Sanyu lives a ministry of transparency in Uganda
Today the 33-year-old is a leader in a growing church in Kampala, Uganda. A detail-oriented administrator, his ministry often involves plowing through pages of financial records.
He’s also a writer and, occasionally, a diplomat for members of the multi-cultural congregation, where no less than seven nationalities worship together.
“Isaac has been able to bring all together without a conflict of interest. This is his strength,” said Katcho Karume, a Kampala church member and doctoral student.
Sanyu seemed headed in a different direction when he first encountered the church. The native of Uganda, in central Africa, described himself as “a very lonely kid.” The only child of a Muslim father and Catholic mother, his parents separated when he was 6 years old, and his father died under the regime of Idi Amin, the infamous military dictator blamed for at least 400,000 deaths.
Amin was driven from Uganda in 1979, but years of political turmoil followed. In the 1990s, as Uganda’s economy began to recover, Sanyu tried to drive away his loneliness with friends and parties.
“I had always searched for meaning in life without much success,” Sanyu said. “In my secondary school years this search for meaning intensified. I made a lot of friends and we used to do all sorts of wild, fun things together, but still there was an emptiness in me.”
REACHING UGANDA’S CLUB SCENE
At the same time, missionaries in Kampala were looking for a way to effectively serve the community. David Jenkins and his wife, Jana, arrived in Uganda in 1993 as part of a team including Greg and Debra Carr.
“One of the dynamics we saw in Kampala was the high incidence of AIDS,” Jenkins said, “and we came to the conclusion that, in order to save lives, we needed to get young people out of discos and bars.”
The mission team launched “Up,” a weekly, Saturday night party with a Christian focus for singles in Kampala. Sanyu was one of the first to attend.
“I thought I should give this a try in my search for meaning,” he said. “The first time I joined the fellowship, I could not believe the kind of love and care that was in this place. It gave me a sense of belonging and of being loved the way I was.”
The missionaries introduced Sanyu to the infant Kampala church. He joined a small Bible study group, and on March 3, 1996, decided “there was absolutely no reason as to why I should not give my life to Jesus Christ.”
Since his baptism, “Isaac has been a model of faithfulness,” Jenkins said. He stayed with the church after the Carrs left in 1998. As the church encountered hardships and opposition, his faith continued to grow.
“He has stayed by us when our funding was struggling, and there was little financial incentive to be our friend,” Jenkins said.
Today the Kampala church has grown to more than 230 members, including natives of Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Kenya, Sudan and the United States.
SERVING THROUGH DETAILS
Sanyu said he believes ministry should be “holistic in nature – it involves a whole person in terms of their spiritual and physical well-being.” He also said he is aware that “living is the best teacher.”
The young minister consistently puts his words into practice, Jenkins said.
“I have lost track of the number of times I have observed Isaac lead through a crisis by gathering consensus of the best wisdom that the church had to offer,” Jenkins said.
Sanyu began working for the ministry in 1998, overseeing a community center sponsored by the Kampala church.
A few dozen people used the center each day, but under Sanyu’s direction, that number has grown to more than 200, Jenkins said.
Sanyu also administers the Christian Relief Fund program in Kampala. The Amarillo, Texas-based ministry sponsors underprivileged children around the globe, providing money to attend school. In 1999 the Christian Relief Fund began sponsoring 15 children in Kampala.
“In order to make the program happen, someone needs to stay on top of all the details of finances, reports and family visits,” Jenkins said. Sanyu accepted the role, and the program has grown to 105 children. “I’m amazed at all the details that Isaac is able to manage, and how he does it with such a happy servant attitude,” Jenkins said.
Nyota Cengo, a member of the Kampala church, said that Sanyu’s is a counselor and encourager, and his positive attitude has contributed to church growth.
“Apart from leading our church, which is growing, he knows how to welcome people,” Cengo said. “He is humble and able to understand everyone’s problems — even children’s.”
SEEING REBIRTH BEFORE DEATH
That attitude has opened the way for several baptisms in Sanyu’s family. When his mother became ill, Sanyu and fellow church members showed compassion.
Despite much physical pain, “she experienced the love of Christ through the body of believers at Kampala Church of Christ,” Sanyu said.
She was baptized in August 2004 before her death Sept. 12.
Sanyu “has been through a very difficult time this past year with the illness and death of his mother, but I’ve seen his faith deepen and grow,” said Darla Bennett, another missionary in Kampala.
“Now he has become a strong, mature and faithful leader among the leaders in the Kampala church,” Bennett said. “I expect to see great things from him in the years to come.”
Sanyu’s ministry is effective because those around him see sincerity in his beliefs, according to the missionaries and members of the Kampala church.
Living a holy life “gives birth to a life of integrity and transparency,” Sanyu said.
“As a people of God, what we say may have little impact … but the way we lead our lives may have far more impact toward changing lives,” Sanyu said.
“Our lives should be able to preach the Word of God.”