The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them.
By Jeremy Bassett
When, in Matthew 28:19, our Lord commanded His disciples to make other disciples, He clarified what that entailed in the next verse: “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (v. 20) Our Savior was not looking to build for Himself the world’s largest social club but an innumerable, international, intergenerational, interlingual, interethnic (must I continue?) group of individual emulators of His righteous resurrection life (Revelation 5:9–10; Romans 6:1–14).
Not only has He called us to live in this resurrection life, but He has also equipped us with the spiritual gifts needed to accomplish that purpose so we indeed “may grow up in all things into [Christ],” whose “stature” and “fullness” we are to aspire to (Ephesians 4:11–15).
For the disciple to truly walk in this calling, then, he or she must be a student of “the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15–17)
Sonja and I met in 2008 at what used to be New Tribes Bible Institute (NTBI) in Waukesha, Wisconsin (now Ethnos360 Bible Institute). We married in 2009 and both felt that the Lord wanted to use us for His purpose overseas, although we were not immediately certain about the capacity.
As a student at NTBI, I enjoyed learning from the Bible more about the Lord and myself and what it means to walk victoriously in the Christian life. In the years that followed, I discovered a desire to help others grow in that same knowledge. The Lord provided opportunities for me to fulfill that desire through personal relationships and teaching opportunities at NTBI and in our commending assemblies in Wisconsin.
Those years were also a time of waiting on God’s direction and prioritizing heavy involvement in our local assembly. Toward the end of that season, the Lord put multiple members of the larger Johnson family (CMML missionaries in Africa) in our path within a year’s time. During a visit to one of our commending assemblies, Jesse and Joy Johnson (Missionary Prayer Handbook Day 1) mentioned the need for discipleship and Bible teaching among the assemblies in Burundi and opportunities to meet those needs on individual and group levels.
At the invitation of the Johnsons and the Burundian assemblies, we visited Burundi in 2012. After we spent time in discussion and prayer, the Lord indicated to us, our elders, and our families that He was giving us an open door to be involved in His work in Burundi. So we moved to Burundi in February 2014. Sonja and I had not yet had children when we moved to Burundi, but since then, the Lord has blessed us with two daughters and a son. Our first daughter, Reese, was born in Burundi exactly a year (to the day) after our move. Maisie and Alec were born in the United States in 2019 and 2021. Over the past eight years, we’ve grown to consider Burundi our earthly home. The Lord’s calling led us here, we have been raising our children here, and we have grown as a family unit and in the Lord here—in joy and in sorrow.
A lack of true disciples
A relatively small country, Burundi occupies about 10,000 square miles of land, making it slightly smaller than the US state of Maryland.1 Burundi is home to more than 12.2 million people, with more than a million people living in Bujumbura, the capital city.2 Some statistics indicate that 93 percent of the country is Christian, with about 63 percent identifying as Roman Catholic and only 30 percent as evangelical.3 Our sense—from our experience and that of others over the years—is that a large part of that evangelical 30 percent is nominal at best. My sober observation and conclusion are that, although flooded with churches, Burundi has a drought of true disciples.
This immense presence of “Christianity” in Burundi could be perceived as a great advantage. After all, God’s Word and the Gospel are, in theory, readily available; neither are foreign concepts to the vast majority of the population. However, churched people can sometimes be harder to reach with truth, since they are already part of a well-accepted religious establishment and since they consider their spiritual understanding, practices, and lifestyle to be on par with the religious status quo. Too often, these individuals and groups resemble the lukewarm church in Laodicea, described in Revelation 3:17: “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”
For too many in Burundi, Christianity is a one-day-a-week routine or something to be used for their personal benefit. The prosperity gospel runs rampant. More often than not, cultural values overrule the thoughts and ways of the Lord, which He intends to transplant in us through the convicting and cultivating work of His Word and His Spirit (Isaiah 55:7–11).
Teaching, literature, and literacy
In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul writes, “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This verse expresses our approach to discipleship in Burundi. We have focused our efforts on a handful of individuals—the students who come through the Timothy Bible School (TBS)—and on developing Kirundi Bible literature that can enhance people’s personal study of the Word. Our hope, then, is that those we have affected will be better equipped to model and teach Christ to others.
TBS provides further teaching for those who are currently or are soon to be overseers and deacons in the Burundian assemblies. We currently have seven Burundian teachers and four missionary teachers. Besides teaching, I am also involved in course development and in administration. The school is in session nine months of each year; students attend six hours each weekday for a month at a time, four months per year for two years—thus completing an eight-month program with 960 hours of lecture. It has been humbling and immensely fulfilling to help open the men’s understanding to the Word and to get to know them as brothers in Christ. Over the past few years, more church leaders have expressed an interest in attending the school, so we are taking steps to expand our facilities and our teaching staff.
There is little Bible-based literature available in Kirundi, Burundi’s native language, so I made it a priority to help develop more such literature. I became involved with the Emmaus Correspondence School (ECS) work in the fall of 2015, when only 16 courses were available in Kirundi. I work with a handful of Burundian believers to produce additional courses while a Burundian director manages the course distribution and correction. The process involves translating existing courses from English, French, and Swahili into Kirundi, followed by proofing, formatting, and printing them. While more than 100 courses exist in English, our objective is to make 48 courses available in Kirundi by the end of 2022. Currently, we have 37. Along similar lines, I recently connected with Everyday Publications Inc. and acquired permission to begin translating some of their material into Kirundi.
Additionally, literature is only useful if people are sufficiently literate to read it. In 2014, I was part of a team that helped revive a literacy program among the Burundian assemblies, in an effort to make God’s Word accessible in each local church. That program has continued to grow year by year; in total, 1,579 “graduates” have learned to read the Bible.
The greater scope
In all of these things, we need the Lord’s strength and wisdom so we may do His work in His way for His glory. It is a privilege to share what the Lord has led us to be involved in for His purpose in Burundi, Africa. The things written here are necessarily brief, and as a result, they are incomplete in their description of the history, the missionaries, the believers, the theology, and the scope of the assembly work in Burundi.
However, we trust that this information will encourage you, move you to pray, and possibly even prompt you to further “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:10) ■
Jeremy and Sonja Bassett are commended from Zion Christian Assembly in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, and from Wauwatosa Bible Chapel in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
Originally published in Missions magazine, April 2022. For more content, sign up for a free subscription (US) to Missions at CMML.us/magazine/subscribe.