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BUJUMBURA, BURUNDI (ANS) -- At a critical time in the nation's history, world evangelist Andrew Palau led an area-wide outreach in Burundi this past week. The events brought together nearly 500 of Burundi's churches to spread the ultimate message of hope-new life in Jesus Christ.
Andrew Palau speaks at the COTEBU grounds in Bujumbura at the Love Burundi festival. An interpreter translates his message into Kirundi (Luis Palau Association 2011 - photographer Allan White)
The outreach culminated in the two-day Love Burundi Festival on August 6-7. An estimated 60,000 people crowded the capital city's COTEBU grounds during the weekend. The festival served as an all-around celebration of the week's various community outreaches as well as a fresh opportunity to reach thousands with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Surrounded by trees on the park-like grounds, Palau told the audience the story of how Jesus rescued him from a life of drugs, alcohol abuse and total rebellion from God. He likened his testimony to the biblical story of Zacchaeus, saying he had to respond to Jesus' invitation to "come down from his tree" into a relationship with Him.
While decision cards are still being counted, early numbers indicate that 8,000 people made public decisions to accept Jesus Christ during the festival.
Each individual received a copy of the Gospel of John and discipleship materials on the spot and will be given follow-up guidance from local churches.
With more than 80 percent of its people living below the poverty line, Burundi remains one of the poorest nations in the world. In 1993, the assassination of the Burundian president reignited a centuries-old conflict between the region's top two ethnic populations, the Hutus and the Tutsis. Although Burundi's civil war officially ended in 2005, further conflict is a persistent possibility.
In light of the country's divisions, local church leaders count the cooperation among so many of Burundi's churches as an historic step toward unity.
"People are ready; they are hungry for unity," said Jeremie Ndayishimiye, pastor of New Life Church. "We know that the hope of the country is based on unity. So we really thank God to see how many people, how many leaders, [were] willing to come together for this festival."
Bishop Pie Ntukamazina of the Anglican Church praised the festival as a strategic and significant outreach for the Gospel. "Hope is Jesus. Jesus is the answer," he said. "The Palau Association has invested in this and they have brought so many people. we believe that God is behind them."
On the closing night of the festival Palau shared how he and his wife Wendy adopted their beautiful daughter, Sadie Anne, from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at five months old. He used this poignant part of his testimony to explain how God adopts us into His family through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
Hours of vivid musical performances, many incorporating Burundi's own cultural heritage, framed Palau's messages each day. Saturday evening opened with a thundering display by the Burundi National Drummers, followed by a powerful ensemble of local worship singers led by Burundian artist Apollinaire. Other performances were provided by American recording artist Nicole C. Mullen and worship leader Dave Lubben. Palau was also joined by a team of BMX action sports pros who showcased dazzling extreme stunts never before seen by many Burundians.
In the days leading up to the festival, ministry teams from the U.S. and volunteers from Burundi's churches facilitated a "Season of Service" throughout the city, volunteering at a much-needed eyeglasses clinic, gatherings for women and a school for deaf and hearing-impaired children. Coaches from Play for Hope, a Rwanda-based youth program, hosted basketball and soccer clinics at 17 different locations throughout the week.
On August 3, Palau, Lubben and a small troupe of BMX athletes "took the festival" to more than 2,000 inmates at Bujumbura's Mempimbo prison. Palau shared a message of reconciliation and freedom in Christ from the John 8, leading hundreds of inmates to make the decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
The festival marks Palau's fourth national outreach mission in Africa. Last summer's Love Kampala Festival in Uganda also drew thousands of attendees. However, Palau says the experience of working with Burundi's local churches has made for a unique and powerful experience. "While the divisions across political and tribal lines still run deep, we've seen an historic coming together among churches from all sides," said Palau. "As their understanding of the festival and its possibilities grew, so did their expectations. Their hope in Jesus is real change that will make an impact in Burundi for generations to come."
The festival received extensive coverage from all national media. Through a partnership with Trans World Radio (TWR), the festival was also broadcast live to 44 African nations and worldwide via the Internet. A national television network in Burundi will air a one-hour special featuring Palau's message from the festival this Sunday, August 14.
For more information about the Palau Association and their work around the world, visit www.palau.org.