It is not usual that church service will go on for a straight six hours, but the Celebrity Sunday at gospel crooner Pastor Wilson Bugembe’s church was to be different. Celebrities made grand red carpet entries at the event that is held once every two years. Locals and regular church goers lined-up along the road and all the way to the entrance of the church to receive the stars with loud cheers.
Inside the church, emcees John Ssegawa and Patricko Mujuuka welcomed guests as proceedings were occasionally halted to receive stars owing to almost deafening cheers that greeted them both outside and within the church. It was full proof that the local celebrities are not a common sight at the churches, at least not at Light the World Church, which is ministered by musical preacher Pastor Wilson Bugembe.
In an interview with Sqoop magazine, Bugembe explained that the idea was born out of the fact that entertainers are always on the road chasing after performance money and therefore hardly get the time to connect with the Lord, or go to church to pray and praise.
“They all give glory to the Lord and confess they would not have come thus far if it had not been for His mercy and guidance whenever they are interviewed. None of them has ever claimed Satan helped them. I wondered why I could not bring them together and downplay the notion that celebrities only go church in a casket,” Bugembe recounts.
On Sunday, musicians, producers, actors, radio and television presenters attended Bugembe’s service. And whereas from the look of it one would presume it was another reason for local showbiz icons to be in the limelight, many of them were actually up to the cause of reconnecting with the Lord as they explained in their testimonies and interview with this reporter.
The celebrities speak
Bebe Cool said despite being Muslim, he attended church because he believes in God.
“To me, associating with the Lord has no limits. I do respect my religion, but I was invited as a celebrity for this function and the function is in church, so it doesn’t stop me from coming. I am a believer and religion is just another way through which we pray to Him. It is crucial for everyone to know that at the end of the day, we pray to the same God,” he said.
Miss Uganda Leah Kalanguka, says on top of honouring an invite to attend the Celebrity Sunday, she is a prayerful person with a close relationship with God.
“I go to church every Sunday and a few other days of the week. I fellowship with youth in my church, and I am also in my church choir,” she explains. Kalanguka is Born again and is part of the flock at Bugolobi Church of the Resurrection.
Halima Namakula was glad to have come in a motherly role as an elder among the musicians’ fraternity. “I have to be here for my sons and daughters,” she said, adding that despite being a Muslim, she believes that it is one God Christians and Muslims pray to.
“So be it Allah or God, it is one Lord. I am a Muslim and a prayerful believer at that. I try to pray five times a day, but like any other person, I miss some of the prayers. I am emphatic on the morning prayer though. In the Western world where I have grown up, it is okay to go to church as long as you are praying to God,” Namakula elucidates.
Music producer Paddyman (Paddy Kayiwa), says it is important for celebrities to attend the event to thank God for the good life in the past year and pray for a fruitful year ahead.
“We would like to thank God that despite all that we go through, good or bad, He has brought us thus far. We don’t survive on our own, but the Lord’s power and grace,” he observes. He does not rule out the fact that some of the celebrities attend the Celebrity Sunday service to show off, but he underlines the fact that by these celebrities stepping in church, it is a step in the right direction as far as spiritual connection with the Lord is concerned.
“It does not really matter what the motive of the celebrity coming is. Of course some come to church to show off nice and trendy fashionable clothes, but coming to church is more important,” he adds.
Paddyman suggests that the Sunday should be held more often rather than after two years because this will mean that certain celebrities will only wait to go to church after another two years. The Born-again music producer calls on celebrities to become regulars at their local churches.
One of the organisers at this year’s Celebrity Sunday, Sophie Gombya agrees with Paddyman and adds that this was one of the reasons Pastor Bugembe initiated the idea.
“He knew most of his celebrity friends are not church-goers. He says he doesn’t know where we find God. He doesn’t believe we have God. He doesn’t believe we know God, so as a way of celebrating Celebrity Sunday, he is getting us closer to God and encouraging us to go to church,” the female singer explains.
Gombya however does not agree with Bugembe that celebrities do not know God. She argues that everyone knows about the existence of God by the mere fact that they were created.
Indeed celebrities proved their knowledge of the scripture and some used their time at the pulpit to inspire.
“We need to appreciate our individual efforts no matter what we do in society and thank God for who we are. You might be making chapattis and thinking it is not good enough, but if you do not play your role, then we will not have something to eat. You are important for carrying a camera because you relay information to people. Let us appreciate each other’s jobs and find a way of adding value to them. I thank God for who I am and advise you to,” Bebe Cool said during his moment at the pulpit. He went on to sing lines from his song Love You Everyday, to which the audience sang along. Pastor Bugembe raised hands and prayed for him, for the Lord to bless him abundantly, in his career.
Juliana Kanyomozi expressed happiness for fellow celebrities turning up in such big numbers to unite in the presence of the Lord.
“Thank you for praying for me. 2014 was a long and trying year for me, but I stand before you, thanks to your prayers. I will save you the story because you know what happened, but I am happy for today’s theme: Thanking God For Who We Are. We spend a lot of time thinking about the negative, thinking of the low moments, the times when we are crying and we forget about the blessings and yet they are more. I think we need to thank God for who we are; strong, powerful, hurting, influential, married or not, we all need to thank God for who we are,” she said.
She narrates, “As I grew up, I dreamt of becoming a singer, singing for people who would clap for me and I would be happy. Many times as human beings, we dream small because we are human, but like Oprah (Winfrey) says ‘God can dream a bigger dream for me, for you, than you could ever dream for yourself’. Here I am standing on stage. I know I command millions of fans and that is not me. It is a blessing from God. I don’t do it myself. People keep asking me ‘Juliana okikola otya (how do you do it) in my music and experiences. I don’t do anything. It is God.”
The diva went on to perform Kanyimbe which warmed the congregation into a stirring moment of praise and worship. The church choir did well in backing her up.
In his moment before the flock, East Africa Legislative Assembly MP, Fred Mukasa Mbidde shared about his spiritual life as a God-fearing person.
“I respect God because the Lord is great. They say that those who respect the great pave way for their own greatness. Even if you don’t like God, for purposes of being great, respect him. When the pastor called me and gave me this news, I got a bit puzzled. I am a member of this church scientifically by conduction. I bring you greetings from Susan Namaganda my wife, who is a member of this church,” Mbidde said, adding that he has been ministered by Bugembe through his music.
He then went on to share about his humble beginnings and how he has managed to grow as a politician and lawyer.
Even Mama Fiina the traditional healer was in church
The loudest ululation and precisely the highlight of the service was Mama Fiina’s, real name Sylvia Namutebi, moment at the podium. She is the leader of traditional healers in Uganda.
“In this world it doesn’t matter if you walk in the clouds or how much witchcraft you practice like you heap praises on Mama Fiina, God is the supreme leader. I feel the flow of the Holy Spirit in me. Many times we fail to come to church or do good things for the church because of people. I know people will say so much about my coming here. But our goal as traditional healers is to heal people. If the Lord calls me to pastor here, I will do it,” she said attracting loud cheers.
“I do not have powers that can compare to those of the almighty Lord. Are you doing what the Lord requires of you? Let us stop having dark hearts,” she added before she sang lines from one of Pastor Bugembe’s songs.
Abby Mukiibi shared experiences of working on radio for the last 18 years, a job that has required him to wake up at 4am every morning. Using his talent, the CBS Programmes Director has been able to change people’s lives by utilising his radio job to create developmental programmes that can positively impact in people’s lives. In all this, and his career as an actor, the 45-year-old veteran celebrity thanked John Ssegawa for being a good and guiding friend to him for the last 20 years.
Mukiibi had advice for celebrities, to be mindful of their image because so many people look up to them and will as such emulate their actions.
“I have told Bobi Wine that my son loves him so much. He has come home and seen it. My son has a huge poster of him in his bedroom, so I told him that whatever he does, my son will copy. As celebrities, we ought to be a source of inspiration. Everything you do, you are sending a message to someone,” he observed.
Desire on her nude photos
Speaking about her recent leaked nude photos, Desire Luzinda said she has been able to stand strong due to strength she has gotten from different people.
“I literally died emotionally. I was at home when everything happened on Facebook. I could not think for a moment. I was like ‘Is this true’? I spent four days and it had not sunk it. I spent days crying and sleeping. I could wake up and see people living normal lives and I could not,” she narrated.
“Do you regret your actions,” Bugembe asked. Luzinda said, “I regretted a thousand times and asked myself why I did it but then I want to thank Halima Namakula, Annette Nandujja and Seya (Hajji Nasser Ssebagala). They made me realise that I am human and what I did was just a mistake. I was in love. I didn’t do it for the public. By the way I am Born again.” And if songstress Luzinda met Jesus today she said she would ask him for forgiveness and for her daughter not cursing her.
The celebrities also collected some money to help children who were televised on NTV studying under a tree and writing on the ground. Mama Fiina contributed Shs2m, Anne Kansiime Shs2m, Bobi Wine Shs1m and Mujuuka Shs500,000 towards the cause.
“It is for the Lord’s mercy that I have gotten where I have gotten. I have met the Queen of England thanks to the name I have made. I have performed before a crowd bigger than the one here today, and it is for the Lord’s grace,” Kansiime said. Her speech was preceded by a comic moment by Herbert “Mendo” Ssegujja, who plays a parody of President Yoweri Museveni.
The Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago said he did not have money to offer since he is jobless, but he sang a Jimmy Katumba song. Bobi Wine was the day’s last speaker.
“We are all musicians but the master musician is God himself. We are all instruments being played by the almighty and whatever comes from us is a reflection of what God planned for us. Many times we are drawn away from the Lord and represent evil, but I am sure the Lord has a better plan for us, to show his might,” he concluded.