Bishop Onesmus Asiiimwe and wife Florence. PHOTO/ PEREZ RUMANZI


Rev Onesmus Asiimwe’s rise from priest to Bishop of North Kigezi

What you need to know:

  • Despite growing up in a Christian family, Rev Asiimwe became a drunkard, smoker and womaniser, especially after joining secondary school until he was called by God in 1988 in his A-Level vacation.

On March 12, 2023, Rev Onesmus Asiiimwe will be enthroned as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of North Kigezi based in Rukungiri District. 

He replaces the late Bishop Benon Magezi, who succumbed to Covid-19 in June 2021. The diocese has since been under the care of Bishop Emeritus Patrick Tugume. 

Rev Asiimwe’s rise from a priest to a bishop came through serious hurdles. At one point, he was almost excommunicated from church due to his method of preaching that resonated with that of the independent churches. 

When he was tapped for bishop, some Christians in Rukungiri protested, saying he was not a native of the district where the diocese is located. The protestors, however, calmed down and welcomed his election.
In an interview with Sunday Monitor on Thursday, Rev Asiimwe shared his story.

After 22 years of serving the Church in different capacities, 11 of which as a priest, Rev Asiimwe was named new bishop of North Kigezi on January 18.

Born on April 24, 1965, at Ibugwe Village to a lay reader, Mr Samwiri and wife Samali Meisho, Rev Asiimwe grew up to train as a teacher. 

“After I was born, my father was transferred to Nyarurambi, which is in Kihanga Parish. This is where I grew up. I was actually born at home, not in hospital. My parents were devout Christians and that led to the foundation of my character and ministerial formation,” Rev Asiimwe says.

Nyarurambi, is in Rwamucucu Parish, Mparo, Rukiga District. This is also his home church.
Despite growing up in a Christian family, Rev Asiimwe became a drunkard, smoker and womaniser, especially after joining secondary school until he was called by God in 1988 in his A-Level vacation.

“The Lord, by His mercy and grace, revealed himself to me on January 8, 1988, in my long vacation after Makerere College School. I was alone in the house, nearly half dead with hangover. I had drunk myself silly the previous night and was smoking, the cigarette was in my fingers when I had an audible voice of the Lord asking me a question; ‘do you not know your body is a temple of the Lord?’” he says.

“I said, ‘Lord this is your voice but would you allow me to finish my cigarette and I get saved?’ I don’t know whether he allowed me, but I finished it, anyway, threw away the butt and asked him to come into my life. I quit smoking, I was tall, dark and handsome. I attracted a few girls. I quit all that and followed Jesus and I have never looked back,” he adds.

Asiimwe started preaching the gospel as the converted Paul after abandoning drinking, smoking and womanising.

In 1993, he got married to Ms Florence, with whom they have three children.
While teaching at Kigezi High school in 2000, the Anglican Church Diocese of Kigezi stopped him from delivering sermons and healing prayers, arguing that he was turning the church into a Pentecostal scene. 

He had allegedly performed several miracles in the school and the neighbourhood, including praying for mentally ill people, who got healed and a blind man, one Henry Mugisha, who was at Honby School for the Blind, who is said to have regained his sight courtesy of his prayer. 
Mr Mugisha still lives in Kabale Town.

The then Fine Art teacher and examiner, was seen as an outsider in the Church, whose focus was blurred by spiritual possession and who was working out of borrowed powers. 

“I don’t really want to get into the past that would not be helpful now but it was that approach of healing, deliverance, that was misunderstood at some point but all is history because it’s now a normal practice in churches in Kigezi. If you talk of healing, even Namirembe (Cathedral), there are healing services, overnight prayers, so all of that is in the past,” he says.

In 2001, following a fight with the Church in Kigezi, Rev Asiimwe was called to serve at the province of the Church of Uganda by the late Archbishop Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo.

“In 2001, Archbishop Nkoyoyo invited me to work with him at the provincial secretariat to lead the healing, deliverance and intercessory prayer programme. That programme was the first of its kind. Archbishop Nkoyoyo said ‘I need this in the entire Church of Uganda’. I quit teaching in 2002 and concentrated on that work until 2006,” Rev Asiimwe recalls.

In 2006, when Nkoyoyo retired and Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi was enthroned, this became a turning point for Rev Asiimwe, who was still a lay person in Church heading a church department which was meant for ordained leaders.

Archbishop Orombi chose Rev Asiimwe as his chaplain, making him the first ever lay chaplain for a bishop or the archbishop.

“It was a strange appointment because I was a lay man. I have not known of any other archbishop or even bishop who has a lay person as a chaplain. I first resisted it but when a king instructs you to jump, you can never say no,” he quips.

Archbishop Orombi, however, kept encouraging Asiimwe to become a priest and in 2009, he enrolled at Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology, and joined priesthood. He was deaconated at St Peters Cathedral Rugarama, Kigezi Diocese, in 2011, and was ordained a priest in 2012, shortly before Archbishop Orombi retired.

After Orombi’s retirement, Rev Asiimwe was appointed the provincial youth and students’ coordinator and that is when he came up with a vision of provincial youth and students’ convention.
“This was aimed at equipping young people, gathering them for a week from all the dioceses in one place, give them a time of worship, reflection, Bible study and then send them back to transform their communities. It has grown to be a very popular tool in mobilisation of young people in the Church of Uganda to fulfill the great commission and for that, I am very humbled and grateful to God.”

The convention was designed to be a way of checking the exodus of young people into the independent churches in search of power ministries.
“Why should our young people leave the mainstream churches to go to all kinds of churches? They sometimes go and feed on “poison” then they come back when they are poisoned and you are the one to treat them,” he explains.

“The Church of Uganda is vibrant again, many young people are engaged in ministry, they are not mere observers, they are not spectators, and they participate in ministry, preaching, and many activities on the council, so we praise the Lord for that,” he says.

On November 1, 2017, Rev Asiimwe was posted to serve as a parish priest at Makerere University’s St Francis Chapel, which he leaves to become bishop.

“Makerere was notorious for strikes. It was the only language, according to the Makerere culture, that the administration would understand. That one has been totally neutralised by the revival that we have seen. The students who used to go to nightclubs, would now be spending every first Friday of the month in prayer and worship in the chapel.”

With the top management of the university all becoming Born Again, according to Bishop Asiimwe, “Salvation is no longer something seen to be associated with old unschooled people. Now the grace of God, which gives salvation, has appeared to all humankind. I want to thank God for the way he helped me to feed the flock of God at St Francis Makerere chapel,” he adds.

New challenge 

Bishop Asiimwe takes on a new challenge of the diocese praised for being the centre of salvation where the revival movement started. This is the diocese where the late Bishop Festo Kivengere was born and started his evangelism, a diocese that has been infiltrated by both politics and religious divisions even in the church itself where some people have broken away from the traditional Anglican Church to form their own prayer rooms.

“The mission of Jesus on earth is summarised in three-fold, preaching, teaching and healing, that’s the mission of the Church but I think we need to understand that mission by expounding the Church to the people so that they understand Jesus’ mission. The mission of Jesus is the mission of God and we have no other mission except that which Jesus came for. But, of course, it has been abused,” he says.

“Christians must know they have a mandate to preach but must do that in the context of the Church,” Bishop Asiimwe says.

“The remaining area of focus is of self-sustainability. I thank our current archbishop for his consistent call for the church to become self-supporting. We need a local, home-grown strategy for moving local communities towards sustainable self-sufficiency,” he adds.

He notes consolidating the family of one man and one woman, preaching against homosexuality and sodomy, adultery, sexual immorality, sex and gender-based violence, HIV/ Aids as key priorities in his ministry.
“I won’t leave youth ministry. I am only changing fields. There are so many young people in North Kigezi Diocese. I look forward to camping with them and studying the scripture together,” he says.

Rev Asiimwe says likes playing the piano and accordion. He also enjoys driving and always gets an excuse to sit behind the wheel. 

Background...About Bishop Asiimwe
Born on April 24, 1965, at Ibugwe Village to a lay reader, Mr Samwiri and wife Samali Meisho, Rev Asiimwe grew up to train as a teacher. 

Rev Asiimwe went to Kihanga Boys Primary school. He later joined Kigezi High School for O-Level and later Makerere College School for A-Level.

He then went to National Teachers’ College Kabale for a diploma in Education. He started teaching at Kigezi High School, before he joined Makerere University for a degree in Education.