• Dec 01, 2021 . 3 min Read
  • World AIDS Day: Canon Byamugisha faces wrath of HIV, punches back

World AIDS Day: Canon Byamugisha faces wrath of HIV, punches back
New Vision Journalist
Journalist @New Vision

The Rev. Can. Gideon Byamugisha is the first religious leader in Africa to publicly announce that he was HIV-positive.

The award-winning priest co-founded the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with and Personally Affected with HIV and AIDS in 1992.

He published a book about his struggles in 2019, ‘Labours Of Love’, published by Wilsdom Publishers.

The book sold out and he appeals for sponsors to help him reprint more copies.

Gideon was ordained as reverend on December 13, 1991.

He almost cancelled his ordination ceremony because having HIV was directly tagged to sexual irresponsibility.

It was seen as a curse from God and people living with HIV were always given only three months to live. How could he lead people (in church) with such stigma?

Frankly, the wrong teaching about HIV and AIDS at the time had caused him self-judgment and bias towards the things of God.

He could not understand how the God he loved so much to serve was punishing him so severely over a case he was innocent of, especially concerning all the then taught avenues for contracting the virus: He was not a homosexual, long distance truck driver or a prostitute!

Could God expect a service from one he had rejected with a curse?

It was Bishop Dr Yustasi Ruhindi who convinced him back to focus his eyes on God and off of people’s attitudes: “What God thinks about you is not the same as what people think about you,” he said, “the Lord you serve knows you better than anybody and has great plans for you.”

That opened Gideon’s eyes.

“I love Bishop Ruhindi for counselling me back to my divine calling and the fact that he offered me the theological scholarship,” Gideon says.

During the retreat held at Makobore High School, a man came from Kasese looking for Gideon, saying he had received a message for him from God.

The mysterious man gave Gideon a scripture from 2 Cor 4:1-17. What the scripture read was amazing: ‘Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways, we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”

The scripture continued about the light of the gospel, resilience in imitation of Christ, the spirit of faith, and the glory of God.

Gideon could not restrain his tears reading this scripture. He burst out and cried as his colleague calmed him down.

The scripture erased every tiny doubt that was still lingering behind and aligned his thoughts and spirit perfectly towards his calling.

He then went through his almost forfeited ordination ceremony at Emmanuel Cathedral Kinyasaano (North Kigezi) and was consecrated a priest of the Anglican Church of Uganda.

An HIV test

In January the following year, 1992, Gideon visited the famous AIDS Information Centre at the then Baumann House for a test.

Two weeks later he got the results; he was HIV-positive.

“The results did not shock me. I had decided to prepare for the worst and also decided that I would not waste time trying to figure out how I contracted the virus. What was done was done and it was time to move ahead,” he said.

What perturbed him though was the person who gave him the results. With his eyes fixed on Gideon’s collar, the man, who was supposed to be a counsellor, mockingly said: “Man of God, what are you going to do with these results?”

“I found the tone very sarcastic yet after taking in his question; my eyes were opened to the fact that I had not planned how I was going to handle it. Nonetheless, I responded: “God who created me will guide me on what to do next.”

Gideon never felt guilty about his status.

“The only regret I have is that I lacked information. I had all this education — two degrees, one first class — but I had failed an HIV test!” he said.

Gideon was anxious about his child’s HIV status too.

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