Equipping Swahili Pastors with Fire
In a united effort, several Assemblies of God ministries joined together to bring a much needed resource to a group of pastors when they needed it most.After living 16 years as a refugee in Rwanda and Uganda, in 2011 church-planter Amon Kajabika resettled in Ohio. He knew the struggles of learning a new way of life and ministry in a foreign country using a language to which he wasn’t accustomed.
To help other Swahili-speaking ministers across the United States in the same boat, Congolese native Kajabika, 60, pastor of Rehoboth International Church in Dayton, Ohio, aimed to form a new Assemblies of God Ethnic Language Fellowship with other resettled Assemblies of God pastors like him and find ways to address daily challenges exacerbated by lack of English proficiency: filling out government documents, navigating car and health insurance, and registering children for school.
They also needed guidance on church matters such as getting credentialed; the system is in English. Plus, their only Bibles are well-worn copies they brought from their homelands. Having good study Bibles in Swahili would greatly enhance their ministries.
All the pastors were refugees, some of whom had lived all their lives in refugee camps. They deluged him with questions both spiritual and social.
“I have been trying to assist them with their needs,” Kajabika says, “but I don’t have the ability to help them all.”
So, Kajabika called the office of Assemblies of God Executive Secretary Donna Barrett who holds a burden for language fellowships and wants to provide resources for their ministry.
According to the AG Office of Ethnic Relations, currently 43 percent of the US Assemblies of God adherents are from ethnic minority people groups. In 2021, 32 percent of AG credentialed ministers were ethnic minorities, a record high.
In time, Kajabika learned about the FireBible, the one-book library containing the Word plus Pentecostal commentary, notes and articles. It’s designed by Assemblies of God Life Publishers to deepen understanding of the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture , especially for those who lack a Bible school education. It’s readily available in English via the online FireBible store, plus 64 other languages with some 19 more in the works.
While the FireBible has a Swahili translation, the copies are shipped directly to East Africa where Swahili is the official language in Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda. That’s why copies are not yet available in the United States via the ministry website, FireBible spokesperson Mindy Benintendi says.
“This Bible is a very, very crucial tool for Swahili-speaking pastors,” says Alexis Muhumure, 29, assistant pastor of English services at Rehoboth.
He is also administrator of the School of Ministry for Swahili-speakers in the AG Ohio Ministry Network and son of Kajabika.
Barrett pulled together a team from Ethnic Relations, Assemblies of God US Missions, AG World Missions, and the Ohio district, setting into motion a collaborative effort aimed at making Kajabika’s vision of providing resources for Swahili pastors a reality. She convened a Zoom call composed of representatives from each office, including AGUSM intercultural missionary Julie Kraus, who with her late husband, Paul, served 20 years with AGWM in West Africa, mostly in French-speaking Côte d’Ivoire. The couple later ministered to unreached people groups and other internationals in New York City.
In New York City “We have many unreached people groups represented in places where we can share the gospel freely,” Kraus notes.
A large part of her ministry has been helping and encouraging pastors, such as her longtime ministry colleague Kajabika. She notes that the focus of the AG General Secretary’s online meeting regarding Swahili pastors had one purpose: “What can we do to help you, Pastor Amon?”
The AG representatives’ vision for pastor resources expanded to include the remarkable study edition of God’s Word that focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit: the FireBible. What if pastors could each have a copy? That seemed to be an impossible dream as all available copies were in East Africa.
But in God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). More than two dozen US Swahiliphone pastors would gather at the Ohio conference in July. What if these pastors could return to their home congregations and ministry with a FireBible?
The Ohio Ministry Network and Light for the Lost, which provides Bibles and evangelistic resources for missionaries and missionary partners, took on that task. Life Publishers, which produces the FireBible, shipped the Swahili Bibles from Africa.
But would the FireBibles reach the conference in time?
Meanwhile, Kraus says, the executive secretary and her office addressed some other pressing issues for AG Ethnic Fellowships.
“From there, [Barrett] focused on AG ministries like Global University and Life Publishers to more effectively resource ministers who speak other languages through the credentialing process... trying to make those available in every [AG Ethnic Fellowship] language” nationwide, Kraus says.
Two days before the conference, a big box of 30 beautiful black leather Swahili FireBibles arrived at Kraus’ home. She brought them to the conference.
Ohio Superintendent John Wootton was the kick-off speaker. AG Ethnic Relations Director Dennis Rivera preached on Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia and spent two hours explaining the process for forming a fellowship and answering questions. Edgar Reed and Charles and Marilyn Mattix, AGWM missionaries from Life Publishers, were on hand at the event to encourage pastors.
Jeff Dove, director of Life Publishers, has committed to provide districts with FireBibles in the heart languages of all second-language pastors getting ordained as well as FireBibles for their congregations, Kraus notes.
AG affiliation wasn’t required for Swahili-speaking pastors to attend, but several who weren’t, expressed appreciation for the efforts the Assemblies of God had made to equip the pastors with the FireBibles, the Swahili School of Ministry, and other resources.
Kraus recollected that one pastor told the group, “I came here not knowing about the Assemblies of God, but now I want to be part of the Assemblies of God Swahili Fellowship.” Others said the same.
“Ethnic fellowships are gifts to the churches,” Kraus notes. “They’re keys to helping the church share the gospel to underreached and underserved people groups.”
Jonas Ruganirwa, a Swahili-speaking pastor who lives in Tennessee, told the gathering, “I thank God that we have a place we belong.”