Mackay College

Mission of Mackay College

Mackay days

Mackay Day 2010 Mackay Day 2008 Mackay Day 2007 Mackay Day 2005 Mackay Day 2004

Choose a style

Mackay day at April 17th 2004

At April 17th there was Mackay Day. The following inaugural lecture was delivered by Rev. Dr. Ssennyoni at hotel Africana.

Role of the church in education: Mackay's contribution to education Uganda


The man about whom we are to explore was not our conventional missionary in the contemporary sense. Even in his day, when he offered for missionary work, it was with skills untraditional to the Missionary sending agencies. Alexander Murdoch Mackay's contribution then must not be sought in the popular sense of a missionary building schools, running classes and the like. If so, then we need not waste our breath - Alexander Mackay contributed nothing. For this very reason any valuation of his contribution is riven with considerable difficulty. We have no tangible continuity between his 'education' and the education systems of today. The education enterprise we have today appears to parallel his with, alas, no point of intersection. This means that we cannot use contemporary measures to judge Mackay's legacy to Education in Uganda. Alexander Mackay was a pioneer Engineer - Missionary. Pioneers do not have a past (context) to build upon, neither does the future necessarily recognize their contribution to it. In fact pioneers have historically committed errors for which future generations hold them mercilessly culpable. Future generations learn very little from pioneers if they are unwilling to look beyond the mistakes.

Alexander Murdoch Mackay: A Biographical Sketch

In understanding his contribution to education, it is necessary to sketch his life. Alexander M. Mackay was born on October3, 1849 to a Free Church of Scotland minister, Rev Dr Alexander Mackay. The young Mackay exhibited remarkable aptitude both in reading of books and in applying his hands to very practical activities. At age three (3) he could read the New Testament. Such was his interest in reading books that he did not develop an outdoor life till the age of eleven (11). Mackay enjoyed home-schooling until he was fourteen (14), and this was with his father. He had a curious mind asking his father about anything - nature, physics, sprituality, and so on. However, for his spiritual life, it was his prayerful mother who had the greatest impact, so much so that although she died when he was only fifteen (15), her death seems to have stirred him deeply toward a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. From this point on his quizzical mind worked tirelessly on understanding the scriptures while he certainly progressed in his studies as well. He graduated in Engineering at Edinburgh University. Nevertheless he was very well schooled in Classical literature, higher Mathematics, Survey and natural Philosophy. For his future work in Uganda, this broad scope of education prepared him adequately although this would not come to light until much later. In the meantime, he served as a draughtsman in Germany. This prepared him for his later missionary work in a number of ways: (a) A life away from home detached him from family bonds to learn to live independently. This is not to mean severance of family ties, (b) He learnt to face the hardship of living among unbelievers who had no appreciation of his faith. In his words, their persecution of him at work was a "training school ... to combat with a not more powerful fiend - idolatry' (c) It was at this point that he developed the idea of the inseparability of science and religion; this at a time when Mission agencies majored on recruiting only certain professional fits for the mission field - namely, doctors, translators and the like. An engineer would sound a misfit in such a field. However, Mackay was able to perceive the notion of an engineering missionary! (d) He deepened in his faith away from the immediate influence of his Christian family. Therefore his sister's apparently innocent letter about need for missionaries to Madagascar fell on very fertile ground. The missionary spirit that was stirred in him never abated until he would see himself in the mission field. Attractive offers for employment (in fact partnership) in a large engineering firm in Moscow did not divert him either. As he reflected during this period, he desired the missionary call "not to make money ... it will be a trial ..." And again, "If Christianity is worth anything, it is worth everything". He also asked, "Why is a missionary's life so often (in) my thoughts? Is it simply for the love I bear to souls? Then, why do I not show it more where I am?" Statements such as these are significant in understanding that for Mackay education would intricately become an outflow of his spiritual depth. While in Germany in 1875, a letter written by explorer Henry Morton Stanley calling for missionaries to Uganda was published. Since Mackay had failed in his first attempt to be recruited for Madagascar, and yet he still felt a strong missionary zeal, he readily applied to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) to go to Uganda. Indeed of the eight missionaries selected for Uganda, Mackay was the youngest, at 27 years of age. His parting speech on April 25, 1876 to the CMS Committee differed significantly from the speeches of his colleagues and sobered everyone to the reality awaiting the pioneers: 3 "I want to remind the committee that within six months they will probably hear that one of us is dead ... But ... when that news comes, do not be cast down, but send some one else immediately to take the vacant place. Indeed within the first two years, three of the eight were dead, and after 3 years he was the only serving survivor of the team of eight! Fevers, dysentery, murders had taken their toll. Mackay too had his fair share of illnesses and other hardships. Mackay arrived in Uganda on 6th November 1878 at the Buganda capital of Rubaga. Although Kabaka Mutesa accorded him a warm welcom, their relationship over the years oscillated between friendship and outright hostility, and alway suffered suspicions. The Kabaka harboured suspicions for a number of reasons: (i) he had hoped that Stanley's missionaries would augment his military might (ii) there were 'Arab whisperers' at the Kabaka's court who were hostile to Mackay. For their slave business was often in Mackay's sermons to the Kabaka. (iii)The Kabaka felt 'invaded' by certain white men who established I themselves in Buganda without his permission. General Gordon was one such threat. (iv) Mackay was tireless and bold in preaching against the Kabaka's vices of polygamy, witchcraft and cruelty toward Buganda's neighbours; and sometimes even against the poor Baganda. (v) There were also the Chiefs who were jealous of Mackay's presence and probably loathed his confrontational message too. After labouring fruitlessly for years in preaching the Gospel, Mackay saw that his only hope for breaking through with the Gospel was Education. The Baganda wanted to learn how to read [there was no shortage of people desiring to learn to read]. The only 'text book' available was the Bible. If he taught them to read and write, and they read the Bible, they would be forced to listen and heed the message Mackay's education consisted of reading, writing and arithmetics. However, as an engineer-missionary he taught people vocational skills as well. He himself actively involved in the skills he sought to impart to the people. He taught trades such as building roads, printing, cloth-making on the loom, carpentry, masonry, metalwork, translation, doctoring. Therefore he was nick-named "Muzungu-wa-kazi", the white man of work, because of his restless labours in all these tasks. Mackay would be called on by the Kabaka for any kind of work. This pioneer missionary must be credited with the vision to integrate vocational training with basic literacy. We shall return to this shortly. Alexander Mackay lasted into Kabaka Muwanga's reign. This was probably the most difficult time. For all hopes of peaceful expansion of Christianity were dashed with the ascendancy to the throne of Kabaka Mwanga. He certainly inherited the suspicions of his father without the shrewdness that enabled his father to balance the political demands of his day. So when Kabaka Mutesa died on 29th October, 1884, Mackay's freedom to preach and teach were indeed numbered. Shortly before Mwanga took the Kingship, on 18th March 1882, Mackay had the first break through when the first Baganda, five of them, were baptised. Thereafter, there was steady increase in the number of believers. Alas, the time for the initial spiritual harvest also became the time for great persecution. Mackay and his classes of mostly Christians suffered immense restrictions. In fact at some point it was crime enough to be seen in Mackay's class. Try as he did to seek audience with the King, this was repeatedly denied. And when it was granted, as for example when Mackay pleaded for Bishop James Hannington, the Kabaka did not make good on his promises to spare the Bishop. The same was true of the first three Baganda Christians who were martyred early 1885. There is today a general misconception that only 22 or just a few tens of Christians were martyred. Actually there were literally hundreds killed for being Christians; a testimony to the steady growth of the 'Church'. In any case what concerns us here is that by this time the converts were adequately schooled to read the scriptures for themselves and to have their own personal convictions. Mackay had by this time translated into Luganda the whole Gospel of Mathew. Using this small printing press he managed to print of leaflets that were secretly distributed to Christians in the 'diaspora'! To be a Christian even in that day was almost synonymous with ability to read and write. (It was Mackay who also first developed the Luganda alphabet thus paving way for the first translation of the Bible into Luganda). Eventually during Mwanga's reign, and faced with monumental hardships by reason of the persecutions, Mackay reluctantly retreated to the southern shores of Lake Victoria. True to his word fourteen years earlier, he did not want to leave the Chistians in Buganda without a (missionary) replacement. Kabaka Mwanga himself was exiled on the Islands of Lake Victoria and he tried to make amends with Mackay. Mackay for his part did not want to jeopardize Gospel opportunities with Mwanga's enemies back in the capital. So he related with him cautiously most desirous that Kabaka Mwanga would also turn to Christ. He never did. Thus 'exiled' and away from the Christians he loved, Mackay passed into the presence of the Lord on 8th February 1890 at the age of 40 years. He never married. He never once returned to this homeland for the fourteen years he served in Uganda. However, the seed of the gospel and education he had planted would in due course become a foundation of the Education enterprise of the Church of Uganda.

A Summary of Mackay's Contribution to Education

Although these are scattered in the aforementioned, it makes good sense to highlight them here. In a real sense, Mackay's contribution to Edcuation in Uganda is really his life-story more than systems and structures that sustain education. For, being a pioneer opened up the way into the unknown for later missionary educationists. For example, when Fr. Lourdel arrived in 1879, he found Mackay's teaching already prevalent in the palace. It is the indictment of the Church today that Catholic-Protestant (European) politics did (does) not permit due credit to be given to Alexander Mackay's prior work! I hereby summarise Mackay's life contribution:

1. Mackay's philosophy of lie which would not divorce Science from Religion. In fact it is precisely because he was a Christian that he was diligent as an enigneering missionary. Our day has divested science from religion as if science deals with realities whereas religion deals with unrealities. Strangely this is inconsistent with the history of the sciences. Although there were misconceptions of this nature (as in the days of Galileo), Christian were the first to be on the cutting age of Scientific discoveries. They saw no contradiction with their faith because "ALL truth is God's truth' When Science is 'freed' from the Christian faith, God is no longer the foundation and Creator of the truth unraveled in science. Therefore Scientific pursuits lose their ethos; human beings become the standard of right and wrong. It is no longer what 'ought' to be done but what 'is' done that is right. What is safe supercedes what is right in importance and necessity. The Church should be called back to active support for the sciences. She has no reason to fear from scientific research and discoveries: The Christian faith does not reject WHAT is discovered but HOW it is discovered and WHY it is discovered.

2. Mackay had a strong revulsion against the vices of his day. He was tireless in teaching the way of righteousness. At first this may appear to be irrelevant to the Educational pursuits. However, we are only too aware of current trends of moral backsliding in our country - many educated people are no longer able to distinguish good from evil. Time was when education in a church school ensured moral aptitude. I am quite certain that Mackay would turn in his grave to see the moral ambivalence so openly tolerated in church schools. Not even a code of conduct for either students or staff exists to regulate behaviour. The Church idly follows the code set the Government she is off-duty! In fact in many cases today the church schools only have a 'ceremonial' church member to head or participate in the school Mackay, I believe, would call us to be bold and unresting in promoting godly morals and Christian mores.

3. Mackay was a man of work, and both by word and example he inculcated a healthy philosophy of work. In particular he integrated vocational skills into his unwritten curriculum. When the Church established schools, they soon became 'centres of excellence', ONLY in the intellectual sense. There seems to have arisen an anti-skills mentality, most probably with the colonial example of 'white-collar'jobs as opposed to 'blue-collar' jobs. The situation is now at crisis level with the overloaded Ministry of Education Curriculum! The emphasis on intellectual aptitude is seen even in practical subjects! It is assumed that masonry, cloth-making, carpentry, and such skills that Mackay excelled in are for those 'who fail to make it up higher!' It is no wonder that those who do such work excel in poor quality products! Ugandan houses, our woodwork, our roads, clothes, etc stand as testimony to this. The Church, in my opinion, is well placed to lead the way of integrating vocational skills with literacy programmes. Vocational training is not for 'drop-outs'; it is also for the glory of God. This is the testimony of Mackay's life and teaching.

4. Mackay made literacy integral to faith. In a sense he had no option; he used education to teach the gospel and the Bible was his only text. His act, forced upon him by circumstances, should be ours by choice. It is scandalous to have a Christian who cannot read and write! It should be that those who embrace Christianity move a notch higher educationally. This to me seems consistent with James 1:9-10, "the lowly brother" is put up higher because he has believed. I would say that the Church has a responsibility to her members to increase their literacy levels. For Mackay it was very basic reading and writing. Later, the Church stagnated for a whole century at offering secondary and high school education. Thanks be to God, we have realized the need for a Church-founded University.


In conclusion then Mackay was a pioneer. Therefore his contributions may not be in our language. I have tried to draw parallels to our day, and to show that the Church may reflect on his means of education with some profit. But our reflection must not become mere introspection. Mackay calls us to emulate his example and to make our contribution in our day. Amen