A YOUNG man walks up to him with a wide grin and slaps his right hand rather too hard, as though they are old school chums. I cringe at what appears to be disrespect.
But before I have time to recover, I am thrown off balance by the light-hearted response from my host, â€œHey Tony, that is a little too hard for the archbishop-elect. You might break my hand before I assume office,â€ he says with an engaging smile.
The man is Archbishop-elect, of Anglican Church of Uganda The Rt. Rev. Henry Luke Orombi.
As we walk towards the restaurant at Namirembe Guest House, a girl in her late teens yells from the parking lot below us: â€œI am so happy and feel like flying now that you have been elected Archbishop.â€ â€œWell, in that case you had better get a pair of wings firstâ€¦â€ says Orombi, smiling.
As we get to the stairs leading to his suite, he tells a waitress,
â€œSarah, I will give you your photoâ€¦â€ Orombi greets no less than 10 people before he finally gets to his suite. Even then, his first-born son and a youth worker are waiting for him in front of his suite.
Orombi comes to the helm of the Anglican Church of Uganda at a time when the unity of the Anglican Communion worldwide is threatened by a homosexual intrusion into its ranks.
On the local scene, dioceses such as West Nile and Muhabura are involved in serious leadership wrangles.
The task ahead of Orombi is not going to be an easy one, but close associates say he is the right man for the job.
Rev Canon Dr Edward Muhima, the bishop-elect of North Kigezi Diocese, says Orombi is a gift to the Church of Uganda and to the nation.
Muhima describes Orombi as, â€œA man on fire for the Lord who preaches the Word of God in both word and deed, with a prophetic voice and tremendous humility.â€
Despite being 6 feet 5inches tall, Orombi does not walk with his nose in the air. He interacts with the high and the low without any hint of discrimination. What is more, he has not outgrown the love and concern that he had for the youth, when he was a diocesan youth worker.
â€œI just love people. I see their potential and would like to set them an example,â€ he says.
Pons Ozelle, the chaplain of Uganda College of Commerce in Pakwach, says Orombi is quite an inspiring personality.
â€œHis character and the way he approaches evangelism is what inspired me to join the ministry. He speaks with spirituality and authority.â€
Orombiâ€™s memories of his childhood are heart-warming: â€œI was born on 11 October 1949 and grew up in a large family set-up,â€ he says. â€œMy grandfather had six wives and my parents had 11 children. Both are now dead, which technically makes me an orphan.
â€œI did not want to go to school. Hunting birds and going to the River Nile for a swim was much more fun. I was a very active fellow and never stayed at home. I wanted to be involved in everything.
â€œI finally had to go to school in 1957, at eight years. I went because everyone else was going to school. Pajobi Primary School was however, not near my home. So besides having one meal a day, I had to endure a four-mile journey in the morning and another four miles in the evening, every day, for eight years.â€
In 1966, Orombi joined Arua Teachersâ€™ Training College. â€œThe turning point in my life was at the age of 18, when I gave my life to Jesus Christ. Two years later, I graduated with a grade III certificate and was posted to teach at Ambalal Primary School in Lira District,â€ he recalls.
Orombi taught for four years, during which he progressed from a classroom teacher to a deputy headteacher and then to an acting head teacher.
â€œI married Phoebe, on June 3, 1972. We have three grown-up children, Hellen, Bob and Daniel. â€œOurs is a close-knit family. I think I would not have made it this far without my wifeâ€™s support. She is a godly and prayerful woman.
In 1973, Orombi resigned from the teaching profession when he heard a call from God to serve in full time ministry. Orombi was then invited in by the late Janani Luwum to join his staff in Gulu in 1974, as an assistant youth worker, an assistant education secretary and diocesan evangelist.
The following year he studied for a diploma in theology at Bishop Tucker Theological College, at Mukono and a course in pastoral studies, a prerequisite for ordination. He was then posted to Madi, in West Nile Diocese in 1979, as a youth worker.
This was the period when the liberation war was raging and Arua was a turbulent place. In August 1980, Orombi was offered a scholarship to study a Bachelor of Theology degree at St. Johnâ€™s University in Nottingham, in the United Kingdom. â€œI never applied for it. Somebody just sent it to me.
So that same month, I left for that undergraduate course.â€
â€œIt happened to be the year when the soldiers at Ringili Theological College massacred 15 young people. One of them, Abraham Obatre, had offered to look after my family when I left for further studies,â€ Orombi said.
Orombi could have chosen to go into exile, but he decided against it. â€œSuch was the love that the people had for me when I was a youth worker, that in December that same year, they arranged for my family to join me in the United Kingdom.
â€œIn the UK, my heart was broken on July 1, 1983, when I lost my last born daughter. We had laid her down for a nap, when she died, a condition known as â€˜cot death syndrome.â€™ At the time she was only three years old.â€
Later that year, Orombi returned to work in Madi, West Nile Diocese youth office. â€œThe following year, I acquired a Land Rover with speakers on top. Wherever I went, there was always Christian music blaring from the speakers, which proved to be an effective tool for evangelism.â€
A story is told of how a child in the neighbourhood one day kept crying and demanding for Orombi, deep into the night, until his father has to go for Orombi. The child continued to cry for Orombi even after he had arrived. When the child was taken outside to where the car was parked, he said, â€œThat is Orombi I was talking about! Why is the music not playing?â€ The Land Rover and music had become synonymous with his name.
January 1987, saw Orombi rise to the position of Archdeacon of Nebbi, where he was based at Goli. Three other archdeaconaries were later carved out of the district, to include Jonam, Padyere and Okuru in 1990.
Before long, in October 1993, Orombi was elected Bishop of Nebbi Diocese, which was carved out of West Nile Diocese.
Incidentally, that was the same time that Pope John Paul II visited Uganda.
During his tenure as the Bishop of Nebbi, the district experienced tremendous social, economic and spiritual development. Such an airstrip in Nebbi town, which was inaugurated it on August 1998, by the first lady, Janet Museveni; the construction of a prayer retreat centre, complete with a chapel, an administrative block and a library at sh200m. Uringi Secondary School was also constructed at the cost of sh450m.
Health facilities in the diocese have also expanded under Orombiâ€™s leadership.
In his words, â€œIf God is going to change the heart, he is also going to change the environment.â€
Ten years down the road Orombi has risen to the highest office in the Church Of Uganda. His assent once again, has been heralded by the visit of a foreign dignitary, the President of the United States of America, George Bush. As I leave, images of Orombiâ€™s smile keep flashing in my mind â€“ a smile that engages people It dawns on me that smiling is second nature to Bishop Orombi. It costs nothing to smile, but pays a lot.
Perhaps this is one of the things that has helped Orombi, earn the highest office in the Church of Uganda.
Nebbiâ€™s gift to the Church