Watoto Church celebrates 40 years of spreading the Gospel

The First Lady and Minister of Education, Ms Janet Museveni (2nd left) is received by Watoto Church founders Gary and Marilyn Skinner for the 40th Anniversary at Kololo Independence Grounds in Kampala on June 23, 2024. PHOTO | ISAAC KASAMANI

What you need to know:

  • Watoto Church has also received high praise for its dedication to supporting orphaned children and vulnerable women in Uganda. 

As hundreds flocked Kololo Ceremonial Grounds to mark the Watoto Church’s 40th year of existence under the theme “Awesome God”, there was so much going on. 

From checkpoints manned by ushers and soldiers nearby to walkways with another set of waiting ushers who were cheerfully welcoming the faithful to the ‘’Big40’’ day-long event, all went out for the big day. A dome through which people accessed the main area for the 11am service and praise rally in the afternoon was a bee-hive of activities.

As advised by the Church to wear comfortable shoes and outfits, attendees took it personally. Whether the day brought sunbeams or raindrops, the faithful were set to embrace it all, armed with umbrellas. The early birds sat on arranged chairs without a bother.  Those who either lacked umbrellas, or shades or arrived after midday, were seated in the pavilion or on mats, especially children.  With vast experience in organising shows that attract hundreds annually such as the Christmas Cantata or Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames (after some years), the church went big. 

The stage setup handled by Fenon Events, seating arrangement, crowd control, photo booths, children’s play areas, and on-form dancers, including the children’s ministry and choirs, among others, reflected weeks, if not, months of brainwork and thorough preparations. By 8pm, the faithful were not done yet, wanting to stay longer at the end of the praise rally, which had guest ministers like Bethany Music and Brian Lubega, among others, but were reminded they had to leave early, and reach home safe ahead of the week. 

During the service, the First Lady, Ms Janet Museveni, who was also the chief guest, commended Watoto  Church for spreading the Gospel, reaching out to orphans and the underprivileged since 1984.

“You have achieved outstanding results, in greatly improving the lives of the people of this country,” Ms Museveni, who doubles as the minister of Education and Sports, stated, highlighting the Church’s achievements.

“You have rescued and cared for more than 5,500 orphans. You have raised them in a family setting and taught them to be Godly and productive citizens,” she added. 

The children thrive in three Watoto villages, which offer food, clothing, medical care, and education. 

These villages are located in Bbira (on Mityana Road), Suubi (on Masaka Road) and Laminadera (now in Omoro District). 

Ms Museveni also applauded the church for empowering more than 6,500 vulnerable women with vocational and entrepreneurial skills, providing them with start-up capital and instilling Godly values. 

“By improving the lives of women, you have indirectly bettered the lives of countless children,” Ms Museveni said.

The retired Church of Uganda Archbishop, Rt Rev Henry Luke Orombi, praised Watoto founders Gary, 71 years, and his wife, Marilyn Skinner, 69, who retired on February 3, 2023, for passing leadership to Pastors Julius and Vernita Rwotlonyo.  

He highlighted their exemplary leadership and integrity in a country plagued by corruption. 

“You stretched your hands, reached us, and, we find you as a very great example. To be a man who has spoken, walked in humility and integrity, and therefore helping us people of Uganda who are sick because of corruption. This country is limping because of corrupt people who are robbing the money and resources of this country but you have given them a clear example and I believe that many of the leaders will see that from you,” Archbishop Orombi said, amid a backdrop of recent corruption charges against several Members of Parliament. 

He also expressed hope for a peaceful leadership transition in Uganda, inspired by the smooth transition within Watoto Church. 

“Now Uganda is learning something else very important, that it is possible to have a peaceful transition from one leader to the next. You have peacefully stepped aside to give this young dynamic pastor and his wife to take over as you watch. For Pastors Gary and Marilyn Skinner to walk and step aside, these are miracles of the 21st century,” Archbishop Orombi said, amidst a loud applause from the congregation

“My prayer for our country is that may God grant our country a peaceful transition, in leadership. Why? We must preserve the gains we have for the next generation. It is possible,” he added before urging Watoto to run the great race that its founders started.

Former Watoto Senior Pastor Chris Komagum shared his admiration for the Skinners’ servant leadership, recalling how Gary, despite being the senior pastor once cleaned toilets at the new Watoto Downtown location. 

“When we moved away from Grand Imperial Hotel and we went to now Norman Cinema, which is now Watoto Downtown, the place was filthy but Gary washed the toilets and yet he served as the senior pastor,” he said, emphasising leadership is not about position, pomp, pleasure, prestige but humility.

Pastor Marilyn Skinner expressed her desire to be remembered for serving her generation and inspiring the next. Pastor Gary concluded by affirming that, despite their stepping down, the best is yet to come for Watoto Church.