Sunrise Safaris: Christian Pastor sets up 'holiday of a lifetime' and mission work in Uganda

An amazing story of a Devonshire Pastor, who is impacting parts of central Africa. Jonathan Bellamy spoke with Pastor Colin Bond to find out more.

Jonathan: How does a pastor from a church in a sleepy Devon town end up running a hotel in western Uganda?

Colin: You really need to tell me I think! I call it an act of God. Basically what had happened was I'd pastored this little church in the town for about forty years and I thought it was time I got out of the hot seat to encourage others in the team to step up. So I said "I'll go out in the church mission field in Central Africa, spend two or three months at a time out there". And then I think God took over and surprised me. All sorts of things happened then!

Jonathan: How did you make those initial connections with people in Uganda?

Sunrise Safaris: Christian Pastor sets up 'holiday of a lifetime' and mission work in Uganda

Colin: We were at a Salt and Light conference in Leeds one frosty snowy January and there was a pastor there with his wife from Rwanda. Now this is about 96/97, only two or three years after that terrible genocide war in Rwanda. And they made an appeal from the platform, if somebody could translate French, because they had a pastor there who could speak Kinyarwandan or French. And as my elder with me, David, was a head of languages and good at French, naturally we volunteered to help. Now if I'm allowed to say such a thing, I find God's a bit sneaky...he lands you in things without telling you what he's going to do with you! And from that introduction we became good friends with this pastor and it finished up he invited us to go out to Rwanda. This dear man, Pastor Sideke, he had hidden from the troops killing, and one night he had to run back to the Congo to get away and he saw his father and his brother's corpses at the roadside; it was that bad. And so we thought "oh let's go and try and be an encouragement". But then I don't quite know what happened. This man is a wonderful man of God and the church, in a couple of years, grew to around ten thousand or so, and the government called him in and finished up saying that he had to have a name because obviously politically they wanted a handle on these thousands of people. And so we finished up calling it 'The Family of God'. But here's the bit you'll like, the Africans do not like short names, it's not important enough. So now it's 'The Revelation of The Family of God Churches in Africa'.

Jonathan: Is that family of churches in Rwanda or is it across parts of Central Africa?

Colin: It's Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya basically.

Jonathan: And so out of that how did the Sunrise Apartments project in Uganda develop?

Sunrise Safaris: Christian Pastor sets up 'holiday of a lifetime' and mission work in Uganda

Colin: Well I was invited to speak at meetings and conferences round and about in Africa. They like a white man it seems to be important to have one! And I think I was preaching in Rwanda and I was invited to come up to a conference in Uganda. Now I'm very human and selfish I'm afraid, and when I saw the climate there, well it's paradise!...we're three thousand feet or more up on the foothills of the Rensori mountains, on the equator and the temperature's between twenty and thirty degrees all the time.Anyway when I saw this, and with some pastors asking me to stay and make a base there, I looked and thought "I could drive to all these countries in a four by four, plus I can live in somewhere that is better for the poor old bones of an Englishman in his seventies!" So we built a base there.

Jonathan: Now it's one thing to build a little base for yourself, but it's another to build a hotel!

Colin: Well the problem is that the work had grown so much and the demand for funds was growing so much, you see in no time we'd acquired about four hundred orphans, and by God's grace and the help of the NHS with their surplus, I'd established five little hospitals - well six, but one in the Congo I'm afraid got bombed! So we finished up with five little hospital bases around Uganda and Rwanda, but the funding needed for these things was a lot. And so I was thinking, "what can I do to help capitalise on my experience and the African situation". I was going to go into the motor trade, but then to my surprise God stepped in, in a way that quite surprised me. There was a man who was the Prime Minister of the kingdom where I was based; he was in prison on death row for about twelve years because he had engineered the killing of a prince in the royal family. But while he was in prison he met the Lord Jesus and become a Christian! Anyway, a pastor friend of mine was in prison visiting somebody else and met this man and said to him "my friend Colin is looking for some land, have you got some you could sell him?" And he said "oh no, no, no.I've got a radio mast on the top of Njara hill, and all the plots around that is my pension. If I ever get out of here, that's the best plots of land in the area". But then he shivers and says, "I've become a Christian and God's talking to me and saying I've got to sell it to him! I'll knock ten million off the price".

Now that was ten million shillings which meant he was offering me just under an acre of land in the best position in the town, except where the king's palace is, and he was the prime minister, and next door is the presidents lodge where the old governor of the British colony had his place, which is now the presidents! And so now I'm up there with these posh people! This poor little country pastor who doesn't know much of what he is doing. So then I now felt I'd like to build a hotel to share the view. The views are wonderfully idyllic: right across the plains of the town and the banana groves, to the great Rwenzori Mountains that go up to over fifteen thousand feet.And the sun sets behind the mountain and you go all romantic and silly watching it.

So it sounds grand but I built this hotel on bush land, barren land, and I built eight studio apartments and a restaurant that will take nearly a hundred people, and it cost the same as a two bedroomed semi in England because the value of money there is so much lower than ours. And so here I am with a lovely first class hotel, it really is nice; large studio rooms with balconies fifteen feet wide and views out over the valley, and a lovely sunny climate, and I'm thinking "God you spoil me". OK I have my challenges and I have my worries and my struggles for money and all those things, but it's a wonderful life and I thank God for it and I feel spoilt.

Sunrise Safaris: Christian Pastor sets up 'holiday of a lifetime' and mission work in Uganda

Jonathan: So this hotel is set up now, it's called Sunrise Apartments International and you've also set up a company called Sunrise Safaris. Tell us the kind of activities that people can do if they take a holiday out there.

Colin: If people want to come I've got a very comfortable little mini-bus with reclining seats and so on, and I can collect them from the airport, give them a comfortable ride; it is four or five hours from the airport to where we are, and we offer activities that people would like to do. The jewel in the crown is the Queen Elizabeth National Park which is a hundred miles by fifty miles wide and there are thousands of elephants there; I've seen three pride of lions; over six hundred species of birds; and the game of course, all kinds; and there's a channel about a quarter of a mile wide between two lakes. If you take a boat trip out there the animals come down to drink around the early morning and evening time and you can get right up close to see them. So that's the jewel.