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Onesphore

By Mark J.H. Klassen

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

It’s an old African proverb that Doug Hiebert says accurately describes the vision and strategy of his African friend and co-worker, Onesphore Manirakiza. 

The two leaders met in 2004 when Doug was serving with the Mennonite Central Committee in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. They quickly became friends and, when Doug and his wife Deanna returned to Africa in 2014 to serve in Burundi with Multiply, Onesphore and his ministry, Harvest for Christ, became one of their key partners. Although the two men had many differences, representing two continents and two organizations, they shared a passion for Jesus and a belief that the Gospel could bring positive change to Africa.

They both wanted to go far, so they decided to go together. 

Early on in their partnership, Doug saw something unique in Onesphore’s leadership. He was committed to investing in younger leaders, a strategy that was rare among many African church leaders. “He wasn’t afraid of others taking his place or usurping his leadership,” Doug said. “Because of his long-term vision, which was so much bigger than himself, Onesphore was intentionally investing in a younger generation that would help him accomplish his dream to see God transform Burundi.”

Onesphore’s ministry was grounded in taking risks of faith and taking every opportunity to learn. Doug was reminded of the turning point in Onesphore’s ministry, when the governor of a certain province imprisoned some of Harvest’s young evangelists. “When Onesphore rushed to their aid,” Doug said, “the governor explained to him that the evangelists were disturbing his people by taking them away from the work they needed to do. The governor said that if the Harvest workers were doing something practical to visibly make a difference in the people’s lives, then he would be happy to have them in his province.”  

Onesphore didn’t get angry and lash out,” Doug recalled, “nor did he cower and run away. He took the governor’s words to heart and developed a whole new model for Harvest’s ministry, which featured meeting the basic needs of the people, like healthcare, education and housing.” 

At that time, when Onesphore came to Doug and asked him what he thought of the idea, Doug was thrilled. “My spirit jumped. I loved the idea of a holistic ministry that would contend for the manifestation of the kingdom in the lives of the poor. I was just excited to be there to support Onesphore’s vision and to forge a partnership.” 

“The next thing we knew,” Doug said, “the governor was offering Onesphore and Harvest a sizable piece of land on which to develop their initiatives among the Batwa, the poorest and most marginalized people group in Burundi.”

Today, the ministry is thriving and God is changing lives among the Batwa. In addition to a medical clinic on the property, there is a school, which is considered to be the best in the province. The community is being transformed: people are studying the Bible, students are learning to dream, and health care and living conditions have improved dramatically. 

For Doug and Onesphore, it was a glimpse of the fruit of healthy partnership. “It became clear to me,” Doug said, “that my role as a foreigner was to encourage and affirm Onesphore’s vision, to help give some shape to it, then to show our commitment through supporting the ministry financially and sending teams to help when possible.” 

In order to broaden the base for partnership, Doug also introduced Onesphore to his home church in Ontario, Canada—Cornerstone Community (MB). The local church was eager to get behind Onesphore’s vision to see Burundi transformed by the Gospel, so they began partnering with Harvest and their ministry among the Batwa.

Doug has been amazed over and over again by the richness of this partnership with Harvest for Christ. It’s a partnership model that emphasizes giving and receiving for both parties. Onesphore has shared freely about how his new global church community has brought enrichment to him personally and to his ministry. “Onesphore has been blessed,” Doug emphasized, “not only by his partner’s commitment to mission, but by their zeal for unity within the body of Christ and by their openness to the Holy Spirit.”

For Onesphore, the partnership also gave him more opportunity to speak outside of the African context. “Whether he’s preaching at Cornerstone or sharing at Multiply’s Global Council meetings, people really appreciate Onesphore’s fresh perspective,” Doug said. “The experiences are always impacting and mutually encouraging.” 

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