Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Since moving to Burundi as a missionary and then relocating to the remote town of Gisuru, this verse has been a great encouragement to me. The fact that the God of the universe has prepared work for me to do and the fact that he created me in Christ Jesus to do that work has changed my life and given me a purpose and boldness that I could not have found anywhere else! I think the truth of this verse has been the driving force behind the way my wife and I do ministry.
In 2010 we graduated from Emmaus and moved to the Chicago area to get involved in my wife’s home church. In 2012 we were sent out as missionaries to serve the Lord in Burundi, Africa. My family has a long history of missionary work in that part of Africa with my grandparents and parents and several siblings serving in Congo, Burundi and Tanzania. In light of this when we arrived in Burundi, we jumped right in to serve alongside the same association of churches my parents and grandparents worked with, called the Community of Emmanuel Churches (the registered name of the Assemblies in Burundi). In our first few years in Burundi we were impressed with the vitality of the work and the vision of the Burundian Assemblies. The spiritual “fields” in Burundi were “white for harvest.”
After serving in the capitol city of Bujumbura two years, the Burundian Assemblies had a sort of revival of vision and decided to work towards planting forty new assemblies in Burundi in five years. My wife and I started praying and asking God what part he wanted us to play in this church planting vision. Pretty quickly we felt led by the Lord to move East across the country about one hundred and thirty miles to a rural town called Gisuru to partner with the eight young assemblies in the area in their church planting efforts. One reason we felt led to move to Gisuru is that the assemblies on the Western side of the country near the capitol city are quite mature and large compared to the ones on the Eastern side. We felt like the assemblies on the Eastern side needed a lot more help.
Moving to Gisuru was a step of faith as we purchased and moved to a 60-acre property that had nothing but trees and brush on it next to a town with no electricity, no bank, no regular gas station and no reliable water! But the Lord was faithful and enabled us to build housing, set up some solar systems, set up a water system, begin agricultural projects and begin serving in the local churches.
During the next five years, the Lord blessed the church planting efforts and thirty-six assemblies were planted in the country. Of those thirty-six, five were planted on the Eastern side of the country and we had the joy of being a part of those five church plants.
Although church planting is our main focus, when we moved to the town of Gisuru we quickly became aware of the fact that there was a large deaf population in our area. We started doing research and identified around fifty deaf children within a twenty-mile radius of our home! The more we found out about these children, the more we felt burdened to do something to help them! There were two main things that burdened our hearts. The first was that these children are the poorest of the poor. Burundi is one of the three poorest countries in the world and we live and work in the poorest area of the country and the deaf population are very isolated and sidelined by the community. This is because they have no language, there is no one teaching them sign language, they can’t communicate, can’t be communicated with, can’t go to school. In our area of this poor country very few people can feed their families sufficiently, and unfortunately if they have a deaf child, that child is usually the last to be cared for. One reason is because in this culture they believe in “external causality,” that is to say, “everything that happens to you is caused by an external force.” So, they associate a child being deaf with that child being “cursed” and therefore many times they don’t care well for that child. In light of this we realized these children really are the “least of these” of the world!
The second reason we felt so burdened to help these children is because they are an unreached people group. The deaf in our area of Burundi have no language through which they can communicate or be communicated to, therefore they have no way of hearing the Good News about Jesus Christ! According to the “Joshua Project” the deaf are one of the largest unreached people groups in the world. The International Mission Board estimates that only two percent of the estimated seventy million deaf worldwide know Christ! The fact that these children have no way of hearing the gospel was the main driving force that compelled us to do something! As we researched and thought and prayed, we felt like starting a work among the deaf in Eastern Burundi was one of the “works that God had prepared beforehand” for us to do!
Back in the 1980’s a man by the name of Dr. Andrew Foster (several of his children attended Emmaus) came and visited Burundi to start a work among the deaf population there. There he met my father Harry Johnson and together with the help of the Assemblies in Burundi started the first school for the deaf in the capitol city of Bujumbura. That school is still in operation and is serving deaf children from the Western side of Burundi with about one hundred and twenty boarding students. This school however, is a five-hour drive away from Gisuru and it is functioning at full capacity and has a long waiting list of students from the Western side of the country waiting for the opportunity to attend. This made it impractical for us to attempt to send the children we identified in the Eastern side of the country down to that school. In light of this, the Lord led us to open a branch of that school here in our town of Gisuru. The school in Bujumbura was able to begin training two teachers for us and help us with all the paperwork from the government to be able to get permission to open the school.
We praise the Lord that in October 2018 we opened the school with forty-seven children in attendance! This first year they are all in “Kindergarten” but we have permission from the government to go through 9th grade and so our plan is to expand by a grade every year.
The age range of the students is six to twenty years old! Having them all in the same grade presents a challenge and so we plan to split the school into two tracks. One track for the younger children who can continue through the regular school system and one for older children which will be a more intensive program to mainly help them get to the point of reading and writing well in three to four years after which they will be able to go home and move on with their lives. We also hope to be able to provide them with some technical training like carpentry, sewing and farming.
There are three Provinces (States) on the Eastern side of the country. In total the three provinces have eighteen Communes (Counties). The students we currently have are from three of the eighteen Communes. Every year we hope to research three new Communes in order to identify the deaf children there and accept them into the school. In preparation for the 2019-2020 school year we researched three new Communes and identified and registered thirty-three more deaf children. Please pray for us as we identify deaf children in the remaining twelve Communes in the next four years. Pray that the Lord would supply for us to be able to continue to accept these new students into the school.
The way we cover the running costs of the school is through a child sponsorship program which we have set up through an organization called Allow the Children which is based out of Virginia. We personally know the directors and they do a really good job and facilitate sponsorship in many countries around the world. If you are interested in sponsoring a deaf child to go to school you can use the following link for the Gisuru Deaf School.
If you would like to follow the progress of the school the best way is to like our Facebook page called “Gisuru School for the Deaf.” Please pray for us as we continue to expand the school year by year. There are huge challenges before us including building all the required buildings (dining hall, kitchen, staff housing, office, auditorium, classrooms, library etc.) and hiring the required staff every year. It can be overwhelming but we trust that the Lord will enable us step by step as we do the work that he has prepared for us to do!
Daniel and Anne Johnson attended Emmaus and graduated in 2010. In 2012 they were commended by Oak Lawn Bible Chapel near Chicago, Illinois as missionaries in Burundi, Africa, and have served there since. Dan and Anne have three children: Ruth, Lydia, and Elijah.