One of the pastors attending our conference here in Burundi is Salvator Habarugira, pictured above. He was formerly working for an American evangelical denomination (which I will leave unnamed), pastoring a subsidized church in a good-sized village in Kirundo Province. His salary (funded by the U.S. denomination) was $60 per month, very good money for where he lives. Most of the people in that region are very poor village field workers, who are often paid, not with money, but with what they harvest three times a year for landowners. (War-torn Burundi has the lowest per capita gross income in the world.)
Salvator had a crisis of conscience. It bothered him that offerings given by his 300 church members had to be turned over to the regional bishop—who seemed to be spending it all on himself. It also bothered him that nothing was used to help widows and orphans, of which there are many due to years of civil war. And it disturbed him that his denomination would not permit him to evangelize outside of his church building.
God was working. A Heaven’s Family-sponsored national missionary named Bienvenu Bizimana held a pastors’ conference in Salvator’s province in April of 2009. The topic was “The Disciple-Making Minister,” and Salvator received a book with that same title. What he learned confirmed what his heart had been telling him. He sought God for some time and then announced to his congregation that, out of conviction from God, he was resigning his position, but that he would still like to be their pastor. From then on, however, he would be making disciples in homes and serving the poor.
Fifty of his sheep followed him. Others were seriously considering it. What happened next is difficult to believe, but I questioned Salvator and two other witnesses to verify it.
Angry that Salvator split one of their churches, denominational leaders paid local police to stop him. Those police came to his home during a prayer meeting and accused everyone of an “illegal meeting.” (Burundi has freedom of religion, but only as long as you are part of a recognized denomination.) The police beat and kicked everyone present and hauled them to jail. One of the saints had to be hospitalized, and he died within days from his injuries. The rest of the saints weren’t released from jail for two weeks.
That was just the beginning. When Salvator was released from jail, he found that all his possessions had been confiscated. Six months later, he was arrested again for illegal church gatherings. This time he spent an entire month in jail. He still has marks on his skin where the police rifle butts caused deep injuries. Yet Salvator stayed true to his calling, and after his release kept preaching the gospel and planting scores of churches in villages of his region. And jealous denominational leaders became more determined to stop him.
When Salvator was released after yet a third incarceration, he learned that the police had been paid to kill him. So he fled with his wife and seven children to another district in his province where he now lives.
In spite of all his persecution, in the past year Salvator has planted 36 churches.
I asked Salvator how much money has come through his hands since the beginning of this year. He told me. It was the equivalent of 30 U.S. dollars.
I asked him how he and his family survived. He said that church members share their food and clothing as much as they can, but most of them are very poor (unbelievably poor by Western standards).
I asked him if any of his children went to school. He said that none of them do because he can’t afford the small school fees.
I asked him how I could help him. He told me that if he had a bicycle, it would help him reach more villages with the gospel.
Hearing that, I decided in my heart to buy him a bicycle and send him $25 each month to support his ministry (not with money from Heaven’s Family, but personally). If anyone else wants to join me in this exceptional opportunity, please send me an email at David [at] HeavensFamily.org. I’ll be happy to share my national missionary with you! Together, we can help Salvator spread the gospel and plant churches in unreached villages of Burundi.
I wish I could tell you the stories of the many other Christian leaders at our conference—both men and women—whose testimonies are equally as amazing as Salvator’s. I spent much of the day today fighting back tears as I listened to their stories. —- David