Dec 31, 2008

Burundi Opens its Doors to the Gospel

Under 100 degree heat, rising dust, and high precipitation from the nearby Lake Tanganyika, 4,500 Burundian believers from all walks of life and all ages crammed into the temporary tin-roofed structure set up in an open field in the city center. They sang, danced, listened to our message of hope through Jesus Christ and prayed fervently for the salvation of their nation. Faith-filled believers and the intense heat combined with the occasional cooling breeze blowing over the crowd reminded me of what the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 must have felt like. The Holy Spirit was unmistakably present among us. The service was meant to be a gathering of believers from Bujumbura churches to pray for the healing and salvation of Burundi during our upcoming Festival of Hope and Leadership and Governance Conference in the capital city. However, when I asked if there was anyone who needed to receive Jesus Christ into their life as Lord and Savior, fifty four people stepped forward. Following this, I made a second altar call for those needing God’s special help in different areas of their lives. More than 500 raised their hands. We could not accommodate them all in the limited altar space. Later on as we headed for our car one woman stopped us in the street and asked us to pray for her and her husband to be able to conceive a baby. She was both desperate and full of confidence that God could help her through our prayer. For the rest of the service we sat sandwiched between Burundi's cabinet minister in the office of the President in charge of Good Governance and Local Administration Martin Nivyabandi accompanied by his wife and baby and Rev. Manasse Mberabagabo Ngendahayo pastor of Eglise Messianique Pour la Guerisons des Ames in Bujumbura (Messianic Church for the Healing of Souls). Martin was there both for himself and his family as well as to deliver a welcome from the president of Burundi and his cabinet colleagues. They were all united along with Bujumbura’s 58 evangelical congregations represented by Pastor Mannasse in welcoming the SWIM ministry. If what we saw at these inaugural services in December 2008 is any indication of what to expect in Burundi, then the upcoming Festival of Hope and Leadership and Governance conference, September 8th-13th 2009, will be a powerful and transformational time for the whole nation. We expect 50,000 people will participate at the Festival of Hope in addition to thousands of others listening in on radio and watching the services live on Television throughout Burundi and the neighboring Rwanda and Eastern DR Congo. President Pierre Nkurunziza accompanied by several of his cabinet ministers has indicated he will personally be present at the opening and closing nights of the Festival and at the Leadership and Governance Conference. Pray with us for a great harvest of souls during the Bujumbura Festival of Hope and for the strengthening of churches throughout Burundi as they work to bring healing to individuals laden with personal sin and to a nation battered and broken by fifteen years of civil war, social strife, and political instability.

The African Transformation

After reading this article by Matthew Paris, I was impressed by his honesty and frank observation of the African transformation. Mr. Paris, an atheist, is impressed by the apparent transformation that the Christian faith makes in the lives of the Africans that he encounters as he travels across the continent. Not only are these believers changed spiritually, they demonstrate a rare competence in their pursuit of societal change that is fueled by a new biblical world-view. He observes: "In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall." To the contrary, their non-Christian comrades luck this unique trait. Bound by group-think and traditional religious values, they cannot unshakel themselves from societal parterns that hinder transformation. He observes thus: "Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders." Mr. Paris, surprised by the irony of his own atheism in the face of such staggering transformation then rightly admits that the bright future for Africa is inseperably tied to its embrace of a Christian worldview rather than the mere promulgation of development strategies apart from faith or an increase of international aid. "When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old," he muses. Whereas I appreciate Mr. Paris' frankness, his findings are not new. It is common knowledge among African strategists who care about the future of the continent that Christianity is integral to the process. His observations remind me of what Rwanda's minister of Local Government and Good Governance Hon. Protais Musoni said to journalists during conference that our organization (SWIM) held for Christian Leaders in the Africa Great Lakes Region: "There is nothing of greater value in our society here in Rwanda today than forging the unity between the Church and the state if we are to correct past mistakes and grow competent societies that can be able to achieve sustainable development." Evangelism is inseperable from true transformation. This is true not only in Africa but all around the world.