After a long but unproblematical trip we arrived in Burundi on Thursday, August 23, 2018. Two pastors warmly welcomed us and accompanied us to the hotel in a „Christian“ taxi with praise music and the smell of unburned petrol – past rice fields and the Burundi beer brewery. My first impressions: Many people on the fruitful fields, much handwork, many bicycles with passengers on the baggage carrier, few traffic laws, red earth.
Our hotel had quite a high standard. There was even a pool in the inner court, the personell was friendly, helpful and open. A Cappuchino of Burundian coffee is very aromatic and the food – especially the breakfast buffet and the fresh fruit – exquisite.
Friday was the first conference day. In Pastor Lubunga’s very simple church we were met with the youth band’s praise, almost unbearably loud but from the hearts. Gradually various pastors, both men and women, from the region arrived. An hour after the official beginning we counted 80-90 brethren.
Werner opened the conference with a prophetic sounding of the shofar. He continued this in the following days, as well, beginning every sermon in a congregation, always followed by a loud victory cry. God wants to awaken something new in Burundi! Initially the atmosphere was somewhat restrained but this soon gave way to a lively openness for teaching on „Leadership according to Jesus’ example“. The translator, Pastor Desiré, was a gift from God. He totally identified with Werner’s style, which obviously appealed to the African brethren, providing amusement as well as touching hearts. The topical framework was about our life in general, which should proceed from the personal relationship with our heavenly father and his son. In this context Werner also spoke about Israel and our relationship to the Jewish people. What is on the Father’s heart should move and guide our hearts, also.
On Sunday Werner and I were asked to preach simultaneously at 2 different churches. This was totally unexpected for me, as I had seen my responsibility more in praying for the meetings in the background and covering Werner’s back. But I took it as an opportunity to practice trusting the Father’s guidance, entering total dependence on him and also learning to be flexible. God was totally sovereign. His assistance and the whole meeting with the traditional songs and dance were a real experience.
Monday and Tuesday we were given an opportunity to get to know the country and its people better. On Monday our goal was the southernmost source of the Nile River. With an old cross-country Toyota for 8 passengers we set out with the whole organization team. We first traveled southwards along the Tanganyika Lake, then up into the mountains (to 2,000 meters above sea level). Following several stops and a long drive through beautiful landscape and wilderness we unfortunately reached our goal only after it was quite dark. The extremely bad shape of the road made it possible to proceed only slowly. But Hermann, a dark-skinned tourist guide, received us nevertheless and showed us the source (more like a well) by the light of his torch (flashlight). Then he told us the story of the discovery. We prayed there that the blessing and the life of Burundi’s God would flow out into Africa’s northeastern countries, like the water of the Nile.
On Tuesday we visited the city of Gitega in the center of the country. A huge tree stands there at the point which is considered the geographic center of Burundi. On our way we also crossed the Nile which has another name here and now, ca. 80 kilometers north of the source, already has considerable dimensions. The river’s surrounding areas are intensively utilized for agriculture, producing potatoes and various vegetables. The harvest is brought to the villages and towns with much to-do: all sorts of vegetables, fruits, manioc bread (large balls of cooked manioc flour, wrapped in banana leaves), chickens tied together by their feet, goat meat on skewers…It was interesting to see that people ate avocados as snacks between meals, as we eat apples. – Wednesday was a free day.
From Thursday to Sunday we had meetings in various churches. I (Christian) had another opportunity to be flexible: While traveling to a meeting on Thursday we were told that Werner and I were to preach in different churches. I swallowed at least twice but immediately the verse „Preach the word…in season and out of season“ (2 Tim. 4:2) came to my mind. Then I told my Father that I would accept the challenge. It turned out that Werner and I both spoke on „God’s holiness“ without co-ordinating this with each other.
The worship service Sunday morning in the „tourist guide’s“ church was especially on our hearts. Because of his life story, Emanuel primarily wants to reach the young people in his church. Werner and I had the impression that God wants to call the younger generation, equip and send them in order to exemplify and proclaim reconciliation, unity in Jesus’ body and a new fear of God (holiness) in Burundi. This is also to be the blessing which flows out into the surrounding countries.
We had the impression that in this meeting we should call God’s word which had already been taught and preached into existence through prayer and proclamation, thus concluding our present commission. Over and over again it was about the topics „God’s holiness“, dedicated and serving love, decisiveness and authenticity in leadership and discipleship. Or about being willing and open to let our heavenly Father show us wholly new horizons and taking totally new pathss according to his word.
At the end of the meeting all of us prophetically opened the door by proclaiming Psalm 24. The pastors and other local leaders stood around the whole congregation – representing Jesus’ body in Burundi – in order to bless the congregation for God’s working and to call out God’s thoughts over it. Finally Werner called the young believers (up to 25 years old) to come to the front where they were encouraged with God’s calling especially for them. The spirit of (self-)limitation was broken and they were set free for God’s plans for them. These were strong moments.
We look back on our time in Burundi with much gratitude. In total dependence on HIM we set out on this trip. The heavenly Father once again revealed himself to be absolutely sovereign and faithful. He opened doors, showed us paths, spoken to hearts! We are also grateful for the way in which Werner and I were led. We grew together into a team and learned to esteem and love one another as brothers. All honor to our Father and to Jesus Christ for this!
Ministry in Burundi
From August 22 to September 4, I was a guest in this east African country with a brother (Christian). Burundi is one of the smallest and poorest countries in Africa, surrounded by Uganda, Tanzania, DR Congo and Ruanda. It attained a terrible reputation in 1994 when there was an awful genocide in Ruanda and Burundi, between Hutus and Tutsis. Why did we go to just such a place?
Last year we already held leadership conferences in Ghana and Kenya. The theme was „Looking at Jesus as the perfect example of a leader and learning from him.“ A young pastor from Burundi participated last year in Kenya. He had heard about this conference via Facebook and really wanted to be there. He traveled 3 days on the bus! He recorded all the sermons on his cellphone. After sharing them with other pastors in Burundi they decided to invite us. They thought that other pastors and leaders must hear this. Some of them were born in Congo and married women from Burundi. Thus some of them still have very close relationships in Congo. They travel there regularly, help found new churches and care for them. We had been planning to hold such a conference in Congo. But this plan was cancelled following another massacre by roaming rebels, in which a pastor and his family were murdered. He had been on the preparatory team for the conference.
Our time in Burundi was in many ways very special, encouraging and unique.
– To begin with, there was my wonderful companion Christian Vogel. He had never been in Africa and had the impression and the desire to accompany me – just to pray for me and to gather experience and learn. Wow! A warm welcome. I normally travel with my wife and/or someone from the team (or alone). But this was a wonderful new experience. Christian also had a „new“ experience when he was invited to preach! And of course our friendship grew.
Last year in Ghana and Kenya we had one pastor in each country whom we knew personally and everything revolved around them. These two brothers also had assistants, but they were responsible for preparation, planning and realizing. Here in Burundi a real committee was formed, consisting of 8 pastors! The were ALL present at the conference and 5 of them accompanied us as we traveled around the country. They were also present at all the church worship services where we preached after the conference. This is unfortunately not usually the case, thus it was all the more precious to experience it here.
– We had planned 2 days to see something of the country. On the first day we went to the source of Nile. Yes, that’s correct, the Nile begins its journey in Burundi. We traveled along the Tanganyika Lake toward the Nile source, over unbelievable roads…They weren’t really roads, but simply the ground with constant huge potholes! One has to see it. Really crazy, but also cool! On the second day we went to the geographic center of the country and then returned by a different route. Not surprising that we had a different car because the previous one had not survived the shaking up. But it was a great experience nevertheless, driving through the country and the committee with us the whole time!
– My translator – a pastor and also member of the committee – was particularly gracious. He was very pleasant and charming. He translated very well, including the tone of voice, gestures, walking around etc. Simply super! He had gotten married only 5 days before the conference. In Burundi there is a strong tradition that a newly-wed pair should remain in their home for a week. He had to break this tradition for us and for his contribution. But the couple didn’t seem depressed because of it. (And hopefully they made up later for this wonderful week.!)
– I asked the committee if we could gather once more at the end of our visit. Of course that was possible and we met over a meal in the home of one of the committee members. I wanted to thank each of them once more and also requested feedbacks from them. They sent surprisingly personal and deep reports. One had become deeply aware that he as a leader should not primarily request service from others, but that he can/should serve the others – just as Jesus had done. Another „realized“ how important urgent prayer is. All agreed that they had never heard such teaching, even though western speakers had often visited them. It was not theoretical theology, but personally-lived relationship to the Father and Jesus through the Holy Spirit – as they put it. Throughout the teaching, which was often interspersed with practical, personal experiences, it was a matter of growing into a deeper love relationship to the Father and Jesus Christ. These powerful words encouraged us and made us deeply grateful.
All the participants were invited to sign a list. So now the committee has about 130 names and addresses. Even while we were there, some participants approached the committee requesting that this should somehow continue. They decided to meet once a month for prayer, to seek God and and worship him. Thanks to the list, all can be invited! Wow! That is really powerful! Thank you Lord!
And here is something unique: While I was preaching during the second day of the conference, a baby was born in Nairobi (Kenya). The father is pastor Mialano, through whom the first contacts were made. He was also on the committee. His wife is from Burundi and he from Congo. Until recently they lived in Burundi but are now in Kenya in order to found churches. During the conference we sounded the shofar, followed by a cry of victory and triumph. We prayed each time that divisive walls wold be broken down, as in Jericho. An additional aspect of the cry referred to Is. 42:13-14 whee God says that he will cry out, gasp and pant like a woman in childbirth. Thus it was also a birth cry following the sound of the shofar. And this little boy was born while I was preaching. Therefore he was named Werner Mialano Woiwode! That’s really unusual, isn’t it? This is his official, registered name.
There are many reasons to be very encouraged and we believe that in the spiritual realm something was born! All the honor to our God. We look forward to hearing/reading what will take place in Burundi in the future.