With mushrooming churches around the country, a lot of people think starting a church is an easy task, especially for a city like Kampala, with a growing middle-class whose tithe requires some churches to hire bullion vans to transport the money to the banks.
However, as PR ROBERT MUGGA of Community Healing church aka Fire Centre, Kisaasi reveals, it isn’t for wimps to start a church in Kampala, especially in the upscale parts of the city, writes Simon Musasizi.
When a youthful Robert Mugga in 1999 bought his first plot in Kisaasi, a Kampala suburb, he wanted some privacy, and ran away from many people that flocked Faith Tower church in Kajjansi. This is a church he had joined in 1994 when his mother moved to Kajjansi in 1988, following the sudden death of her husband in 1986.
Serving as a praise and worship leader, interpreter and assistant pastor, Mugga had seen the struggles and chaos that the main pastor had to deal with, having started the church from his house.
“I saw how terrible it was – because then you have no home, no privacy, you can’t raise your children. It was quite difficult. So, I thought if I come from such a setup and buy a piece of land far away, I could have time with my family,” Mugga says.
With his hard-earned salary savings, he started building a house. Mugga, who went to Nakasero primary school, Kibuli SS before joining Makerere University Business School (Mubs) for a higher diploma in marketing, started work soon after school. His first job was being a marketer for a magazine called Event in 1997. But as a fresh graduate, it was a challenging job, managing to get only one small advert.
Fortunately, while here, he got another job with My Trade company, which used to export coffee. He was posted in Mityana as a purchasing assistant, but on his reporting day, the pickup he was traveling in got involved in a head-on collision with a commuter taxi around Buloba.
This left him severely injured that his right eye was stitched. When he got well, he was posted to Masaka where he stayed for some time purchasing coffee. From Masaka, he was posted to Luweero before the company closed its coffee arm. Fortunately, it was also dealing in wheat; because of Mugga’s hard work, he was the only person retained from the coffee section to the wheat section.
Here, he worked as a marketing executive for several years until the section was also closed. He then joined the Dairy Corporation in 2000. That same year, in December, he got married to his wife, Florence Mugga.
By that time, at least one room of his house was ready. Hence, he decided to begin off his marriage here, where they also had their honeymoon. Soon, the ambitious young couple started beautifying their new home, planting fruit trees such as guavas and mangoes.
At that time, Mugga’s dream was to become a successful businessman, with his own company, in that if he wanted to serve God, he would only finance church activities and maybe do some evangelism.
But not to be a pastor! He couldn’t imagine being the person who just sits there waiting for people to bring offerings to have something to eat. But little did he know that God had other plans for him, and that he had actually run into his hands.
This very house he was fascinated about was to become a church. It started in a simple way. Mugga, his wife, their first born Ruth and the two boys they were looking after started fellowshipping in their kitchen. Sometimes they would invite neighbours.
There was this boy, who would occasionally join them, and would mention things that sounded unrealistic like: “I see a church here. I see very many people here”. He was having visions that would turn the little kitchen into a Fire House and later into Fire Centre church.
With time, what started as a simple family fellowship began to attract numbers. Mugga would go to work, only to return and find people waiting at his home for prayers. In January 13, 2002, he had no choice but to heed to the call to start a church.
“It was a difficult time because we had never started a church before. We didn’t know how it was going to be. We tried to even rent a place in a school called Manchester but on that day, we were disappointed; after them allowing us, when we reached there, they stopped us citing several conditions,” Mugga says.
“It was a long process for us. So, we decided to abandon that idea. But as I came back, I heard a voice telling me, start in your home. And in my home, that is where we started.”
He had to painfully sacrifice his compound for a temporary structure to serve as a church.
“One thing that really touched me and I almost cried is there was a nice guava tree that had started fruiting, but we had to roof the entire compound so that people can have enough space to pray from,” he recalls.
“So, I told the guys who were building not to cut it so that it goes through the roof. But by the time I came back in the evening, I found they had cut it down. They said there is no way they could roof around the tree. It was terrible; it was like I had lost a person. I was so attached to this tree and I was already enjoying its fruits.”
But even when the church expanded, Mugga never saw himself as one who would serve as pastor. He insisted on working so he only financially supports the church with things like hiring chairs on Sunday. He actually remembers one day standing before the congregation and telling them: “I am not fit to be your pastor. I can’t manage this; I know someone else will come.”
Indeed, when he resigned his job at the Dairy Corporation in 2003, he still looked around for a job, joining AAR as a marketer, though he never secured a single business before moving to Nguvu. Here he was given a car to market the company products. But every time he woke up to go work, he would fall sick. Sometimes he would get to work at midday and by 2pm, he is tired.
“But even I went to work late, nobody blamed me. It was like they were giving me a leeway to disobey God. There was, however, spiritual pressure that made me to finally yield,” he says.
As a result, he told his wife he will never look for white-collar jobs anymore ‘but instead concentrate on God’s work’. However, there were formidable challenges ahead of him.
“This was a residential area and the neighbours were so hostile to us; some of them were Muslims, others atheists; they didn’t know our God. Theirs were the traditional gods. Many of them looked at me as someone who was jobless, a failure who was looking to get money from people,” Mugga recalls.
So, they started fighting him. They went around the village soliciting for signatures to have the church removed. But Mugga had already won to his side area leaders like the LCI chairperson who had tasted the goodness of the church where his boy who was turning out to be a hooligan getting transformed. With the chairman seeing such changes in the community starting with his own family, he defended the church as “good people”.
This, however, didn’t stop other residents who found the church noisy from pushing for its closure. So, they planned backdoors and convinced the police that Mugga was preaching subversively. So, as church went on one evening, three police trucks surrounded the church to arrest him. As he ministered, there was load shedding, and before he knew it, there was a stranger dressed in plain clothes amidst the congregation.
“I looked at him and became suspicious. We were over 100 people praying and they realized that if they arrest me from church, it would cause chaos. So, they tricked me to report to police the following day to record a statement on why I was gathering many people and whether my church was registered,” he says.
Since he had started on the process of registration, he confidently agreed to do so. However, after inquiring with a pastor friend, he advised him not to go alone. He would come with, and even called the resident city commissioner (RCC) who prevailed over his police.
When the police plans failed, Mugga’s haunters went to Kampala City Council (KCC), securing a letter declaring the church structure as illegal, and it was demolished. This, however, didn’t stop people from praying from the open space.
“They couldn’t stop us from worshipping because there is freedom of worshipping but they had a case with us against the structure,” Mugga says.
It is during this place that Mugga decided to approach the family who had sold him his plot for more land where he would build the church. He wasn’t, however, in their good books because they had sold him the land as kibanja and wanted him to pay for the title, but claimed he had no money. And here he was asking for more land.
The remaining piece was owned by two young brothers, one of whom was staying in South Africa.
“So, I walked to them like a mad person and talked to the mother that the church had been brought down, we need you to sell us that land,” Mugga says as he smiles.
Lucky enough, the church had gotten some money after selling a property donated to it. The South African based boy agreed to rent him part of his plot. Along the way, the boy in Uganda also agreed to sell but not to the church. However, the person he approached alerted Mugga, who went through a third party to pay for it.
In the meantime, Mugga went ahead to establish a temporary structure on the rented plot as he waited for the paperwork for the acquired plot to be completed. After three years, the South African based boy agreed to sell to the church at Shs 50m another plot neighbouring it, but the church failed to raise the money. So, he got a tycoon with cash to pay it but on condition that the church on the rented plot is removed.
“I pleaded with him to give us one month. I gave them three postdated cheques, two of which were for Shs 20m each and another for Shs 10m, but with no single shilling on the account. The first cheque of Shs20m was to mature on 20th,” Mugga says.
“So, on 15th, we had Shs 15m and we said, we couldn’t wait for the cheque to mature, but we decided to speak to him to accept it. But he refused, saying we had made him miss someone with cash and here we were paying him less the money. “
He gave him another deadline of 30th where he expected him to have all the money or else, he sells to another person.
“By 30th, we had only Shs 25m. So, he didn’t bother to even come to us; he just came with the LCI chairman saying we had failed to raise the money, so we should remove the church. We told them we can’t remove the church in seven days. We asked for six months, which he refused because our tenancy agreement had expired,” Mugga says.
So, they ended up in court, but because he sued Mugga instead of the church, the case was dismissed. But the magistrate asked Mugga to do a gentleman’s agreement, agreeing to vacate the land. Or else, if the case is brought back to court, he won’t have mercy on him. He agreed, committing to vacate by the end of June 2010.
Caught between a rock and hard place, Mugga rushed to the bank to mortgage his house. By the end of June, he had Shs 50m. But the land owner wasn’t willing to sell to him anymore. Again, he had to go through a third party to pay for it.
“He continued to tell us to remove the church not knowing that we were the ones who had bought the land,” Mugga notes. “I disclosed to them that the plots on either sides of the church all belong to us, asking them to temporarily allow us to continue using the middle plot but they couldn’t allow. So, we went ahead to demolish the church.”
That is when Mugga embarked on building a permanent church on his acquired plots. On the first fundraising, he could raise only Shs 160,000, which could have demolarised him before that very night someone came to him donating a vehicle to the church.
“I didn’t have a car then. So, I first drove it but then God told me that this doesn’t belong to you. So, we sold it at Shs 6m and started buying materials,” he recalls. “With what was on the site, people thought another tycoon had bought the place. They couldn’t believe that we, the few people, had started such a construction.”
In the process, everything started working out, and every step has been a miracle to build the church until where it is today.