Burundian Christians stand in front of their church looking at the hillside

Church-Planters Battle Witchcraft and Islam in Burundi

Islam and witchcraft are not widespread in Burundi, but some native church-planters in the East African country work in areas of poverty where both currents flow against them.

A 19-year-old man in one area had engaged in occultic practices for years, with sorcerers sending him to church services to carry out spiritual attacks – casting secret spells or invoking demons as he disrupted worship, a local ministry leader said.

“Once he came to our church to attack as usual, but he was caught by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word during our evening service,” the leader said. “He never went back to the dark world. He became a member of our church and is following a discipleship course in order to be baptized.”

The leader learned that the young man had been born in a rural area to destitute parents who could not afford to send him to school. An aunt who practiced a blend of Islam and witchcraft had offered to take him to a city to live with her on the false premise that she would educate him. Actually she sought to initiate him into the occult; she dedicated him to serve Satan, the leader said.

Witchcraft, prostitution and alcoholism are prevalent in one province; workers established three churches there.

“He served the devil in the dark world for more than five years,” he said. “He would be sent into churches to carry out attacks with demons.”

Power of Love

Such a fate is just one example of how a life can veer into disaster in a country where 80 percent of the population live in poverty, and a similar portion are illiterate.

The leader of another ministry said witchcraft, prostitution and alcoholism are prevalent in a province where four local missionaries were sent last year. Visiting villagers and offering to pray for them, the workers established three churches, he said.

In the same province the previous year, local missionaries had brought aid to people left hungry, homeless and sick from flooding and mudslides that killed many others, he said.

“Christian Aid Mission intervened and gave us funds for food and clothes for these people,” the ministry leader said. “We thank God that in these areas we have now 750 new believers. Pray for them, because in these areas they need many Bibles.”

Workers in another area came up against villagers unwilling to listen to them. Other villagers suffering from COVID-19 or hunger from pandemic-related joblessness were not interested in hearing about spiritual matters, the leader said.

“But because they saw our heart of loving them, giving them food, now we don’t have any problem to reach and teach them, and after the preaching they are blessed and so appreciative,” he said. “People are leaving the Catholic and Muslim religions, receiving Christ because of what they hear from us and deciding to be baptized.”

Workers share the gospel in house visits, the Jesus Film and evangelistic events. The pandemic has slowed some discipleship efforts, but in others local missionaries have created small groups for follow-up that reached 450 people over six months, the leader said. And thanks to Bible distribution, a woman who was too poor to buy a Bible since putting her faith in Christ 10 years ago received her first Bible, he said.

“Another person, and elderly man, said he had never heard the Word like what we were preaching,” the leader said. “He repented and was baptized after bringing the witchcraft trinkets he was using to lie to other people. So because of what God is doing for this man, even his family has followed him, all coming to worship.”

Overcoming Dangers

Less than 4 percent of Burundi’s population practices Islam, and less than 3 percent are involved in tribal religions and their attendant witchcraft, according to Joshua Project figures.

More than 93 percent of the population identifies as Christian, with nearly 63 percent of those Roman Catholic. About 30 percent of the population practices evangelical Christianity.

Another ministry in Burundi has local missionaries who have reached Muslims in the areas where they are stationed. Workers who knock on the doors of Muslims are sometimes insulted or beaten, the leader said, but the dangers are worse for those who convert.

“This is done in total confidentiality, as many are married women, and once their husbands know that their wives have become believers in Christ, they can be killed or divorced,” the ministry leader said.

Three Muslims that he and his wife led to Christ were among the 50 people baptized last year, and the ministries’ churches are growing, he said.

“Through Christian Aid Mission’s support, one of our churches has grown a lot,” he said. “Imagine, the church had 63 members, but in these last six months the church is moving spiritually and in terms of numbers – there are now more than 103 church members. And the gospel is changing the community.”

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