As an unexpected by-product of the peacekeeping mission in Somalia assigned to them by the country of Burundi through the United Nations, Burundian Adventist soldiers are playing an important role in evangelism. As other Adventists in Burundi were doing their part to share the gospel through the Total Member Involvement (TMI) initiative, these soldiers stationed in Somalia felt the calling to share their faith in the place where God had placed them.
This task was not easy because the doctrines and Adventist beliefs and practices are not known in the Burundian Army. With no Adventist chaplains in the army, and other chaplains calling the Adventist soldiers a small group of heretics, they were pressured to conform to the beliefs and practices of others.
One chaplain, according to Baidowa Camp Church elder Fidel Nimpagaritse, “came and gave orders that our small church be demolished. He forced us to worship together as one army in a single church led by another Christian faith.” Nimpagaritse shared that as a group they rejected the invitation, and he reminded the chaplain of the words of Peter to the priests of his time, “We would rather obey God than men.” “Even if the threats were strong, we didn’t surrender, but we continued to worship near our demolished church site.”
The small group made the issue a matter of prayer and eventually gained the right to worship on Sabbath, local leaders said. The Adventist soldiers were able to share their faith, and several soldiers who had once criticized them ended up joining the Adventist Church.
Major Ntakarutimana Jean de Dieu said, “Since we had no one to baptize them, we had to send them back to Burundi with endorsement letters so that once they got there, they could be baptized.”
Jean Claude Bayisenge, one of the soldiers who decided to answer God’s call and became an Adventist, shared what he felt as he was baptized in the waters of Lake Tanganyika: “I praise God for my colleagues, for combining the two missions,” he said. “[The Adventist soldiers] knew we needed prayers for our mission to have a serious and successful impact. One of the pieces that brought me to conviction was the fact that we were able to read the Word of God by ourselves, and found the precious truths hidden in the books we always carried in our hands.”
Major Douglas Mumanyi lamented that many people think members of the military cannot accept Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord. “Being a Christian, however, is a matter of personal choice,” he said. “Being a soldier doesn’t exempt you from having human needs like everybody else. It is not a ticket to freeing oneself from salvation and committing crimes.”
Eric Ntiyankundiye, the elder in the Burundi Army Seventh-day Adventist church, shared that the group now has about 200 members. “It is not about us but about what God Himself can do through His willing vessels,” he said.
The original version of this story was posted on the East-Central Africa Division news site.