The Family's Secret History in Uganda

American businessman and GOP donor Michael Timmis, center, with his wife and Tim Kreutter, left, The Family's point man in Uganda, in an undated Dec. 2016 Cornerstone newsletter.


(Uncredited photo/via Cornerstone)

One of a series about the Fellowship Foundation, the secretive religious group that runs the National Prayer Breakfast and is popularly known as The Family. This series is based on Family documents obtained by TYT, including lists of breakfast guests and who invited them.

Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ+ death-penalty bill has its roots well outside the nation’s borders. As TYT and others have reported, the bill’s roots extend to the U.S., to Britain, and Rome, but also, in a way, to Canada.

One night in 1984, the wife of Michigan businessman Michael Timmis, his marriage at a nadir, talked him into going to a dinner with her. Someone there stood up and started talking about Jesus.

Timmis and his wife both committed their lives to Jesus. And at a Bible study soon after, Timmis met Dick Robarts, who would found what eventually became Canada’s Conservative Party.

In 1984, Robarts introduced Timmis to Doug Coe. Coe back then was in his prime not just at the metaphorical head of the National Prayer Breakfast, but as the general deploying The Family’s covert army of Jesus-loving diplomats around the world on missions for…well, that part remains under debate.

Coe worked his well-chronicled magic on Timmis, who in his new book, “The Journey to Ultimate Friendship,” called Coe his “mentor and closest friend.” Timmis soon joined Coe’s stable of rich Christians who wanted to do Jesus’s work, especially when it involved more golf and global travel than washing of feet.

Timmis ultimately sent his son to The Family’s Arlington, VA, enclave, The Cedars. It worked.

Timmis’s son “was never the same.” The transformation was radical. “He started to read the Bible for up to eight hours a day and threw away all his heavy metal records.”

Timmis’s son was planning to go to Africa, to help the poor. But Coe had other ideas.

A Ugandan businessman named Gordon Wavamunno had met Coe at the National Prayer Breakfast. At the time, Uganda was riven by civil war and beset by the AIDS epidemic. Wavamunno asked Coe for help. Coe convinced Timmis’s 22-year-old son “that he could help Uganda” – not if he had diplomatic expertise or medicinal skills, but “if he was open to the Holy Spirit.”

Wavamunno took in Timmis’s son, giving him a place to stay and a car to drive. He had “no vision of what he was going to do.”

When Timmis came to visit, he and his 22-year-old son met with Wavamunno…and with the nation’s new president, Yoweri Museveni, already in The Family’s fold.

Michael Timmis, right, with, from left, his son, Ugandan businessman Gordon Wavamunno, and the Musevenis, in an undated photo published by Ugandan media.

(Uncredited photo/via NewVision)

In fact, Museveni already had Family contacts in Uganda.

In 2010’s “C Street,” journalist Jeff Sharlet’s second book about The Family, he cites archival records showing that a now-retired Family old-timer named Bob Hunter had known Museveni since before he seized power. Sharlet writes:

“When Musevni came to power, Hunter says now, he was seen as a ‘left-wing fanatic.’ … [Hunter] investigated Museveni’s faith directly. He found it in need of repair.”

Hunter taught Museveni how to work Congress. Museveni began to visit Washington, and “made Christianity a regular part of his speeches, stoking the fires of what became a world-famous evangelical revival.”

“When the [U.S.] budgets came he had this big bump,” Hunter told Sharlet about Museveni’s success in Washington.

That was the Museveni who connected and began working with the Timmis family. When Timmis’s son got lonely, Coe sent another young guy to keep him company. The two met and became friends with another young man, Tim Kreutter, working with a ministry in northern Uganda.

The three white Christian men began pondering how to help the country they loved. With Uganda ravaged by AIDS and war, they at first considered building orphanages. Ultimately, though, they reached the same conclusion about Uganda that Hunter had reached about Museveni.

Even more than orphanages, Uganda needed “Godly leaders,” the three decided, according to an interview Timmis’s son gave in 2012.

The idea: Not to convert grown adults to the three men’s view of Christianity, but instill Jesus in children. Offer free education, and include their Jesus in the bargain. Even to Muslims.

The trio asked Timmis to buy them 2.5 square miles of land two hours north of Kampala. That’s where Cornerstone began.

Kreutter, Timmis writes, “became the director of the work in Uganda.” With millions of dollars flowing – not necessarily legally – from The Family and wealthy U.S. backers, Cornerstone thrived and grew.

And Timmis expanded his coterie of Coe relationships back in the U.S.

There was Ronnie Cameron, the GOP megadonor (and past guest at the Trump White House) who has funded The Family and sat on its board. And fought organized labor at his poultry factories. Timmis calls him a “dear friend.”

Then there was the young man Coe sent for Timmis to disciple for two years. “Every day he would sit at a table in the corner of my office as I went about my daily duties,” Timmis wrote. “I asked some dear friends if he could live with them.”

Today, that young man is Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI), Family insider and a mainstay of the National Prayer Breakfast.

And Kreutter’s Cornerstone students? The Ave Herald, the Florida newspaper that interviewed Timmis’s son, took inventory:

The former students are now assuming key roles in Ugandan society: Two graduates have become involved in national parliament; three are young university professors, two are governors of provinces. Others have gone into businesses or work for NGO’s; some have gone into ministry, and one is a Catholic seminarian – all salting African society with the values that undergirded their years at Cornerstone, as Mr. Timmis and his friends had envisioned.

That was written in 2012. Today, Cornerstone has its own network of alumni and personnel, some of whom get to boost their power at home with trips to Washington, where, courtesy of The Family, they can rub elbows and bring home selfies with powerful American politicians at the National Prayer Breakfast.

And Kreutter didn’t confine himself to Cornerstone. Just as Family founder Abram Vereide – the anti-union organizer – had mentored Family leader Doug Coe, who then mentored Kreutter, Kreutter, in turn, mentored young Ugandans.

One of them, David Bahati, was elected to Uganda’s parliament, where in 2009 he introduced a bill calling for the government to kill people for some sex acts.

See: ‘The Family’ Tied – Again – to Anti-LGBTQ+ Death Penalty Bill

It’s not clear whether Kreutter ever built any orphanages, but he did help start Uganda’s own National Prayer Breakfast. And helped initiate the country’s parliamentary prayer meetings – where the seeds of Bahati’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, death penalty and all, first took root.

See: The Genesis of Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill

Cornerstone – with offshoots and affiliates like Youth Corps and the Africa Youth Leadership Forum – are still in Kreutter’s orbit; still tied – as far as we know – to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. And still transforming Uganda.

Kreutter shared some insights about that transformation in a 2016 Cornerstone newsletter. Here’s what he wrote:

As we seek to share and live out the message of the king and kingdom, there will be change. But it’s largely a silent revolution – like the four metaphors that Jesus used for how his movement would spread: the yeast, the salt, the light and the good seed sown in with the bad – they all do their work quietly and almost imperceptibly. It first begins within us – with personal transformation – but it’s meant to spread. The allegiance to Jesus and his ways is going to bring about social and political change until: …one day “every knee will bow, every tongue confess.’ In other words, one day, there will be the recognition that the message and ways of Jesus are supreme.”

In Uganda, that day is today.

Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.