BY ALEX TAREMWA
“I am glad I found you,” proclaimed Will Graham as he scanned the crowd that filled the highly guarded Uganda Christian University (UCU) old sports grounds on Friday July 22, 2016.
William Franklin Graham IV, popularly known as Will Graham, is a grandson to the legendary Billy Graham and an associate evangelist with the Billy Graham Evangelist Association.
William, who is also the executive director of the Billy Graham Training Center was visiting Uganda on one of the association’s outreaches dubbed “Peace and Joy Celebrations” organised by the Church of Uganda, prepared by the Diocese of Mukono and the Uganda Bible Society, and hosted by UCU.
In his welcoming remarks, the Vice Chancellor, Dr John Senyonyi, told the guest that he had listened to his grandfather preach, way back in 1976 in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
“It is such a delight to see you here to preach the word to the people who are hungry for it,” Senyonyi said, urging the crowd to open up their hearts to the Holy Spirit.
Best campus I have been to
On taking to the podium, Will confessed that UCU was the most beautiful of the campuses he had been to.
“When they invited me to come to Mukono, I had no idea where Mukono was. I am glad I found you. I want to thank this wonderful school for allowing us to come onto their property.
“This has to be one of the prettiest campuses I have ever seen around the world,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
Will was visiting Uganda for his first time. Although he had worked in Rwanda, in the post-genocide era, his attempts to cross to Uganda had often been hindered by lack of travel documentation.
The prodigal son revisited
Will drew his sermon from Luke 15:11-32, from the account of the prodigal son. He related the life of the discontented, rebellious son to the day-to-day horrors people face.
“Just like him,” he said, “if you are honest with yourself right now, you will admit that you are not happy with where you are in life. You feel like you deserve more and you want it now because we live in the world that teaches to have things right now.”
This son, after demanding for his share of his father’s inheritance, wasted everything on friends who would later forsake him. When famine hit the land, the once rich, braggart of a child could not afford food and resorted to working in a pigsty, the most embarrassing job for a Jew, in exchange for a meal.
After working at a job that paid little and gave no satisfaction, he began to evaluate his situation. Even the animals that he fed were better off than him.
With no money, friends or prospects, the young man comes to his senses and realises that the servants in his father’s home have plenty of food. He says, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you’.”
“This parable is also about each of us. God the Father stands waiting for the time when each of His children will at last realise the need for a lasting and satisfying relationship with Him,” Will said.
He added that it is sad that today we are connected by social media yet we cannot connect at the deepest level of love and meaning.
“You can have hundreds, even thousands, of ‘friends’ on Facebook but be all alone in your life at the most critical moments.
Thus we need to reconcile with God and amongst ourselves as people.
We need reconciliation, love, peace and forgiveness especially in the formerly war-torn areas of Northern Uganda and currently South Sudan.
There is always hope for reconciliation. Pray for it and expect it. Most importantly, never ever give up on God.”
Saturday July 23 was earmarked by the university chaplaincy as the day when Will Graham would hold a special session with the UCU community.
Mark Christian, a renowned gospel singer and award-winning American soloist, shook the Nkoyoyo Hall stage with energetic performances of songs including, My Redeemer Lives, It is Well with My Soul, among others.
His performances set the stage for Will Graham, who talked at length about the roles of a true ambassador of Christ and the authority that ultimately he/she works under.
“The greatest hope for Uganda, South Sudan, Africa, USA is not a new president, or government – it is Jesus,” Will said.
He further noted that social justice that is not based on Jesus or the hope of the cross is undoubtedly one of the worst crimes in the world.
“When we just help feed people, put shoes on their feet but yet do not do it by the power of Jesus Christ, we are doing a disservice to this world. It is like telling someone who has cancer that they are okay and send them home with new shoes without telling them about the disease they carry,” he said.
He emphasised that people ought to be told about sin and the redemption from it lest they will be well fed and dressed but still go to hell.
After the service, Mr David Mugawe, the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Development and External Relations, treated Will and his team to a drive-around of the university. They later visited the health camp organised by the Namirembe Church of Uganda Hospital at the old netball pitch.
The camp offered visitors with free treatment services, eye and dental screening, cervical cancer screening, HIV counselling and testing services, among others.
The crusade was attended by people from Buikwe, Kayunga, Jinja, Mukono, Kampala, and Wakiso districts.
The event managers were forced to ship in 500 more chairs, and over 1,500 people are estimated to have attended the three-day celebrations.
Hailstones disperse crowd
On the final day of the crusade, heavy rains accompanied by hailstones forced the crowd to disperse while others used the plastic chairs as umbrellas, soon after Will Graham had taken to the podium.
The rain, which Will described as a blessing lasted for close to half an hour before normalcy returned and the crusade resumed.
Will, who had on Saturday planted a tree in the chapel gardens in commemoration of his historic visit to Uganda, said the rain would help the tree grow so that when he returns he can eat some of its fruit.
I will come back
As his parting shot, Will Graham promised to return with his family to Uganda and Mukono in particular in the future owing to its hospitality and beauty.
“I will be back with my family to eat the fruits of the tree I planted and taste the sweet bananas again,” he said.
He thanked the hosts, the Rt Rev William James Ssebaggala, the bishop of Mukono Diocese and the university administration for services offered and the opportunity to spread the gospel on its soil.
About Will Graham:
Name: Rev Dr William Franklin Graham IV
Born: January 30, 1975 in Longmont, Colorado to Jane and Franklin Graham
Married to: Kendra Leigh Bengds
Children: Christine Jane, Rachel Austin, and William Franklin V
Education: Diploma from Watauga High School (1993); BSc in Religion at Liberty University.
In 2001, he was awarded the Master of Divinity, from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and he attained an Honorary Doctor of Divinity from Toccoa Falls College five years later. In 2015, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Divinity at Trinity College.
Evangelism: Will has spoken to audiences across North America, Australia, India, and other parts of Asia and South America and Africa. More than 10,000 have converted to Christianity during these outreaches.
Will’s outreach now heads to Peterhead in Scotland from where he will connect to Windsor and Goose Bay in Canada in October and November, respectively.