Friends, family and loved ones on two continents continued mourning four evangelical Christians killed in Uganda during a fatal car accident last Thursday. Uganda's American embassy has promised a full investigation of the crash, while sending condolences to congregations hurt by the tragedy.
"The Ugandan government is doing all it can to make our roads safer," said Dickson Ogwang, the embassy's minister counsel. "We pray that God may encourage the families and churches affected by this incident. It is very sad for our Christian community that this happened."
The accident affects both American and Ugandan congregations who lost beloved leaders as a result of the crash. Americans are mourning the death of the Rev. Leo Godzich, an associate pastor at Phoenix's First Assembly of God, and Leo Piano, a congregation member who retired from the Phoenix Police Department in March 2010 after a 25 year career.
Ugandans, meanwhile, are saying prayers for the families of Bishop John Michael Mugerwa and Ronnie Ssebunya of Fast Assemblies Church located in Uganda's capital of Kampala. Besides hosting their American counterparts, Mugerwa also ran Destiny Orphanage and Boarding School, an organization dedicated to helping Ugandans orphaned by AIDS.
According to the Daily Monitor, the quartet came together for the purpose of ministering on marriage in Namutumba District outside Kampala. Driving down Uganda's Jinja-Iganga highway Thursday evening, the group's Toyota Super Custom was operated recklessly and hit a bump which caused it to be rammed between two trailer trucks. The driver, identifiable only as Paul, is undergoing care at Jinja Hospital.
"Road accidents are a big problem in Uganda," Ogwang said. "Our roads are narrow and not as wide as American roads. I believe that our Department of Traffic is really on top of things with this particular accident."
Across the Atlantic, Americans are missing Godzich and Piano, who were both active members of the Phoenix community. Godzich founded the National Association of Marriage Enhancement (NAME) there, growing the marriage support group so much that it now boasts 200 couple's counseling centers worldwide. The group received national attention when Godzich counseled Colorado evangelical Ted Haggard during an alleged infidelity scandal.
"He so deeply believed the Gospel and in the power of resurrection that he gave us hope and life like no one else in that time period," said Haggard, the senior pastor of St. James Church in Colorado Springs, to The Christian Post Monday. "He had the courage to stand with the broken, discouraged and wounded. We are who we are today largely because of Pastor Leo. The Kingdom of God on Earth is in deep need of more men like that."
Sgt. Trent Crump of the Phoenix Police Department said that Piano, for his part, served over two decades in the force's downtown operations division. He added that the former officer is survived by several relatives still in the department.
Ogwang said Uganda was a predominantly Christian nation thankful for foreign ministry like First Assembly's mission trip. He said he believed increased spiritual interaction between the two nations would strengthen the ties between both.
"It is a great joy to have Christians from the West visit Uganda and help Ugandans achieve a deeper understanding of Christ," Ogwang said. "We are sad to have lost our American brothers. Christians who are really committed to their walk and spreading the Gospel will not be discouraged by what has happened. There is hope beyond the grave."