Tributes to a Faithful African Friend and Minister Suddenly Called Home to Glory

Gerald Sseruwagi died June 28 while serving in Rwanda to help start a Reformed Bible college there

Everything I know about Africa I learned from Brother Gerald.  Everything I know about ministry in Africa I learned from Brother Gerald. He was my inspiration, my mentor, and my ministry model.  Although we were only to work together for two semesters, since he came back to San Antonio to earn a doctor’s degree and then returned to Rwanda to help start a Christian seminary, Brother Gerald remained a fast friend who continued to shape me for the Lord’s service in Africa.

 

One summer, about twenty years ago, I looked over the worshippers at Faith Presbyterian Church and was pleasantly surprised by the presence of a young man in our congregation.  As an African, he was quite conspicuous in a Caucasian congregation.  I made a mental note to meet him, which I did immediately after the service.  For the life of me, I cannot remember what I preached that Sunday, but years later this young man told me it was the very first time he understood the implications of God’s grace, although he had been a Christian for some years.

Needless to say, we became fast friends.  I was always Pastor Tim to him and he was always Brother Gerald to me.  At summer’s end, Gerald Sseruwagi went off to Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.  For the next three or so years I only saw him during his school vacation, when he would drive back to San Antonio.  But our friendship deepened.

Then in the late 1990s, he graduated from seminary and went back to his home country, Uganda, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I was only one of several men who counseled Gerald in his ministry, and before long it became clear that he should plant a brand-new Presbyterian church in Kampala, Uganda.

Every time we talked, he urged me to come to Uganda for a pastors’ conference, but truth be told, I do not like travel and would only smile and say, “Maybe someday.”  Well, “someday” came in August of 2003 when I indeed joined him for a pastors’ conference in Kampala.  That was the beginning of a change of ministry direction for me, but at the time I did not have a clue that one day Cheri and I would pull up stakes and join forces with Brother Gerald.

We did go back for another such conference in 2004 and 2006.  It was after the 2006 conference that an opportunity to join Gerald in Africa arose.  So, in the spring of 2008, Cheri and I went for a one-semester sabbatical to work side-by-side with Brother Gerald at African Bible University (ABU).  It was during that semester that I first knew that God was calling us to leave our beloved church and join Gerald in the most vital gospel ministry I’d ever known.  It is no exaggeration to say that Gerald Sseruwagi is the instrument the Lord used to uproot this Texan and transplant him in African soil.

Everything I know about Africa I learned from Brother Gerald.  Everything I know about ministry in Africa I learned from Brother Gerald. He was my inspiration, my mentor, and my ministry model.  Although we were only to work together for two semesters, since he came back to San Antonio to earn a doctor’s degree and then returned to Rwanda to help start a Christian seminary, Brother Gerald remained a fast friend who continued to shape me for the Lord’s service in Africa.

As David and Jonathan loved one another, so it was for Gerald and me.  He was a true yokefellow in the Lord’s service.  His heart was riveted to Christ, and in this our hearts beat as one.  But now he is gone.  We received word Saturday, June 28, that Brother Gerald had been called home to the Lord.  This is a great shock to all who knew and loved him, for this great gospel warrior was not even fifty years of age.  I echo the words of David, upon learning that Saul and Jonathan had died in battle:  “How the mighty have fallen” (2 Samuel 1:19).

Please pray for Brother Gerald’s dear widow, Robina, and their four beautiful children (Bethany, Aaron, Jonathan, and Yosef).  Also, please pray for the spread and influence of the gospel in Africa.  Brother Gerald wielded the sword of the Spirit with an accuracy and passion that I have seldom seen.  His kind only comes along once in a generation.  Even so, may the Lord raise up a hundred such mighty men to take his place on the frontlines.  Africa desperately needs such gospel warriors.

I will miss you, Brother.

Dr. Tim Hoke is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America; he and his wife Cheri teach at African Bible University in Kampala, Uganda.

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 Last week Kurt preached a message at Zana Community Presbyterian Church from Psalm 90 about using time wisely, because none of us knows how our days are numbered by God.

This week at Zana, Pastor Emmanuel Kiwanuka and many others were reminiscing about how fitting that message was to the news we received today.  Early this morning we learned that our dear friend and colleague, a father, pastor, mentor, discipler to so many people here in Uganda and in the US alike, Dr. Gerald Sseruwagi, passed away from a stroke on the way to the hospital.

Part-way through our time serving as teachers here at African Bible University in Kampala, Uganda, we were joined by Dr. Gerald Sseruwagi, a Ugandan pastor with an equally fascinating background and heart for ministering to people for the sake of the gospel.   He served alongside of us here at ABU, and has been for numerous years a close friend to Rev. Tim & Cheri Hoke, our colleagues from Texas.  He was also the pastor of New City Bible Church in Kampala throughout that time.  Pastor Gerald spent part of his youth in Texas, after meeting Dr. Henry Krabbendam, professor from Covenant College, and being given the opportunity to finish out his education in the US.  He was adopted by a loving African-American pastor’s family in Texas, and yet still returned to Uganda after his education was finished, in order to serve his own people.  That alone tells you a lot about this man’s heart, because statistics overwhelmingly show that most people given such an opportunity never return to their home countries to live full-time.

In many ways, Pastor Gerald was one of the best advisers we could have hoped for, as he knew the cultures of both places, the challenges and inherent weaknesses of the West and of Africa, and we can’t express how much help his advice has been to us, as Westerners, who’ve come to serve in a culture so different from our very own.

Pastor Gerald took extreme interest in discipling young people for Christ, in holding people’s feet to the fire, so-to-speak, and in openly challenging sins that people from his own cultural background in Uganda would hardly believe to be condemnable.  He was a true man of God, loved his family, treasured his precious little ones, the last one of whom was born in the US during his recent years completing his doctoral studies program, and he will be sorely missed in this life.  He was currently serving in Rwanda to help start a Reformed Bible college in that country.

This amazing man leaves behind an incredible, gifted, sweet wife, Robina, and four young children.  Robina, also a trained lawyer, is a lovely lady Marlene got to know some during their time at ABU, and our girls took ballet lessons together when they were younger.  Please be in prayer for this family as they mourn the loss of their beloved husband/father, and pray for God’s richest provisions for them despite their loss.

Kurt Schimke is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America; he and his wife Marlene teach at African Bible University in Kampala, Uganda.