Victory from Defeat
In God’s work among us, sometimes the most crushing defeats become the most stunning victories. Later this coming week, we commemorate one such defeat which became a victory.
Sunday, October 29 is the commemoration in our calendar of James Hannington, Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa. Actually, since Hannington is a “minor” commemoration, it is superseded by the Sunday celebration of the Resurrection, but I will remember it.
Hannington was born in England in 1847 and his early days were completely unremarkable. He was not much of a student and ended up working in his father’s warehouse. In 1868 he decided to try ordination, but, once again, poor academic performance sullied those dreams.
The death of his mother in 1872, for reasons that remain unclear, led to a serious change of heart for Hannington. He returned to Oxford, finishing a BA and an MA, and finally being ordained in 1874 and given charge of a small parish in Devonshire. Several years later, he heard of the death of two missionaries in Africa and was moved to offer himself to the Church Missionary Society for service there. In 1882 he set sail with five other missionary hopefuls, but became so ill that he was forced to return. He was consecrated bishop for Eastern Equatorial Africa, even though he had never set foot in his diocese!
In 1884 he set out again, finally landing at Mombasa, Kenya, gathered up about 50 porters, companions and guides and began the arduous journey overland to Lake Victoria. Word of this white traveler came to Kabaka (King) Mwanga of the Buganda tribe. Fearful of old prophecies of travelers from the east who would destroy his Kingdom, he sent soldiers who captured Hannington and after holding him for eight days, killed him, along with all his companions. He was killed in Busoga, just into Uganda from the Kenyan border, never having made it to Lake Victoria, the heart of his new diocese.
Hannington’s last words are said to have been, “Go, tell Mwanga I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.”
Following Hannington’s death, there were many martyrs, but their blood did, indeed, open the road for the Gospel to enter Buganda (modern day Uganda), where the Anglican Church is now among the most vibrant and fastest growing in the world.
It is impossible for us to know the future of the defeats we may suffer today. Whether small or great, seemingly insignificant or trumpeted for centuries, God can work to bring His good purposes out of what look crushing to us if we but offer it to Him!
This column originally appeared in the October 29, 2017 issue of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the full issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.