WRITTEN BY MIKE JANZ
Food for the Hungry (FH) has been walking alongside Philippe and the community of Ngoma for six years. This preacher has now become a pastor-farmer, helping to bring the light of the whole gospel, all the good news of heaven and earth, sunlight and soil, to his community.
When Pastor Philippe was asked about his life and work prior to the community of Ngoma partnering with FH, he responded, “Before FH, I was a preacher only…”
And now? Well, Philippe is no longer “only” a preacher. He is a pastor in the fullest sense of the word. A good pastor, just like a good farmer, pays attention to the particulars of one place and recognizes that, like soil, it takes time for Christians to develop. Pastor Philippe is now a community leader with an ear to the ground and eyes wide open, listening and looking for the strengths and needs of his neighbours.
Many mouths to feed!
With ten people living under the tin roof of their mud brick house, Philippe and his wife Emelencienne have many mouths and hearts to feed. Pastor-farmer Philippe daily draws on the combined gifts and skills of one who cares for both people and the land. For many years the Nyabendas have been working their 200m by 400m parcel of farmland to feed their family—their own five children, a niece, and two nephews. They have been blessed with a significant plot of land to farm, yet Philippe and Emelencienne struggled in the past to make ends meet.
Before being involved with FH programs Philippe was a traditional farmer producing cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, bananas, and agroforest trees. He also sold small amounts of rice, beans, cassava, and taro root that he would purchase in a larger town and re-sell in his small village.
But there was a problem. Philippe couldn't sell the produce he grew himself because the harvests were too small—not even enough to feed his own family! However, through training provided by FH his land has become more than a source of sustenance and income for the Nyabenda family. It is now an example to the community of the fruitfulness of sustainable farming techniques.
When FH first partnered with Ngoma and the Kabarore region of Burundi to train church leaders in 2015, Philippe was eager to learn more about church development. These lessons focused on something the incarnation of Jesus reveals–that the spiritual and the physical are intertwined. Philippe began preaching that the good news of Jesus is liveable and can make a difference in all areas of our lives, here and now. FH staff quickly observed that Pastor Nyabenda was a natural leader who courageously implemented FH community training. His natural capabilities and respect from the community led to him being chosen as a model farmer.
Model farmers in Burundi are taught sustainable agricultural techniques like producing and applying manure from heat composting, green manure, biopesticides, and push-pull technology. Philippe was quickly seen as a farming pioneer in the community, successfully applying the techniques taught by FH staff. A true pastor-farmer, Philippe now refers to those with whom he shares agroecology practices as his “disciples.” This past year, ten of his farming disciples installed crops utilizing this focus on new agricultural practices.
The Light of Positive Change
When asked about what changes he has seen in his community, Philippe responded, “Before being involved with FH, my community was in a darkness.” There was poor hygiene due to lack of understanding about latrines, random and ineffective agricultural practices, and a diet low in nutrition due to a lack of kitchen gardens that produce vegetables and fruit.
So what has changed? Philippe shares, “Now, many people sow select seeds and fertilize with manure from heat compost. They apply Farming God’s Way (restorative farming practices). Now we have even a seed multiplier in our community, trained by FH on improved seed production, who sells seeds to community members.”
Pastor Philippe asks for prayers for his community, as some resistance to these new ways remains. However, hygiene has improved, kitchen gardens are being planted, and mosquito nets are being used. Many families have also joined Savings and Loans groups and are implementing small projects from loans received from these groups. “My community is adopting positive change thanks to FH guidance.”
Pastor Philippe’s role in the community has changed dramatically as well. Philippe says, “Today, with knowledge acquired from FH, my involvement in the community is great. I am enabled by FH training to be recognized by the community in agriculture and breeding, in church development, in health and nutrition, even in education because I continue to encourage families to prioritize education of their children.” He has also recently been passing on proper COVID-19 precautions to his community and other church leaders, as taught by FH staff. “I feel proud of sensitizing people on COVID-19, showing what to do and what to avoid, and how to wash hands properly.”
One other big difference? Now, when their pastor-farmer does preach and teach, the improved health and nutrition in the community motivates church members to pay attention!
These days, because of training from FH, Pastor Philippe is confident in his role as a pastor and model farmer. He is passionate about continuing to see spiritual growth and improvements in the living conditions of his family, neighbours, and church members. Let’s pray for Ngoma, Burundi and Philippe Nyabenda’s family as they move from stuck to thriving, growing deep roots both spiritually and in their fields!