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I love a win/win. I’m always on the lookout for them.

 

This week a young man came to me. He’s obviously a leader because he’s stumbled into heading up this movement of artists intent on using their creativity to reach the unchurched. He doesn’t want to start an organization, seeing it more as a movement, but he’s found himself with a lot of followers. He totally fits into my strategy of empowering key leaders of passion, integrity, gifting and vision to contribute to the transformation of the nation.

 

So having established that he was kosher, he needed an office/venue to gather people and store equipment. I rang a friend who runs another project to negotiate office space, so that she also could benefit from this arrangement and gain extra funding to pay her staff. And I organized a meeting with another l ministry partner who had instruments to see if we could work out a deal whereby my new buddy could hire the latter’s gear for events in the community. Win/wins all round. I love it, keeping the money recycled in the family.

 

I could give many more examples, but that’s just the latest. Why do I share it with you? Both as a challenge and as an invitation.

 

I get so frustrated with situations that arise here (or wherever) in which folks only look out for their own narrow interests and fail to see the potential bigger picture of cooperation and synergies that come from looking up, looking around, and working together. That applies to me here on a ministry level, but actually to all of us, on a work as well as a family and friendship level. Maybe I’m more naturally wired as a big-picture connector than most people, but we all have it in us if we are (made) aware of it. At least the potential is there.

 

So that’s my challenge for you today. What might opening myself more to this concept of connecting look like? Are there any potential connections I could make or take to be part of something beautiful and bigger than myself.

 

And the invitation? Well, it comes firstly with gratitude as so many of you are already connecting with us. It’s such a privilege to be involved with a worldwide community of people offering us their skills, their finances, their time, in myriad ways. I love it when someone writes to me: “This is who I am, what I do, what I’m good at, can I serve you guys in any way?” And if we can find a good fit, it’s a win/win all the way. Anyone not yet actively connected with us, count yourself hereby invited to join up and be part of a beautiful work in the toughest of contexts.

 

Connecting wins…

 

And lest you be discouraged and think you have been or are a failure in this area, the biggest connecting of all is that of prayer, linking up with the Ultimate Connector, and all of us can do that.

 

Have a great weekend!

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This article recently appeared here for the Evangelical Alliance.

 

Once I was preaching near the Congolese border. My sermon text was Matthew 25 – the parable of the ten maidservants. Those ten all had a role to play at the wedding, but five of them didn’t have enough oil in their lamps. It’s a straightforward story, and it doesn’t need much explaining. My three points were simply, i) Jesus is coming, ii) nobody knows when, iii) but are you ready? Some responded to my appeal at the end, others didn’t. In any case, two days later I was driving towards their village on my motorbike only to be turned back by a group of soldiers, as killing was taking place up ahead in a rebel attack. It struck me as never before just how urgent a message we have been entrusted with. How many of those who died had accepted or declined the invitation just 48 hours earlier? God knows. For each of those people unfortunate enough to be caught in the crossfire, their time to meet Jesus had indeed come; they hadn’t known when; but the most important issue remained the same – were they ready?

I’ve spent 18 years now living in Burundi. In the early years it was the most dangerous country in the world, and I totally expected to die. I’d counted the cost. I knew Jesus was coming, I knew I was ready, and I wanted to give my all to helping others get ready. There is simply nothing more important to do with our lives.

 

Yet you’ll only agree with me on that and grasp the urgency of the situation if you believe what the Bible says regarding the eternal destinies of both those who accept and reject Christ’s offer of salvation. Jesus said that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36). In 2 Thessalonians 1:8–9, Paul wrote, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” Space precludes sharing more verses, but suffice to say there are plenty of them.

 

The advantage I had was that I was living in a literal warzone. People living in times of peace easily miss the reality that there is a spiritual battle going on. As John Piper explains, “Most people show by their priorities and casual approaches to spiritual things that they believe we’re in peace, not in wartime… In wartime we’re on the alert. We’re armed. We’re vigilant. In wartime we spend money differently, because there are more strategic ways to maximize our resources. The war effort touches everybody. We all cut back. The luxury liner becomes a troop carrier… Who considers that the casualties of this war don’t merely lose an arm or an eye or an earthly life, but lose everything, even their own soul, and enter a hell of everlasting torment?”

 

There’s a pithy parable about the devil’s training academy for his demonic minions. On the day of the graduation ceremony, he was mingling with the new graduates and questioning them about what they had learnt. He approached one group of three demons and engaged them in conversation. He asked them, “Now that you’re ready to start your mission of leading as many earthlings away from the path of God and into my clutches, what strategy will you use?”

The first demon replied, “Sir, I’ll tell them there’s no God.”

“Rubbish! That won’t work. Creation’s so beautiful that it points to the fact that surely there is a Creator. You won’t dupe many with that one.”

The second one replied, “Sir, I’ll tell them that there’s no judgement.”

“No chance! Come on, we all know that those pathetic earthlings have been endowed with a conscience so that they inherently have a conception of right and wrong. Most know and recognize a coming judgement. That’s not going to work.”

Finally, the third demon replied, “I’ll tell them that yes, there is a God, and yes, there is a judgement, but also that there’s still plenty of time.”

“Excellent! You’ve studied well. Many will be suckers for that lie. Get to it!”

 

A number of years ago, I came across this obituary: “Died, Salvador Sanchez, 23, World Boxing Council featherweight champion and one of the sport’s best fighters; of injuries after his Porsche 928 collided with two trucks, just north of Queretaro, Mexico. A school dropout at 16, Sanchez explained, ‘I found out that I liked hitting people, and I didn’t like school so I started boxing.’ A peppery tactician, he wore opponents down for late-round knockouts. His record: 43-1-1. ‘I’d like to step down undefeated,’ he said last month. ‘I’m only 23 and I have all the time in the world.’” Like many young people, Sanchez considered himself practically immortal. What a mistake!

My grandfather was a deeply committed, passionate follower of Jesus. He spent 40 years in Africa, experiencing the East African revival first hand as he built the best school of its time in Rwanda, founded the national Scripture Union movement, and translated the Bible into the local language. At his funeral, the speaker said of him, “Peter Guillebaud worked as if he would live forever, and he lived as if he would die tomorrow.” My grandfather knew the stakes were high, and he wanted to do all in his power to rescue as many people as possible. His belief in the reality hell underpinned so much of what he sought to accomplish. And in turn for each one of us, the awareness of the reality of hell will deepen our sense of gratitude to God for sending Jesus to die in our place; it will increase our compassion for the lost; it will heighten our urgency in communicating the gospel; it will sharpen our intercession; it will stir up a righteous hatred of sin; it will spur us on in prioritizing mission and evangelism.

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Excuse the radio silence on this blog. We’ve had to transfer it across to WordPress and iron out a few glitches, which took a couple of months. A number of you have asked for some news, so I’ll do a ‘different’ kind of blog and just share with you a little summary of our family half-term.

In a couple of years’ time, the plan is to hand over the leadership of GLO fully in Burundi, and for a year to take the Guillebaud family on the road, traveling anywhere and everywhere – home-schooling, experiencing the world, talking about and networking for Burundi, etc. With this in mind, we wanted to get a bit of practice and see how the family would get along by doing one fifty two-th of that anticipated year’s travel i.e. a week.

We started off up in Kibuye at a mission hospital where we have lots of good friends. It’s under three hours drive from the capital, and is our kids’ favorite place to go because they can roam free and hang out with 25 other little Westerners. Some of us lads went on an outing to the source of the Nile and a hot spring nearby to bathe in.

Grace had been sick during the previous week, and it got worse. She did blood tests at two hospitals and nothing showed up, but she was wiped out and we questioned whether we should carry on. In the end, she was a real trooper and insisted, and it was a great decision as she steadily improved over the coming days. We drove North into Rwanda and stayed with friends in the capital, Kigali. After a fun evening with them, we continued up to Uganda, stopping off in Byumba to visit my Granny’s grave and see a few friends from when I lived there after I first moved to Africa in 1998.

Arriving at the Ugandan border, my heart sank. I realised in the rejigging of luggage in Kigali, that I’d left all the car’s papers behind. Either we’d have to do another four hours driving to return and collect, or we could just leave the car and walk across no man’s land and grab a taxi. We chose the latter, with Zac saying ‘We’re walking to Uganda’, which actually made it more of an adventure in the end.

We had two nights on picturesque Bushara Island – where they used to stick lepers – in the middle of Lake Bunyoni. We enjoyed sitting around the fire, rowing in a dug-out canoe, doing a Tarzan swing rope into the lake, and ambushing other visitors as part of our wargames, before heading back to the border via lunch with the irrepressible 87-year-old Joan Hall (MBE) in Kabale. I was relieved that our car was still where we left it, and I drove the slowest in my life back to Kigali for fear of being stopped by the police as we had no paperwork and the Rwandan speed limit is literally the slowest in the world. After another night with the same friends, we headed back to Bujumbura and got there 7 hours later.

There were no major rows. There was lots of laughter. Sickness was overcome. There was unpredictability and adventure and a little of what we might expect if we did it for a whole year. I think the consensus is that we move forward with our planning. Where should we go? If you’ve got any suggestions/contacts/recommendations, do fire them my way!

General

Sometimes I amaze myself even at my own idiocy.

Over the years, I’ve taken literally hundreds of visitors to Musée Vivant, Bujumbura’s interactive zoo – so often that I’m an honorary member of staff, and never have to pay. Most visitors love it, others hate it. We get to hold pythons that slowly start constricting around us; the more intrepid ones climb into the cage and enjoy the incredible adrenaline rush of stroking or pulling the tail of a 15ft crocodile; and then there are the entertaining (but volatile) chimpanzees.

Today was my comeuppance. What heightens my stupidity is that I’d already got too close a few seconds earlier and he’d lunged and punched me in the face, giving me a sore lip. But that was nothing compared to what followed…

Often by dint of living in this country, blog entries are quite heavy. So all the more when things of a lighter nature occur, they’ve got to be worth sharing. I invite you to hereby waste 17 seconds on this clip and enjoy a laugh at my expense!

Above, the guilty chimp, having literally just chomped and swallowed a decent chunk of my T-shirt. Below, an unhappy camper, sad that a good T-shirt is no more…

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Below are some mind-blowing notes including a couple of edited entries from my Choose Life devotional. If you read them slowly and chew the cud, rehashing and mulling over the contents, maybe it’ll be literally life-transforming. If you simply flit through and then go back to Facebook or answering emails, you’ll have stumbled over and beyond the greatest treasure imaginable. Maybe it’d be worth printing it out and taking it off on a walk. Your choice. Here goes:

Ephesians 5:18 says, “Be filled with the Spirit.” The Greek present tense is used in the above verse, meaning the infilling of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is not a once-for-all event but an ongoing need for refilling and refueling. To those who do think it’s a once-for-all experience at conversion or subsequently, Martyn Lloyd-Jones issues this challenge: “Got it all? Well, if you have got it all, I simply ask in the name of God why are you as you are? If you have got it all, why are you so unlike New Testament Christians? Got it all! Got it at your conversion! Well where is it, I ask?”

Are you thirsty today, or satisfied?

Abraham Heschel wrote, “He who is satisfied has never truly craved.” I hope you haven’t given up on the potential of a life saturated with God’s presence. The cravings we feel, we were made to feel, and only God can satisfy. John Piper wrote in A Hunger for God, “If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

I remember several periods of my life of being so filled by the Holy Spirit that I didn’t want to leave his presence. I wanted to live in that continued state of heightened reality. When I saw people, I couldn’t help but share of God’s goodness with them. Some converted immediately, others thought I was mad! But the point I want to make is, how easy it is for us to settle for a stunted satisfaction with spiritual inertia. We fear beginning to crave, lest we are left disappointed yet again. “Come, all you who are thirsty… that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55:1–3).

A.W. Tozer observed, “Satan has fought the doctrine of the Spirit-filled life about as bitterly as any doctrine there is. He has confused it, opposed it, and surrounded it with false notions and fears. The Church has tragically neglected this great liberating truth that there is now, for the child of God, a full and wonderful and completely satisfying anointing with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit-filled life is not a special deluxe edition of Christianity. It is part and parcel of the total plan of God for his people.”

Moody was the most effective evangelist of the nineteenth century. After one service early in his ministry, two old ladies approached him and told him, “You are good, but you haven’t got it… we have been praying for you… you need power!” Moody, an already well-respected minister, was shocked, “I need power? Why, I thought I had power!” The ladies poured out their hearts in intercession for him to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and soon he became desperate for more of God. He wrote, “I began to cry as never before, for a greater blessing from God. The hunger increased; I really felt that I did not want to live any longer if I had not this power for service. I kept on crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day in the City of New York – oh! What a day, I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it. It is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say, God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.”

That was the result after six months of pleading with God. And once God had visited him in power as he walked down Wall Street in New York, he was never the same again. Although his sermons were verbatim the same, those same words saw many dozens come to faith each time where before it had been a mere handful.

John Stott commented, “What we need is not more learning, not more eloquence, not more persuasion, not more organisation, but more power from the Holy Spirit.”

Now this remains a hotly contested doctrine, but the bottom line is, whatever work we’re involved in, surely we want more of Him in our lives? I know I need more power. How about you?

The Victorian minister and missionary Andrew Murray suggested four practical and verbal steps we must take to being filled by God’s Spirit.

Step 1 Say ‘I must be filled’ – knowing that God commands it and you need it.

Step 2 Say ‘I may be filled’ – believing that it is God’s promise to all believers.

Step 3 Say ‘I should be filled’ – willing to surrender all for that pearl of great price.

Step 4 Say ‘I shall be filled’ – claiming the promised gift of God, purchased by Christ.

Finally, what got me to put up this blog was this week coming across the following challenging words from Tozer, which I’ve re-read several times as I do an honest self-assessment of my current spiritual state:

“After a person is convinced they can be filled with the Holy Spirit, they must desire to be: are you sure you want to be possessed by a Spirit who, while He is pure and gentle and wise and loving, will yet insist upon being Lord of your life?

Are you sure you want… One who will require obedience to the written Word? Who will not tolerate any of the self-sins in your life: self-love, self-indulgence? Who will… reserve the right to test you and discipline you? Who will strip away from you many loved objects which secretly harm your soul?”

Tozer concludes, tellingly: “Unless you can answer an eager ‘yes’ to these questions, you do not want to be filled. You may want the thrill or the victory or the power, but you do not really want to be filled with the Spirit.

If, on the other hand, your soul cries out for God, for the living God, and your dry and empty heart despairs of living a normal Christian life without a further anointing, then I ask you: is your desire all-absorbing? Is it the biggest thing in your life? Does it… fill you with an acute longing that can only be described as the pain of desire? If your heart cries ‘yes’ to these questions you may be on your way to a spiritual breakthrough which will transform your whole life.”

Hmm… Wow! I’ve got to re-read that again…

May you and I press in hungrily, embracing the ‘pain of desire’, and thereby be on our ‘way to a spiritual breakthrough which will transform our whole lives’.

General

I’ve just read a fascinating article from Christianity Today. It’s hugely encouraging to hear what is taking place in India. I love having my preconceptions and orthodoxies challenged too.

The article’s long, so I’ll just include two sections below. One because it’s such an intriguing contextualizing of the gospel, the other because it’s simply so heartening, and challenging to an often exhibited Western superiority complex. Why look to so many flawed models of growth in the USA, for example, when we can learn from stunning examples coming out of India? The whole article is definitely worth the read if you have the time, but if not, be edified by the below. Or maybe Lal’s approach will be shocking to you…

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Gospel with Fingers Not Forks

…When accused of converting Hindus and Muslims, Pastor Lal of Yeshu Darbar explains that he never asks anyone to leave their current religion.

“I consider other religions as cultures. I tell them, ‘Why don’t you take Jesus Christ and make him a Hindu? Make him a Muslim. Make him a Buddhist,’ ” he says. “I’m giving them the gospel of Jesus along with Jesus. And I guarantee you, if they accept Jesus in their own setting, transformation will take place.”

Church leaders across the subcontinent will explain that most Indians consider Jesus to be a white, Western god. Lal seeks to separate his Savior from the stereotype. “Christianity trapped Jesus Christ so that the Hindus and Muslims cannot get to him,” says Lal. “We are de-Christianizing Jesus.

“You [Western Christians] are presenting Jesus with a knife and fork, but we Indians are accustomed to fingers,” he says. “The gospel has to be eaten with fingers here.”

Howell vouches for the orthodoxy of Yeshu Darbar—its members repent, take baptism, and renounce idol worship—as well as God’s blessing. “For God to start this in Allahabad, it is the laughter of God,” he says. “And of all people, he chooses a scientist.”

“All movements are messy,” says Singh. “But what’s undeniably clear is that the Spirit is active and doing something new in our time.”

Singh takes an optimistic—and, he argues, biblical—stance on Christward movements. He cites the “Barnabas principle” from Acts 11, when the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to investigate the newly formed Gentile church in Antioch. “Barnabas probably found the form of worship and presentation of the gospel among Gentiles to be different than among Jews. But when he found evidence of God’s grace, he was glad and encouraged them. This gave him an avenue to later teach and disciple them.” Thus, Singh’s stance: If grace is present in a movement, then encourage and equip it.

In fact, some Indian experts think Western or traditional churches trying to impose their cultural form of Christianity could disrupt church growth even more than Hindutva extremism. “If we come in with a theology checklist intent on giving certificates of orthodoxy, there is a danger of these groups getting completely withdrawn and isolated,” says Singh. “They need the body of Christ.” His goal: “facilitating these groups without fracturing the unity of the church.”

He says one biblical example is John 4:30, where many Samaritans “made their way toward” Jesus, who warns the disciples against hindering them. “These people are on a journey, and taking baby steps toward Christ,” says Singh. “Don’t see them through eyes of prejudice, like the 12 disciples saw the Samaritans. Learn to see them as Jesus did.”

“We need to take risks and take Jesus to new settings,” says Howell. “Jesus is alive. He will take care of himself.”

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Back in Hyderabad, Kumar started Calvary Temple 11 years ago with 25 people; today it claims to be the second-largest church in the world (150,000 members) as well as the fastest-growing (80,000 joined in the past three years). He estimates that 70 percent of his congregation comes from non-Christian backgrounds, and 70,000 are younger than 30.

Kumar has scaled his church efficiently: Members mark their attendance by scanning key cards at each entrance kiosk, where they pick up a small white cup filled with prepackaged Communion wine. Nearby, long metal racks hold more than 100 pairs of shoes in rows eight feet high. After its third service, the church feeds lunch to about 15,000. A free health clinic sees about 1,000 patients each Sunday, while a pharmacy offers free and discounted medicines. Every member who doesn’t attend on Sunday gets a phone call asking the reason and offering prayer. And every member gets a birthday cake delivered to their doorstep.

Kumar has achieved such scale without the theological shortcuts that many megachurches in the developing world take. Calvary Temple’s tagline is “only for those who worship in spirit and truth.” He emphasizes that his church is a “Bible-based church” that does not participate in charismatic signs or prosperity theology.

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General

A number of you are asking for feedback on the National Prayer Breakfast in Kinshasa, and in any case I wanted to take the chance to ask you to pray for the Congo, so here’s a quick update:

The leadership of the NPB are a great bunch, and Congo is at a critical juncture. The President is delaying elections and looks like not being willing to go quietly, having already served his permitted two terms. I was drafted in relatively last minute because the first-choice speaker decided that the security situation was too dicey to come.

For me it was a somewhat surreal experience. I sat next to the Prime Minister who is a good man. I hate wearing suits, and only realized the day before that I had a decent hole in my trousers beneath my flies. So I kept my fingers (and legs!) crossed that the hole wouldn’t get any larger!

Anyways, I closed my talk with this story, which is worth all of us reflecting on:

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A man was on a luxury liner and suddenly he fell overboard. He couldn’t swim and in desperation he began calling for help. There were several would-be rescuers on deck who witnessed the incident.

The first was a theorist. When he saw the man fall overboard he immediately reached into his briefcase and pulled out a manual on how to swim. He tossed it to him and yelled: “Now brother, you read that and just follow the instructions and you will be alright.”

The woman next to him was an idealist. When she saw the man fall overboard, she immediately jumped into the water and began swimming all around the drowning man saying: “Now just watch me swim. Do as I do and you will be alright.”

The next person on deck was a member of the institutional church. He looked upon the drowning man’s plight with deep concern. He yelled out: “Now, just hold on friend, help is on the way. We’re going to establish a committee and discuss your problem. And then, if we come up with the proper financing, we’ll resolve your dilemma.”

The next man on deck happened to be a representative of the school of positive thinking. He yelled out to the drowning man: “Friend, this situation is not nearly as bad as it looks. Think dry!”

Then there was a revivalist. By this time the drowning man was going down for the third time and desperately began waving his arm. Seeing the raised arm, the revivalist yelled out: “Yes brother, I see that hand, is there any other? Anyone else wanting to be saved?”

Then the politician next to him, sensing an opportunity for some good publicity, stripped off, promised he’d jump in, but first insisted someone get a photo and film him as he took the plunge.

But in the meantime, the last man on deck, who was a realist, knowing how serious the situation was, plunged into the water, at the risk of his own life, and pulled the victim to safety.

Where, I asked them (and you), are you in that story?

It turns out the whole meeting was aired on national TV and radio, so the audience was much bigger than just the delegates in the marquee. At the end of the story I stripped off my jacket and tie and unbuttoned my shirt, to enact the above. Looking back, it was never something I thought of putting on my bucket list of things to do in life, but the exhibitionist in me is glad to be able to say I’ve done a little strip show on national TV!

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Seriously though, please remember to pray for the Congo in these coming months.

And I hope you choose to jump into the water to join the rescue operation wherever you are!

General

I’m writing this on a plane heading to Kenya with friends from the National Prayer Breakfast. One of them is Cris Rwakasisi, who spoke at our Burundian NPB yesterday. I thought I’d share some of his story, and some further thoughts:

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Cris was Ugandan President Milton Obote’s main man back in the early 1980s. Obote gave him the choice of any post he wanted, and he ended up as Minister of Defense. He was 42-years-old, so (relatively) young, powerful, rich, and arrogant. His caviar lifestyle and attitude alienated the opposition and many within his own party. He got things done, and created many enemies.

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In earlier times, he and (now President) Museveni had been friends. In fact Museveni had worked under him. But their relationship had long soured, and when Obote was kicked out and Museveni came to power, they truly hated each other. Cris was imprisoned and condemned to death. When he was taken to solitary confinement, he wanted to kill himself, but there were no sharp objects in his cell. In the dark, in the corner, he thought he saw a stone. It was in fact a Bible. He used it as a pillow to begin with, but eventually began reading it.

He hated God. He picked out all the perceived contradictions and inconsistencies as he read it from cover to cover. By his third reading, however, his heart softened. This proud man was being humbled and broken. He surrendered his life to Christ in that cell. In his immature faith, he initially took Psalms in which David cursed his enemies, asking God to kill them, their children, etc. But the opposite happened, as his they continued to prosper. When he changed his prayers to blessing his enemies, it was then that Museveni’s attitude softened towards him. In 2009, Musveni had signed execution orders for 28 people, and Cris was on that list, but Museveni later said to him that God spoke to him and forbade him to sign that decree. The others were all killed, whilst Cris survived.

When released out of solitary confinement into the main condemned section of the prison, he started a fellowship there, which continues to this day. In total he spent a staggering twenty four years in jail! He spoke movingly of his wife, who he’d formerly treated less than well, who had faithfully visited him every week over the decades. Six years ago, Museveni formally pardoned him, and invited him to join the cabinet. When he’d gone to prison, his children were in primary school, now they were in jobs or at university. Yet he has no bitterness. The old enemies are totally reconciled. Cris is a trophy of grace and, now 75-years-old, serves as Special Advisor to the President.

Wow!

Cris’ winsome manner and humour were thoroughly disarming in a room in which all Burundi’s key players were sat. It was a message of reconciliation and humility we needed to hear. There was plenty of hatred between enemies in the meeting. But the strength of the NPB movement is that our agenda is simply to get people to gather together around the teachings of Jesus, and leave politics at the door for a few hours. Maybe, just maybe, we can then engage with our enemies in the Spirit of Jesus and see breakthroughs that can’t come by through the normal mudslinging, accusations, and recriminations.

Is that too idealistic? Some would say yes. I know some Burundians reading this blog will say we’re wasting our time. The Burundi situation is highly complex. Divisions are so deep. Positions are entrenched. Yet I write this an hour after Donald Trump has given his victory speech. We’re not the only ones with major wounds that need healing.

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The President giving his address

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I translated for my friend Ward Brehm as he asked the gathering the question: “What do you think is Jesus’ strategy for helping those he called ‘the least of these’ in Burundi?” And Ward challenged them by answering his own question for them, saying: “His strategy is you!”

Before getting on the plane, we stopped by at the President’s office. We met briefly with him and prayed together.

What would you pray? Those of you who hate the President, who blame him and his party for all Burundi’s woes, what would you pray? It’s a difficult one, isn’t it?

This is the gist of what we prayed for him and would be good to pray regularly…

…that God would speak to the President and give him wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Many people wanted him dead, but may God protect him and his family. May he make good decisions for all citizens. May he be granted wise and bold advisors, who don’t just say what he wants to hear, who aren’t afraid to speak the truth. May all political actors refrain from commandeering and manipulating Jesus to endorse their own agendas. May he in humility take the initiative in reaching out and seeking reconciliation with his enemies. Thank God Jesus didn’t hold back but took the initiative to reconcile us to himself. May the President and his party do the same. So many people are suffering in this nation. God help and bless us all.

If you don’t know what to pray for Burundi (or for the USA for that matter), maybe the above might help you. We certainly need your prayers in this nation. And I’d value prayers too as we fly on to a very fragile Congo where I’ll be speaking at their National Prayer Breakfast Saturday morning.

General

Warning: some of the pictures below are pretty gruesome. Some would say I shouldn’t include them (I have omitted the most graphic one). But actually sometimes it takes the pictures to stir to action, and brave Anesie’s battle is still ongoing. I see part of my very broad role in Burundi as telling these stories to enlist others’ help, and also to show the breadth of work and of the folk involved out here in trying to bring hope, healing and restoration in the nation.

Yesterday I got to see Anesie for the first time in over a year.

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Yesterday in the ward, trying to smile, with her carers behind her

It’s half-term break right now, so I took the family up for a few days to Kibuye to a mission hospital to spend some time with a very special bunch of people. They are a growing team of doctors and administrators from North America who have committed to work together in community and build up a teaching and resourcing hospital for Burundi and beyond. They’re in it for the long haul, talking in terms of decades of engagement rather than years. Their remarkable story can be read here.

Back to Anesie. Some of you followed her horrific story from three years ago. Her boys smelled meat cooking on the fire as they returned home, only to make the horrific discovery that it was their mother’s head burning away after she’d had an epileptic fit and passed out in the coals. She was taken to a hospital which tried to treat her for six months, but eventually gave up and discharged her, saying there was nothing else they could do. Josh and Nadine, who founded Shammah Health Center (under our partner YFC), took up the story in April 2014 (full story on their blog):

“She then visited a priest located in Gitega for treatment. He made a paste of what we can only guess was made out of honeycomb, dirt, and possibly even feces, and covered her wounds with it. He prayed over her for healing and told her to come back to him in a few days, and gave her unnamed ‘medicines’ for treatment. When Anesie presented back to him with pus pouring out through the paste and down her face, he must have realized he was out of his depth. He put her in his car, and literally dropped her off at our health center gate, driving away before anyone could identify him…”

Josh and Nadine took care of her before connecting her with our Kibuye friends, and fast forward two and a half years, and a staggering eight further surgeries, she is still keeping positive on her very slow road to recovery. They managed to salvage some sight out of one eye, whilst the latest surgery has involved taking a strip of skin from the underside of her arm and grafting it onto her forehead, but the skin has to stay attached to her arm for three weeks for it to take hold. So she is in a caste to keep her arm joined to her head for the next three weeks. We were always amazed at her sprightliness, and even now in her pain she managed to try to laugh with me.

I asked the surgeon, Jason, how much those surgeries would have cost in the US. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet here, her bill is only a few thousand dollars. Of course Anesie is penniless.

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Photo taken in April 2014

I cannot imagine what she has felt like these last three years. Many gave up on her. But Josh and Nadine didn’t, and then surgeons Jason and John didn’t, the nurses didn’t, and of course God doesn’t.

So it’s a story of personal disaster but perseverance through the pain, and also of God’s people working together and giving their best to help one of the last, the lost, the least… Their motivation? As Matthew 24:40 says: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 

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Photo taken in April 2014

General

This is most definitely worth the read. I share it for three reasons – 1) it shows how incredibly tough life is in Burundi, 2) despite the toughness, or maybe because of it, it highlights the depth of faith of folks I get to interact with, and 3) it shows the beauty of God’s faithfulness through your giving to GLO so we can provide hope and rescue to many out here.

So the context: A few weeks ago, I gave a financial gift from one of our supporters to a widower friend called Peter (actually names are changed to protect his family’s identity) who has been going through a torrid time. Part of his amazing/beautiful/tragic story is included at the bottom of this, which I wrote in 2010. Alli, a wonderful Canadian co-worker who is very close to Peter, sent me this email, which I share with you with both her and Peter’s permission:

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Alli writes:

‘Dear Simon,
I just wanted to share a series of text messages that preceded the incredible gift Peter received through GLO. He’s a man of faith who has ridden many storms but after a few days of being ill, he wrote to me…

27th September
“This morning my body is great apart from an empty stomach. You said you like to know my situation and my heart. This morning my babies (children) didn’t have anything to eat before going to school. Luckily God provided a midday meal for the two youngest, but not the older four. For them, I’m waiting for a miracle every minute, that when they come home from school at lunchtime they will find something to eat.

May I claim to be blessed because I am all out of options?! May I rejoice I am at the very end of my rope with nothing left to hold onto?! Of course that’s exactly what I should be doing, trusting God to take control and care of everything while I stay in my bed just waiting. But the truth is that it’s not easy. If you have a secret please share it with me! I have to make sacrifices as I wait for the period of the seven skinny cows to be over. I pray that you will read and interpret this with love! Love is all that remains when everything else is over.”

3rd October, upon receipt of gift from GLO:
“Halleluia!!!! God is so so so good! The totally unimaginable has happened, so long hoped for, so long awaited. God has just done it! I can pay all my debts, I can pay the costs to wrap up my degree, I can pay several months of rent AND feed my children!! Isn’t He wonderful? What an amazing grace!!! I am crying with joy!!”

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Simon, do send this on to those who gave the money for their encouragement. Peter is a widower, father of six, who determined to break a curse on his family – a curse that kept all previous family members in poverty, intelligent but never getting a degree, strong but all dying before the age of forty. He is the first to break this pattern but the enemy has thrown everything possible at him to try to stop him. He was miraculously healed of incurable cancer but his young wife died of cancer while he was pursuing his university studies at night school. He first registered in 2007 and finally graduated with Distinction last week, October 15th, 2016. Please continue to pray for this brave man, that the Lord will continue to use his living testimony for the Kingdom.

Thanks dear Simon for being a powerful inimitable indefatigable agent of hope for so many Burundian heroes.
Much love,
Alli’

Wow.

What a privilege to be able to help such precious people! All we do is through the generosity of folks like you around the world. I get the joy of actually doing the face-to-face giving, but I want you to feel a part of it. God bless you loads! If you want to help for the first time, or for the umpteenth time, please do so at www.greatlakesoutreach.org/donate

Blog over, but if you want the amazing back story, read on:

Written on 29th June 2010 – Bitter/Sweet or Sweet/Bitter News of Death in Burundi…

Sarah is dead. The funeral is today.

It seems so wrong. Many prayed and fasted – some believed and even claimed – but all hoped that God would heal her, yet finally she lost in her protracted struggle against breast cancer. The night before she graduated to glory, frail Sarah had called her six children around her, and with poignant strength of voice told them she was leaving soon. She then gave each advice about the future once she had gone. And now Peter has had to break the news to the kids, although the youngest is only a toddler (born 2 weeks before the mastectomy) and cannot possibly comprehend what has happened. On learning of his mother’s death, 4-year-old Francis blurted out: “O Papa, if Mama is with Jesus, will you take me there too?”

It seems so deeply wrong in this case because of Peter’s story. The sting of premature death (she was thirty one) is always doubly painful, but God’s intervention in healing Peter seemed to suggest He would surely do the same for Sarah.

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Peter is one of the most godly men I know. His testimony is a powerful one. He was a wild womanizer and musician who worked for Burundi’s secret service, and so got up to all sorts of colorful and unsavory acts before his conversion. I first met him about eight years ago when he’d been miraculously granted leave from prison. He was very sick, and needed medical treatment, but the head of the prison had refused him permission, saying: “You’ll only ever be allowed out of here over my dead body.” Under the influence of a massive fever, Peter had replied: “You will watch God take me out of here under your very nose!” He returned to his cell, and an overnight prayer meeting was convened. Nobody was allowed to leave before the Lord had answered their petition. They prayed through the night, and after 9am, one of the group said: “I believe the Lord’s just told me that you’ll be released by 4pm.” They packed his bags in faith, and at 345pm a prison officer opened his cell, looked at his packed bags, and said: “Who told you that you are to be released? Give me your telephone!” Peter replied: “I have no phone. It was God who told us!” And he was carried out of prison under the nose of the head honcho who had said “over my dead body”.

Peter was very sick, and I used to visit him in hospital. He had an armed guard to make sure he didn’t try to escape, but that wasn’t needed. Peter exuded peaceful joy amidst his personal suffering, and drew other sick patients to the Lord. He grew thinner and thinner, and I flew back in the spring of 2003 to prepare to get married to Lizzie, not knowing whether I’d ever see him again. However, a year later, when we returned, a new fatter Peter greeted us. During my absence, two men had come to him and told him: “We know that you’ve been told you only have three months to live, but we believe God is going to heal you for a purpose.” And here he was, living out that healing. His weight had almost doubled. But he was still separated from Sarah and the kids because of now being back in prison.

His crime? He had allowed a ‘friend’ to use his bank account to transfer some funds, and it transpired the money in question was stolen. It showed up on many accounts including Peter’s and his ‘friend’ fled the country. Peter was immediately put in prison and would not be released until that money was returned or the guilty man gave himself up – neither eventuality very likely. But the believers in prison set aside four days to pray and fast on the issue, pleading with the Lord to convict the thief to give himself up. On the fourth day of their fast, he was in neighboring Congo about to commit suicide when the Lord spoke to him and said: “Go back and give yourself up because many people’s lives are ruined because of your behavior.” And so he arrived and admitted his guilt to the police.

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Peter’s release was delayed another two years, even though it was clear he was innocent. He developed rare incurable cancer in his throat. I have a photo of him with huge swollen jowls. A mutual friend sponsored him to go and get treated abroad at significant expense. He finished a course of drugs and then just surrendered the issue to the Lord. When Sarah subsequently contracted cancer herself and they traveled repeatedly to the cancer specialist hospital in Uganda, the specialists refused to accept that Peter had had the cancer he described. Even when he produced the paperwork they said there had to be a mistake. It simply wasn’t possible.

The rollercoaster story has more in it, but I’ll stop there.

That’s why we thought Sarah wouldn’t die. God has intervened repeatedly and undeniably in Peter’s life. They had been forced to spend extended time apart, and now at last they were back together. Surely the Lord would do for her as He had done for Peter…? And yet slowly, inexorably, with the occasional upturn, the cancer took her. Faith means embracing question marks for much of the time. There aren’t always tidy answers to our big questions.

Yet Sarah was so grace-filled and dignified in her fight, working until just recently as the family needed the money to survive. Peter’s job is to help rehabilitate former child-soldiers and prostitutes and equip them to choose better lives. Despite incredible odds heaped against him, Peter managed to earn distinction in the first two years of university where he is doing a 4-year degree at evening classes. He earns about $100/month. Now he will somehow have to care for his six children without his life-mate. Aaarrgh!

So Sarah is dead. It’s terribly sad. There are lots of tears being shed right now. But today as I think about her, death really is more sweet/bitter than bitter/sweet for followers of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. For the first time in years, she is free from pain. For her loved ones, the bitter grief is slightly mitigated by the fact that “we do not mourn as those without hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1Thes.4v13-14)

As I say so often, life is a gift. Live it fully! Health is a gift. Appreciate it! Loved ones are gifts. Cherish them! We have so many gifts… So let’s enjoy them, maximize them and share them.

Do pray for Peter as he faces up to the latest massive challenge in his ongoing pilgrimage. And if anyone wants to help him and the kids, do get back to me.