Rural Churches, Northern Uganda

I shot these images, mostly from the window of a moving car, earlier this year while I was working for the Northern Uganda Transition Initiative (NUTI), a USAID program, all over northern Uganda. Since shooting them, however, I’ve been a little overwhelmed by work and never got round to really using them for any purpose. However if I explain why I took them, that might allow readers to make up their own purpose.

These are shots of rural churches in the bush in northern Uganda. They are often squat, concrete and brick constructions, sometimes with murals on the outside, sometimes more elaborate and sometimes less, and often shaded by mango or mvule trees. They vary in size according to their congregation, with the exception of a few larger ones which look out of place for a reason which I will explain. The churches are scattered throughout the landscape of the reason, testament to Christianity’s reach.

In many instances these churches are the last link back to pre-war- the rest of the old buildings have fallen into disrepair (the brick houses as well as the mud huts) after being abandoned as their inhabitants fled to the IDP camps. And still they stand, often the tallest buildings around by a large margin, looking a little awkward, though less so as life returns to the countryside.

So any thoughts on how to use the images?

Update: Wowzer! I have just received the very flattering news that this post is on the front page of! If you like what you see, please check out the rest of my blog ( and also my website ( where you can see lots more of my work. I’m also on Twitter at @willboasephoto, although I mostly just retweet stuff and talk about food.


About Muzungu

I’m a Uganda-based freelance photographer (and occasional writer) working for a broad range of clients including NGOs, newspapers and magazines and development agencies. My work has taken me across East Africa, South America and Europe, and previous clients include USAID, the World Bank and the East African. I also work on personal documentary projects in my spare time. If you’d like to hire me or to know more, please feel free to get in touch.
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110 Responses to Rural Churches, Northern Uganda

  1. Lucie says:

    make a flickbook, hypnotise people with it & steal all their money.

  2. M'china says:

    Interesting! They look very “new topographics”!

  3. petesmama says:

    Oh wow… I like these! Very much!

    How about a calendar to sell at churches and raise money for a project of your choosing in Northern Uganda. With a little history on each of the churches. If that is what you are talking about when you say ‘use the pictures’.

    • Muzungu says:

      Hi petesmama,

      Sorry for the slow answer, I’ve been on the road a lot in the past few days. Thank you for the suggestion- I was thinking they would make a nice postcard set actually! I think I’m going to carry on shooting this project as I work in the north and see how many I can collect, but this time I’ll make sure to make better notes!


    • Jon says:

      I like the idea of a calendar to sell at churches (or wherever), but I would like it even more if the money raised would go to those churches whose pictures you include…Having visited a number of churches in neighboring Rwanda, and in Malawi and South Africa, I know that the pastors must work a full-time job and they often give themselves to their congregations at the expense of their families needs. If such a fundraiser could help offset some of the expenses so that the churches could pay their pastors a little bit of money, it would be a huge benefit to the community.

  4. Jane says:

    #’s 9, 15, 20 made me hugely nostalgic of my life circa its first decade. (Malawi, not Uganda though)

  5. Great project. I’d like to dig into the history a bit more. The churches seem like a very interesting set of buildings. Good thing they survived the war.

  6. These are so quaint and simple and beautiful! Thank you for sharing — really moving pix.


  7. Those are beautiful, and turned out well considering most were shot from a moving car. I am surprised to see all the different churches there.

    • Muzungu says:

      In about half of these I would stop the car, but I was running a very tight schedule for the contract I was shooting, so I didn’t really get a chance to stop, explore and compose. Thanks for your comment!

  8. It depends where the churches are, the farm ones can be turned into storage rooms.

  9. Your idea to make these photos into a set of postcards is great! They’re very beautiful and humbling photos…thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

  10. drtrd says:

    Wonderful documentary work…I shoot derelict places around southern Georgia, and what amazes me is the fact that no matter where on Earth you are, you find places like this. Inspiring!

  11. Very nice pictures! Thank you.

  12. gaycarboys says:

    interesting. I flicked through them all again and it looked like time lapse over a hundred years or so. Great shots:)

  13. Striking images, those churches look so stark and lonely on the bare scenery. I love how some of them have a dead tree next to it, just seems to add something extra. The colours on some of them are wonderful. What a great set πŸ™‚

  14. midnitechef says:

    Cottage industry perhaps? I like the idea of a fundraiser by selling a calendar or photo book (check sites like where you can make your own book)

  15. Lakia Gordon says:

    My pastor always talks about the churces over in Africa with the red clay ground. Glad I finally was able to visualize what it looks like. Thanks for sharing.

  16. maybe with more notes accompanying each of the pictures (lovely they are) maybe some one out there maybe moved enough to help big time, or… simply be converted.

  17. munira says:

    Oh, that East African sky! And what cool photos. Love the churches. Scrolling down the page, I couldn’t stop smiling πŸ™‚ They all seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and each one was different from the one before it!

  18. banbamama says:

    how about a coffee table book? these are amazing. well done,

  19. What a stunning collection, glad you could post them. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  20. dddamaris says:

    These are pretty awesome… I’m glad I came across this.. right on.

  21. This post made me miss Uganda so much. Thank you for sharing. I needed a reminder of my time there today.

  22. Gabby says:

    Beautiful pictures. How to use them? Schools, of course.

  23. be awake says:

    strange view when the church stands among emptiness. there is impression. interesting series.

  24. The images have been put to good use here just being freshly pressed… they would indeed make interesting postcards though. Beautifully captured moving vehicle and all!

  25. It really makes you appreciate what it must be like to live, preach or worship there…with those huge skies and red earth, the scale is extraordinary.

    I agree, the greatest gift would be to return (?) and shoot the churches more closely as way to literally pay back to them. I’d love to see their interiors and their pastors and hear from some of their congregants. It’s a powerful reminder that faith, and the faithful, are everywhere.

  26. Pingback: World without people | unfolding forms

  27. lanigbo says:

    agree I would buy it. You could also put them on gettyimages

  28. Pingback: Rural Churches, Northern Uganda, Via The Mzungu Diaries « My Thoughts and Musings

  29. ournote2self says:

    Beautiful pictures! Congrats on being FP’s. πŸ™‚

  30. Eva McCane says:

    oddly enough, this reminds me of Aruba a bit. they have a bunch of randomly scattered churches on the more rural side of the island. they’re little hidden gems. all very beautiful and right by the ocean.

  31. These photos are STUNNING, the images of the churches in the middle of the ‘fields’ are captivating

  32. progers1 says:

    НС Π² России Ρ†Π΅Ρ€ΠΊΠ²ΡƒΡˆΠΊΠΈ красивСС

  33. cpmondello says:

    Which churches support killing gays? Seems the President of Uganda is trying to pass a law that makes being gay a death sentence, with the help of American taxpayer’s money and conservative Christians in the U.S. Congress. Apparently after gay groups in America made it known what was going on, and after they pressured people like Rick Warren who is very friendly with one of those who helped motivate Uganda’s rulers to create a law, but again, that was after they were bombarded with negative press. I guess its a conservative Christian ideal to act on hideous things that you are part of, only after you are threatened with loosing supporters….aka MONEY. The President of Uganda still wants to pass the law, but will wait until all the media attention settles down. As you can tell, “main stream” media in the USA, most likely never even reported on this, so the President of Uganda should not have to wait too long to get his law passed. This types of behavior are why I never support organization that are Africa-related, because I know the damage conservative Christians from the USA have done with their religion.

    I suggest you ALL watch the following DVDs & Videos:

    ‘Imagine If All Atheists Left America’:

    ‘Constantines Sword’:

    ‘Theologians Under Hitler’:

    ‘The God Who Wasn’t There’:

    ‘A brief rundown of the cost in human lives exacted by religion and religious warfare’:

    I tell every one to support those who fight for ‘Separation of Church and State’. These are a few I’ve been supporting for years;

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

    Freedom From Religion Foundation:

    Military Religious Freedom Foundation:

    The Interfaith Alliance Foundation:

    • Muzungu says:

      Comment updated: gah, sleepy…

      While I approve of your zeal, I think you might be shouting at the wrong person. And blaming the wrong people. And doing it on the wrong blog.

      1) Museveni has actually blown hot and cold on the ‘kill the gays’ bill (which is actually a pretty misleading name for it, but I don’t suppose you’ve read it). Not that it’s not a foul and retrograde piece of legislation, but it was backed by a wingnut and despite having to safeguard the loony vote even Museveni knows which side his bread is buttered when it comes to foreign aid. However I’m amazed the American priests who sparked the whole thing are able to sleep at night- their idiocy likely led to the death of David Kato. They are hateful individuals bending the bible to their own ends.

      2) Anyone who refers to the media as the “”main stream” [sic] media” is sadly relegated to the crazy list I keep. All popular media is mainstream and yes, they have to cater to audience tastes, but actually it was international pressure which really pushed the bill off the table. That international pressure was generated largely through features on that same “”main stream” [sic] media”.

      3) I am an atheist. Not a ‘leave long and patronizing lists of suggested reading on other people’s blogs because I haven’t properly researched my target first’ kind of atheist, more of a ‘do what you like, just don’t harm others, and try to be polite and sound informed on the internet or be quiet’ sort of atheist.

      In conclusion, please do a little bit more prep before unleashing the full force of your ignorance- you might have spotted the piece I did about the Ugandan opposition (on my website), or seen that this was a post about the relics of war, or just generally noticed that this is a photo blog, not a hub of gay hate or any religious leaning.


      PS I tried to research you a little first, but your website was down. Your move, trigger.

      PPS To anybody not involved in this pointless bickering I should explain- It’s nearly midnight here and I’m tired. I gave up drinking two days ago and as a result I’m a little touchy. Please accept my apologies, I think I’ll go to bed now.

      • littlecurio says:

        I, myself, am a follower of Christ and I completely agree with you. Well said. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but nobody is entitled to force an opinion on others! It really does pay to know what you are talking about, and unfortunately, the Internet is too easy a way to mindlessly belt out your beliefs without having to deal with a real, live human face-to-face! How different it would be if we were all in the same room! Keep up the great work πŸ™‚

  34. Very compelling images of sacred sites. They remind me of the Ukrainian churches of the plains of Canada, many not used, like ships in the vast agricultural fields. Powerful places.

  35. anonnickus says:

    Beauty comment on ‘mondello’. Pleasent dreams. Great post. Well done.

  36. Why did you give up drinking?

    • Muzungu says:

      Because I have just spent two months in Poland. Trust me- after that kind of ordeal, Bacchus himself would be saying “Ok chaps, maybe it’s time for a break”.

      • No, there must be a different reason, I spent there over 6 years and still drink πŸ™‚

        If you really want to experience an ordeal, go further east. Let Ukraine be your next destination – beautiful churches there!

  37. Colin L Beadon says:

    Mzungu, Only those who have not lived long enough, or deeply enough, shun the notion of a Principle Power of any kind. Shoot your wonderful photos of Churches. I love old churches too, and creep and photograph through them, not that I’m particularly sunk on any religion. It is just that churches bear the wishes and prayers of so many of us, through so many centuries, and in this way they are venerable, and beautiful, each one in its own way. The bloodshed caused by just about all religions through the ages, is the fault of the myopic narrow- minded vision of those who teach and attempt to propagate the religion. It has very little to do with the actual religion , which is nothing more than a metaphorical way to attempt to explain that which is beyond all human understanding.

  38. Colin L Beadon says:

    Yeah !.. As usual my script will await comment moderation, and then never be printed, as though I write pure shit.

    • Muzungu says:

      Nope, it’s there. You’ll have to try a little harder before it gets spammed. Thanks for the comment- I especially like the idea of churches as buildings which have absorbed the hopes and prayers of generations of people.

  39. Ralph Starling says:

    I notice almost all these churches have a cross in the same location at the very front of the church. The crosses seem similar in size. When I was in Tanzania some churches had no building. They met and worshipped under a big tree! I guess church can be wherever you want it to be! Thanks! Great photos!

    • Muzungu says:

      As you can see, a lot of the churches have large mango trees nearby. These serve as meeting places (and likely as the church before the bricks and mortar were laid) and if I included tree churches the project would have taken me away from what I was being paid to do! Thanks for the comment Ralph! Where were you in Tz?

  40. I like the idea of some sort of fund raising project whether it be a calendar or sets of post cards. The calendar idea may sell more. I am sure there are numerous projects in Northern Uganda that could use some support.

  41. These photos are great. I really enjoyed them. Thanks for sharing. – Cindy

  42. micmol says:

    hello πŸ™‚
    great project indeed!
    I have some doubt, though, regarding the all verticals selection, why did u decide to go for it?
    I understand the perspective on the path, the trees alley, and the huge and tall hot sky (looks very hot day light to me), but I think a vertical shot cuts out the vastness of Africa and the location setting, which, the latter, might be most important to understand the concept of the church in that very location

    • Muzungu says:

      Hi Micmol, thanks very much for commenting. I was discussing the choice of verticals with somebody very recently and I have to admit that the reason for it is that I simply didn’t intend to produce this work. I was just snapping churches and suddenly I had loads of shots, all vertical because I wanted to include the trees. I’m going to return this year and shoot them in horizontal format I think because I suspect you’re right.

  43. vendlerius says:

    Very beautiful pictures.

  44. Harold says:

    I like the idea of finding out the history behind each church up to now. Then putting it all together in a photo book. I won’t say what to do with the proceeds, that is your life, work and pictures. I would buy it! πŸ™‚
    Congrats on being FP! Well deserved whatever you do.
    It is good to get away from drinking. I hope you get through it. πŸ™‚

  45. I think they should all be framed and put in an art gallery somewhere where people can come and look at them. As a series they’re so interesting and beautiful. I love how colorful some of the churches are, especially the ones with blue and the big blue sky above — these ones stood out to me. My favorite photo by far was the third one from the bottom. I loved the faded blue/green of the building, and how it’s obviously out in the bush, with scraggy bushes all around — just sitting out there by itself, not being used, and gently blending into the wild around it. For some reason that one really made an impression on me.

    • Muzungu says:

      Funny you should pick out that one- it used to be surrounded by a huge refugee camp but now the huts are disappearing and it really does look lonely. Thanks so much for your comment.

  46. Juzztn says:

    The shots reflect the two opposite spectrums of the Christian church. Some show the strength and beauty of the faith, rooting deep, becoming part of the culture, even a bright light in a dreary land. Others show the hypocrisy of the church, where it is gaudy and clean while those around it suffer. Just my thoughts.

    • Muzungu says:

      And standing in the ruins of a war waged by a group called the Lord’s Resistance Army. Hypocrisy abounds unfortunately. However I must take issue with the description of northern Uganda as a dreary land- few places in the world are as green and lively.

      • Juzztn says:

        Sorry! I was more referencing how some of the smaller churches are brightly colored compared to the earth tones around them. I meant no disrespect to the beauty of the country πŸ™‚

  47. dman0628 says:

    The pictures of the churches are great .. very interesting !!

  48. Enjoyed the photos. Beautiful Images.

  49. Iya Santos says:

    beautiful pictures! love your blog. πŸ™‚

  50. Capturing, beautiful photos. You are living an adventure that inspires…thank you for capturing and sharing it with those of us that are unable to experience such adventure…Keep up the great work and may you find peace, happiness and hope in the journey you are on!

  51. Hi muzungu! great pictures. If you keep making them and better documenting your work, you will certainly be able to mount a proper exhibition in any place in Europe. The quality of your pictures is great, and they tell the story of a symbol, the one of steadfastness and perseverance… those buildings remained despite the war. Quite interesting isn’t it?
    Best wishes!

    • Muzungu says:

      I nearly had an exhibition in Poland just recently, and still might have. But I think really they’re a book project. Thanks so much for the comment!

  52. The photos are really great. I like the idea of telling a story about each church and showing how communities’ lives revolve around the structures. If they are the ‘foundation’ churches for schools, the funds raised could go to buying some learning material or furniture for the schools, there is always a shortage there.

    • Muzungu says:

      Hi Christine, thanks so much for the comment and the inspiration! I love your blog, especially the post about using the Constituency Development Fund better. If you ever need a photographer please let me know! Will

  53. These images are beautiful. Well done, and congratulations on making the WP home page… whoop whoop!

    I invite you to consider using these images to help educate people about the plight of the gay community in Uganda… and to inspire change so that all people in Uganda feel safe, Loved, and supported. You can inspire global change with these images. Churches EVERYWHERE, including the US would be well served to remember LOVE.

    I am of the opinion that churches have a RESPONSIBILITY to inspire Love and Inclusion.
    That is if they are to be called churches of The Christ, who said, “the greatest of these is Love.”

    Your blog is inspiring. Thank you.

    • P.S.
      I’m not sure why the link with my LifeWithLeela username takes you to an old, unused domain name. (Any insight from anyone would be much appreciated. Thank you.)
      You can find me at

      • Muzungu says:

        Hi Leela,

        While I like your enthusiasm and share your view that a christian who doesn’t tolerate all people is not a christian, I feel duty-bound to point out that this poisonous speech is actually coming from the US, imported by “preachers” who come here on “crusades” (their word) and spout hate-filled nonsense to a population who believe that these imbeciles are actually educated and preaching the truth. If you want to stop anti-gay sentiment in Uganda it’s really best to look to your own house, because that’s where it’s originating. I think the bible says something about not pointing out the splinters in other peoples’ eyes.

        Thanks for the comment,


  54. littlecurio says:

    Amazing photos. I love the distance between yourself and the churches, consistent and beautiful! My friends have spent some special time in Gulu, doing art and music therapy and working for World Vision to rehabilitate child soldiers and we’ve had some of the former child soldiers stay with us in Australia… such an intense country, Uganda. If you want any info or a connection who would certainly love to talk about Uganda, my friend is on wordpress using the name ethicalbuyer.
    Good luck with your photography!

  55. Lovely pictures, Muzungu. But we want more.

    • Muzungu says:

      Haha thanks Samuel, good to hear from Ghana. What do you want more of? The churches? Or would you like something else? I’m trying to figure out a project at the moment…

  56. Thank you, Will. I’m sleepy too. It’s so late, so I’m off to Zzzzzz after this comment.

    I am in agreement, and I see the splinter… rather giant log… in the eye of the folks from the United States on this issue.

    My intention is never to be poison with my words, but to inspire connection and unity.
    If my words feel like poison to you, I welcome the lesson so I may reflect on how I’m presenting myself in the world and practice more clear communication.

    I also invite all of us to consider that we interpret what we will of the intention behind another’s words… and often, our interpretation and the intention of the writer are not the same. (Just ask Jesus… one of the most misinterpreted beings of all time.)

    In truth… I lay me down with only Love in my heart for all tonight. That means you… it means the oppressed and the oppressor. I’m so far from perfect… but in this moment, there is only Love.


    • Muzungu says:

      I’m not suggesting your words are poison- I was trying to highlight that Uganda is not necessarily a violently homophobic nation by nature, as frequently it appears to be painted in many news reports, but rather that its chances to advance are being stymied by pointless bile spewed by preachers who can’t gain audiences at home. I approve of any christian who actually has a comprehension of their faith, and I just wish that people wouldn’t think Uganda has come up with this rubbish on its own.

      Sleep well,


      • Good Morning Will –

        There is nothing you’ve said, with which I would disagree. =)

        Your comment leads me to a line of quiet thinking which asks, “Where WAS this kind of bigotry born?”

        The answer I’ve heard is, “It is born in the consciousness of all of human kind. There is no use blaming conscious evolution.” Only, as Ghandi reminded us, “to be the change we wish to see in the world.”

        We are that we are. We move through Life in a human family, experience, learn, and evolve to the next level of human expression. As you know, the information age is accelerating this process.

        Thank you for inspiring awareness about Uganda. I think you have already done more than you know.

        Your blog post and exchanges have inspired and moved me as shared on my FB page.

        Keep on keeping on brother,

  57. If you visit Indonesia, i think church condition in Uganda is still better than in Indonesia.
    But, I love your picture. πŸ™‚

  58. Felix Riedel says:

    You like the frontview, do you.
    Anyway, these are modest churches and far from being that posh than some pentecost churches or some of the older colonial churches. Ugandas Churches are sadly as whole of Uganda and most parts of Africa very nasty towards homosexuals and far from being too christian about deviance.
    Architecture and style is a very interesting thing to be watched over the years in Africa. Keep up documenting.

  59. You could try submitting them to Granta magazine. They carry a photo essay or two in every edition…

  60. lupierro says:

    Hi, I have an affinity with Uganda, having written poetry about the abuse of children there.
    These photos are very interesting, but I would have liked a closer view. Perhaps a shot closer up to see the detailing or lack of it on the church, and shots of the interiors so we could get a good feel of how simple or elegant they were.

  61. Mel says:

    Most fascinating photos I have seen in a long time. I guess it is a case of a church for every village – some vibrant, some neglected, some apparently scarred by war. I’ve never been to Uganda but it seems like a very rich country in terms of soil and agricultural potential. If I could buy a tractor or two, I would send them to Uganda.

  62. Pingback: Rural Churches, Northern Uganda (via The Mzungu Diaries) | Liturgical

  63. Hi Will – well done on the project and appearing on Freshly Pressed! Hope things are going well for you – stay in touch!


  64. rubiescorner says:

    My father visited Uganda several decades ago. I cried buckets suddenly because I wanted to go. I was a school teacher and had my own class to take care of so I didn’t think I would be free to go. I don’t know why the tears, and such a heart wrenching experience. I never saw any slides, or pictures. Dad returned happy that he had gone with a team of people. I taught for twenty years. My first calling was to Africa as a teacher, then it went to other parts of the world. I taught intercity children all but 1 year. My calling was here in America, where I fell in love with my children. I hug them when I see them, and that is not often. I pray for them, that God will keep them in school, and give them a love for learning. Thank you for the pictures. I am retired now, and I pray and teach at my church. I have always wanted to touch down on African soil. I probably won’t, but I’ll see them in heaven. Ruby

  65. asdzz says:

    Really interesting article! πŸ™‚ ( )

  66. Friend of Uganda says:

    Beautiful! I was particularly struck by the solitary church on top of th hill. The solitary nature of many of the churches makes quite a statement. I also love those surrounded by trees. Thank you for sharing and allowing us to go there with you.

  67. cantueso says:

    I am at work, and so I have not yet been able to read all of the comments. I read that you stopped drinking because you were in Poland and that in Poland even Bacchus would turn to having tea in the evening. But you didn’t explain why or how this happens in Poland!

  68. cantueso says:

    Yes, the pictures are incredible. And there has been war; the priests working there must be all heroes. And how long would it take to learn the languages there? Is there an official language? Schools? Unlike most of your readers, I think a calendar is better than a book, because a calendar is not so quickly forgotten and ends up leaving a permanent impression, maybe precisely because it seems less formal.
    Of couse now and then one hears something about “the missions”, but one would never imagine such loneliness.
    Each of these churches looks like it would have a story to tell about itself and about the people that it receives.

    I’ll take home this quote from one of your texts above:
    “While I approve of your zeal, I think you might be shouting at the wrong person. And blaming the wrong people. And doing it on the wrong blog. ”
    It is wonderfully useful.

  69. anagasto says:

    I think there is something special about that vertical format. The little church sits at the end of a path, at some distance. It is seen as a place to go to, to reach. It is not presented mainly as an object of architectonic or aesthetic interest as you would see in a typical coffee-table book that people give each other for Christmas (and are cheap to buy on ABE books).
    (I am the same as above, but hate to be suspected of “blog hogging”)

  70. CONIEFOX says:

    Wonderful~~ i like them! Thanks for sharing!

  71. Pingback: Keko Live at Goethe Zentrum (And oh, I got Burgled) | The Mzungu Diaries

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