How a young man’s search for a wife led him to a woman five years his senior, with four children from a previous relationship, is a story that many would find unbelievable.
But Pentecostal Bishop Harry Morris Bukenya, 56 and his wife, Christine, 61, have enjoyed a blissful marriage for 25 years. The couple told Samuel Lutwama how they withstood public ridicule.
Bishop Bukenya’s early years were spent in Mbale, where he was born. In the later years, he was always on the move with his father who was a manager with British American Tobacco.
Consequently, he attended several primary schools. His father always stressed the importance of education, which helped Bukenya recite biblical passages with remarkable poise and confidence at a young age.
Bukenya later got the conviction that God was calling him into ministry. In the early 1970s, he had a divine encounter and heard a voice telling him to serve God. He later attended a crusade that changed his spiritual life. “After the crusade, I felt a desire to develop a deeper relationship with God,” he recalls.
In 1971, Bukenya started pursing the call on his life. He joined the Redeemed Church in Makerere, which later evolved into Eden Revival Church in Wandegeya. Under the mentorship of spiritual leaders, he scaled the hierarchy, and before long, he rose to the position of pastor.
DUMPED BY FIRST LOVE
With his new position came the pressure for him to marry, especially from his family and church members. He picked interest in an attractive lady and love blossomed.
However, seven months into courtship, the unexpected happened. “She told me it was over, because there was someone
else in her life. I discovered she was planning to marry one of the rich church members. I was so hurt that I developed hatred for all women and I detested the whole subject of falling in love again,” Bukenya says. But God had a different plan for him.
Soon after the disappointment, he started hearing a voice telling him that Christine, who was five years his senior and a mother of four, was his prospective wife. For over a year, Bukenya tried to wrestle with the voice. He thought he was insolent to think that the voice was from God.
“I had every reason to turn Christine down, but whatever is born of God overcomes man’s wishful plans. I finally decided to follow His will,” says Bukenya.
CHRISTINE REJECTED HIM
After listening to God’s call, Bukenya proposed to Christine. However, Christine, who had set her mind on supporting her four children, was caught offguard.
“I never saw it coming. After all, he was my pastor and was younger than I was. A month later, I accepted his proposal and marriage preparations began,” says Christine.
However, there were hurdles for the couple, especially from Bukenya’s family and friends, many of whom described the couple as a mismatch. Bukenya’s friends warned him against marrying a woman who was older than he was and had children, but he was determined to follow God’s voice.
When Bukenya told his father about his choice for a wife, he was not amused. “My father sat me down and angrily asked me whether I knew what I was dragging myself into,” Bukenya says.
However, his father was disarmed by Bukenya’s determination. Left with no choice, he blessed him and wished him the best in his marriage.
On December 10, 1988, the couple tied the knot at Full Gospel Church in Makerere, before hosting their guests to a reception at Silver Springs Hotel in Bugolobi.
Next week, the Bukenyas will celebrate 25 years in marriage. Bukenya says he found marital bliss with Christine. The couple share a strong bond of love, which is exhibited in the way they relate with each other in the presence of their children.
Bukenya speaks adoringly about his wife, saying she is of noble character, whose beauty radiates from inside out. He says Christine is endowed with a mature and enterprising mind.
Bukenya says God’s awesome hand in uniting them, despite their age gap, was revealed when he travelled to the US for treatment with his wife.
“She was handling our paper work and immigration officials kept asking her whether she was travelling with her father. Perhaps the truth that I was her husband remained hidden from them. God is the perfect match-maker,” Bukenya says.
The Bukenyas with their children, Bob Kibirango (left), Anne Dibya (second left) and Catherine Nabukenya
What still amazes Bukenya is how he easily got on with Christine after their wedding. Although she had the experience of her previous relationship, she behaved like someone who needed a fresh start.
“When I look back, Christine has used her stable and mature judgment to make our marriage reach this far, something I have tried to reciprocate in the name of love,” he says.
The Bukenyas attribute their success to good upbringing. “We were taught about personality traits and how to live with each other in harmony,” Bukenya says. He advises people to handle marriage with a mature mind, not fantasies. Bukenya also says they did not give their daughter, Catherine, any preferential treatment.
“Although she is a likable girl and holds a special position in the family as the last born, with a big age gap between her and her half-siblings, we have not favoured her over the rest.
Perhaps, the only thing that sets Catherine apart from her siblings is that she has grown up with both her parents and her loving and caring siblings. As a result, she has learnt a lot from that experience,” he disclosed
Tradition demands that if a man dies, he is succeeded by a son, preferably the oldest son. On this, Bukenya says: “I have not given much thought to who is likely to succeed me. My wife and I agreed that our estate would be distributed equally among all our children, although our daughter, Catherine, will have her special share.”
Nevertheless, Bukenya does not dispute the role of his family in choosing his heir. “As for now, I am not concerned about who my heir will be. That matter lies in the hands of God who knows the future,” he says.
Few men can agree to raise step-children when their biological father is on his merry with another family, but Bukenya defied the odds and went on to do a great feat, which has been rewarding to the whole family.
Asked about the secret behind this extraordinary feat? Bukenya says he decided to take on Christine with her ‘baggage’ because of the love he had for her.
“We spent our first year of marriage without the children. During that time, we discussed ways of how to raise them without clashing. It is then that I realised that I had to love Christine with everything in her life, including her children,” Bukenya recalls. It worked. The children fully embraced him and it was at that point that he started shaping their lives as a father.
Throughout the interview, Bukenya chuckles on the memories of how he built a strong bond with his stepchildren. From the early years, the family used to sit together at the same table, symbolic of the traditional fire place, where they would share stories and wise counsel. He says sometimes his children call to remind him about the old days.
Like the saying that a good turn deserves another, Bukenya, has on several occasions, been bailed out by his step-children.
A case in point is when he recently underwent surgery in the US. “The surgery was expensive, but my children footed the bill,” he says with a grin.
What the couple’s children say
BOB KIBIRANGO, 33
He relates with his step-father like warbuddies who went through a lot together and triumphed. Kibirango refers to his parents as ‘the perfect couple’. “My father treats me like his own son, which I do appreciate. I have not known any other fatherly love,” says Kibirango. He says his step-father filled in the gap at a tender age when he yearned for a father figure.
“His coming into mom’s life was divinely orchestrated. I will always be grateful to him for having taken care of me,” he says. As a married man with a family to take care of, Kibirango says he draws a lot of lessons from his parents’ marriage.
A married woman with children, Dibya says her parents moulded her into a total woman. “I reflect the virtues of a ‘total woman’, unlike other women, because of what my parents instilled in me,” she says. Dibya recalls an incident when she was not sure of what course to pursue at university, but her father told her: “Don’t you know who you are? Go after your dream.” She says she followed her dream and now she is living it.
The couple was blessed with one biological daughter, CatherineNabukenya, 23, whom they refer to as a gift in their marriage. She is the apple of the family’s eye.
“We had no idea that our daughter was a gift from God, until much later, when we met Christine’s friends, who wondered how God had blessed her womb with a baby girl. They thought she had passed the child-bearing age,” Bukenya says. Nabukenya refers to her parents as jewels who have impacted her life positively.