Article | Missions magazine

Captured by the Vision | Supporting Church-Planting Efforts in Burundi

May 14, 2024
Johnson May 2024

By Daniel Johnson

In 2015, the Emmanuel Churches—the name for the assemblies in Burundi—experienced a revival and renewal of vision. They set a goal to plant 80 new churches in five years. Their strategy was simple but profound: each of the 123 assemblies in the country would work and pray to replicate themselves in five years. They hoped that at least 80 of the local churches would succeed. Looking back, the Emmanuel Churches didn’t reach that goal, but amazingly, the Lord blessed this vision and step of faith with more than 50 new assemblies planted in Burundi over the last nine years! 

This vision of church planting was one of the things that inspired my family—me, my wife, Anne, and our three children—to move to eastern Burundi. We realized that if the Lord was leading the Emmanuel Churches in this direction, then we needed to see where we as missionaries could come alongside and serve—where we could be most useful to the national churches in accomplishing this vision. 

After thinking and praying, we saw that the assemblies on the eastern side of the country were the youngest and poorest. In light of this, we felt led to move there and partner with the existing nine assemblies in church planting. Since moving to Gisuru, a town in eastern Burundi, in January 2016, we have been involved, to various degrees, in helping plant 13 churches. 

The vision 

As a missionary working with the Emmanuel Churches, I was impressed but also a bit skeptical when I first heard the national believers’ vision: How could we hope to plant 80 churches in five years? Where would the leaders for these new churches come from? But, as time went on, I realized the wisdom in their vision casting. 

My Burundian brothers in Christ thought about leadership multiplication differently than I did. I had thought a church should not consider planting another church until it had done the necessary work to prepare new, mature leaders. In other words, we must work on discipleship and maturity before we can even think about planting churches. However, the approach I came to learn and understand from serving alongside these Burundian believers was that leaders are best prepared when a church-planting vision is already in place. Potential leaders are most easily motivated to step up to the plate and serve when they can see the need for their leadership. When forward motion and a vision of expansion and multiplication are lacking, potential leaders are more reluctant to develop their skills and step into leadership roles. 

I have witnessed this approach succeed here. And I recently experienced a vivid example of this success when we hosted a two-and-a-half-day conference for elders’ wives. As we counted up all the women we needed to invite, we were joyfully surprised to find 94 elders’ wives from 22 assemblies in eastern Burundi. When we moved to Gisuru in 2016, there were around 30 elders from nine assemblies. What a wonderful difference! 

This realization was particularly encouraging to me because one of the theme verses of our work in Gisuru is Luke 10:2: “Then He said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’” We are thankful that God is raising up laborers for His ripe harvest field in Burundi.

Our role 

Over the years, as this church-planting vision has developed and we have prayed about how we can help, the Lord has led us to several supportive roles. We thank Him that we can be involved in this effort and contribute to the national church’s health in the following ways: 

Coordinating seminars 

Since the beginning of our work here, we have coordinated seminars and conferences to build up and teach leaders and various groups in local churches. But, last year, we started to be more intentional in this aspect. At the beginning of 2023, we met with a group of 12 gifted, respected Bible teachers in our area and planned 22 weekend trips for the year. We wanted to visit every Emmanuel Church in our area to provide biblical teaching on topics the local churches felt they needed clarity on and help with. 

We are thankful that most of the 22 trips in 2023 went well, and we learned a lot from the few trips that didn’t go as well. At the end of the year, our seminar team met again to talk through what we did well and what we could do differently and then plan more trips for 2024. We expanded this year’s schedule to 33 weekend trips and included some visits to other assemblies a bit farther away. 

Every year, we also try to hold a two- or three-day retreat for elders and deacons. This event is a great way to encourage each other, get to know one another better, and spend time together while being fed from the Word. We also coordinate other annual seminars, such as Sunday school teacher training and women’s conferences. 

Organizing and supporting evangelistic endeavors 

We accomplish evangelism efforts through two teams. We have one team of about 30 people who are interested in and gifted at personal evangelism. This year, we have six weeklong trips planned for this personal evangelism team. 

We also have a film evangelism team of five men who travel with the seminar team to show evangelistic films during the evenings of the weekend seminar trips. Usually, a crowd of several hundred come to watch the films. This year, the team will show films during each of the 33 weekend seminar trips, Lord willing. 

Helping equip leaders 

Timothy Bible School in the capital city, Bujumbura, offers Bible training to elders serving in their local churches. Since 2015, 275 elders have attended the school. The program involves 40 courses taught in eight monthlong sessions over two years (for a total of 960 lecture hours). 

Year to year, Timothy Bible School has about 12 teachers— more than half of whom are Burundian believers. CMML missionaries Jesse Johnson and Jeremy Bassett (both Missionary Prayer Handbook Day 1) teach many of the courses at the school. I currently teach three courses. Another key part of my involvement is showing leaders in our area the importance of receiving good Bible-based training and encouraging them to study at Timothy Bible School. 

Another way we help leaders get training is through the Emmaus correspondence course ministry. We promote the work and coordinate the operation of a branch office located in eastern Burundi. Believers can sign up to receive the courses, and after they complete a course and return it to us, our office grades it, provides feedback, and answers questions. 

Casting vision 

We encourage good vision in church leaders by starting key conversations with them regarding the multiplication of leaders. We also ignite conversations about how and where they should consider planting new churches. 

Purchasing and registering property 

In Burundi, the government requires each church to own a registered property. We help purchase property for newly planted churches and then help register the properties with the government. At the beginning of 2023, we enlisted a gifted Burundian believer to assist us with the legwork needed to register the church properties correctly. We praise the Lord for him! 

Constructing buildings 

Government regulations here also require each local church to own a building. Much of our energy and time goes into helping erect buildings for church plants. We praise the Lord for the skilled construction crew we partner with. 

Biblical conflict resolution 

All is not easy and fun in church planting. Growth involves growing pains. We spend a lot of time listening, trying to help counsel and resolve problems. We are thankful that, generally, the churches follow healthy principles regarding problems within the body: 

1. Solve it among yourselves on the local church level. If you can’t, . . . 

2. Call on leaders from nearby assemblies to help advise—especially those from the planting church if the assembly with problems is a recent plant. If necessary, . . . 

3. Ask respected, older believers from the region to come and help give counsel. 

Praise the Lord with us that, at this time, the fields truly are ripe for harvest in Burundi and that He is raising up laborers for His harvest. Pray that more laborers will answer the Lord of the Harvest’s call while the harvest lasts!  

Daniel and Anne Johnson are commended from Oak Lawn Bible Chapel in Oak Lawn, Illinois. 

Originally published in Missions magazine, May 2024. For more content, sign up for a free subscription (US) to Missions at