Longings and Legacy: Church Planting in AfricaBy Corey Schmatjen
March 18, 2021
In Rwanda, cobbled volcanic rocks masquerade as roads. They alone serve as justification for one of the coolest vehicles on earth, the Toyota Land Cruiser. As John Samvura and I traveled in his friend’s iconic African SUV, we climbed steadily above the city of Gisenyi and the heavily trafficked border with Congo (DRC).
Green. Verdant green is everywhere in this country dubbed “the land of a thousand hills.” The same volcanoes that make land travel so bone-jarring, are also that which make the soil incredibly fertile.
Pastor John was taking me to the village of Kabumba. The name perfectly captures the energy, thumps and bumps required to get there. This is the place that he and his team has chosen to be the location of the next church plant of Harvest Mahoko, and his young church planting network.
Talk to Pastor John for just a few brief minutes and you will hear about his vision for church planting. Kabumba is a pictorial representation of all that animates him about church planting. It’s the joy of seeing regeneration and new growth. It’s the showcasing of Christ’s creative genius and resurrection glory. It’s the new growth and spiritual harvest that comes from dying to self (the cruciform way):
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
Kabumba is a vibrant, fruitful farming community. Its hillsides serve as the food bank for western Rwanda. Corn, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, cabbage, carrots, onion, cauliflower, and garlic are just a few of the vegetables grown here. Unlike North America or Europe, these food staples are grown year-round due to the elevation, favorable climate, and consistent equatorial daylight.
If John has his way, churches will be planted year-round as well. It’s always a good time to plant in Rwanda! What’s true for carrots is also true for new churches. He believes this, knowing that his first church plant is very much a work in progress—as is the church building they are constructing.
John and I have spoken extensively about his network’s next thirteen church plants. And that’s just in Rwanda and Congo. His prayer is that multitudes of church planters will be raised up to reap the harvest across the border in Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya as well.
But on this day, we were here to see Kabumba. He showed me one field in particular. All I saw was a bunch of green onion shoots reaching for the sky. What he saw with eyes of faith was a vibrant, gospel-rooted worshipping community of believers, with hands lifted high.
This is where he wants to plant a church—in the middle of a farming community. With a potential church planter and a core team of 60 people, John and church are poised to plant. Two years ago, however, the laws changed in Rwanda, requiring each church to own land and an approved building in order to be legal and compliant. They have the laborers, now they are seeking funds to purchase the land, a critical part of their church planting strategy. When God supplies the needed funding, Harvest Kabumbawill be “farming.”
Church planting is John’s joy. It’s about springtime and harvest. Sowing and reaping. And doing it all over again. It’s all that Kabumba represents.
A Shared Legacy
But there’s another aspect of church planting that seems to reside deep within John. It’s legacy.
John’s father was a pastor and a prolific church planter. Andres Samvura planted over 300 churches in his lifetime, in Rwanda and Congo. (I had to question the number to make sure I heard correctly!) For those who know Rwanda’s history and his father’s story, he literally gave his life for the gospel and church planting. His father died in 1997.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John has taken up his father’s church planting mantle. Planting churches wasn’t always his ambition as a CPK (Church Planter’s Kid). But God has a way of changing all that and creating a legacy, a testimony to his faithfulness.
Legacy isn’t just about preserving or perpetuating the past but living (and dying) for an anticipated future harvest. It’s about multiplying one’s influence and fruitfulness beyond one’s years.
The strong desire and instinct to establish a legacy through children is at work in Harvest Mahoko. Under John’s leadership, the churchseeks to extend and expand its impact into further fields of harvest where there will be new birth and new growth.
Church planting is a means by which a father’s fruit-bearing legacy lives on.
As a church planting network, GCC seeks to plant healthy local churches, typically in our own nearby communities, counties, or country (networks). But our commitment to global church planting means that we also come alongside church planters and networks far afield, in other countries and regions of the world.
We befriend, encourage, equip, and support indigenous church planters like John to see like-minded networks of church multiplication emerge and thrive.
We do it for the glory of God. But we also do it for our joy. A real, palpable joy. Nothing quite lights up John’s eye like his driving desire to see others succeed and sent out into the harvest field (Mat. 9:38). He and his wife Zawadi have sacrificed much to see church planters raised up and new works begun in Rwanda and Congo. They do it with exceeding joy.
Let it be the thrill, honor, and joy of every church in GCC to help see church planters sprung forth into the harvest and churches sprung up from the fertile soil of East Africa…and beyond. Let’s do this! A spiritual harvest awaits. Kabumba!
Feature image: Emmanuel, John Samvura, and Joel. Credit: Corey Schmatjen