layzell’s ministry are now in thousands.
“Some Pentecostal churches may not say they have roots in Full Gospel, but there was someone who paved the way and made the gospel known and accepted to many Ugandans,” says Pr Fred Wantaate, who met Layzell in 1981. Wantaate was a student at the East Africa School of Theology in Kenya when Layzell made his first return after he had been expelled by Gen Idi Amin Dada in 1977.
Curious, Wantaate asked Layzell, “Why don’t you come back and pick up where you left off with the church?”
He replied, “That church belongs to Jesus. If it’s not built by Jesus, it will not stand, but if it’s of Him, with or without my presence, it shall continue to grow.”
Dr Irene Lubega, who grew up in Layzell’s ministry, recalls him as humble and no lover of titles. He also always said, “If the people in the movement do not move forward and do a new thing, they will become a monument.” No wonder Layzell came with his wife, Audrey and their children, Sharon, John and James. The couple would later beget another daughter, Ruthie.
Family man and preacher
Elder Charles Ssesanga says Layzell loved his family and God.
“He was a dedicated family man who loved his wife.” To Ssesanga, Layzell once confided, “I am a church man through and through.”
Ssesanga says from Layzell, he believed that, “Holding a Bible close to one’s chest in Kampala takes a church man. Layzell accomplished that.”
Moreover, Layzell’s ministry impacted Uganda at large, as far as women’s ministry is concerned. It is said that the first female pastors were from this movement. “And it spread to all of us, into the very corners of Uganda. Today, it is commonplace,” Dr Lubega a female pastor shares.
Better still, there was incredible transformation of worship in churches, following “Gugudde”. From Layzell’s established powerful kind of praise, the music would change forever. It was different!
“There was a deafening clapping of hands, mad jumping and dancing for the Lord. Some of us didn’t have shoes but the worship was great, dust would rise everywhere… it was a new experience and we were part of it,” says Elder Ssesanga.
Layzell who was born in 1928 in Vancouver, Canada was laid to rest in his home country, on October 1.