A Displaced Pastor Reaches the Displaced

01 May 2024

Surrounded by a group of about 80 people, including Muslims, Pastor Pierre Lassane uses a tattered flip chart to explain the gospel. Everyone in the group has taken refuge at this former primary school, now a camp for internally displaced people (IDP), after fleeing from Islamic terrorists who have attacked areas of Burkina Faso in recent years. The Muslims in the camp have suffered greatly at the hands of Islamists, followers of their religion, making them more open to Pierre’s hopeful message.

“Before the terrorists came, the Muslims didn’t want to listen to us,” Pierre said. “If they saw you, they didn’t want to talk to you.” Now when Pierre goes to the displaced, they are coming to listen and are placing their faith in Christ.

Seeing the Truth
Roughly 1.7 million people in Burkina Faso have been forced to flee from Islamist groups that have invaded the neighbouring countries of Mali and Niger since 2016. The militants often kill Muslims as well as Christians. Pierre was once a fervent Muslim himself. Then, in 1985, when he was 21 years old, his older brother became ill and doctors were unable to help him. Pierre and his brother eventually visited a pastor, and after the pastor prayed for his brother he recovered from his illness.

The pastor also shared Bible stories that shocked Pierre. “When the pastor was preaching and telling the story concerning Jesus, it wasn’t the same story we read in the Koran,” he said. The pastor’s teaching opened Pierre’s eyes to the truth of the gospel, and he placed his faith in Christ that day. When he started telling others about his Saviour, Jesus Christ, most of his family and the entire village rejected him. Pierre’s father evicted him and his wife from their shared home, forcing the couple to live on land that locals considered to be cursed by evil spirits.

“They were saying that we would not live for a week,” Pierre said. When he and his wife became ill shortly after moving onto the land, people in the community naturally believed it was a spiritual attack.

Pierre began to fast and pray, crying out to God to intervene. Just over two weeks later, he had a vision in which a deadly snake chased him until a bright light made it disappear. Then, a short time after Pierre had the vision, a tree that the community believed harboured evil spirits came crashing down in a storm. Pierre set it on fire the next day, and he and his wife soon recovered fully from their illness. Because they did not die, many people in the village began to listen as he shared the gospel.

In the years that followed, Pierre worked a variety of jobs in other parts of Burkina Faso as well as in neighbouring Cameroon, but he felt called to ministry work. In 2001, he attended Bible school and then returned to his home village as an ordained minister. Some in his village were willing to listen to the gospel, but his father, who practised a mix of Islam and tribal spiritism, still rejected it.

His father never came to faith in Christ, but Pierre persevered in his ministry work, eventually planting five churches in the area around his village in Burkina Faso. He served those churches faithfully for years until the day the terrorists attacked.

Islamist Attack
While Islamists have attacked Muslims and Christians indiscriminately in Burkina Faso, Christians have been a primary target of their campaign since April 2019. In May of that year, militants attacked a village 19 kilometres from Pierre’s home, killing a local pastor and four deacons. The militants often target church leaders in Burkina Faso because they hinder the establishment of an Islamic state.

Two days after that attack, about 40 armed men rode into Pierre’s village on motorcycles around 9pm and made it known they were looking for the village pastor. A friend immediately called Pierre to warn him. “He told me they want to kill me,” Pierre said.

Pierre’s wife, who was cooking, dropped everything and ran with him into the woods. From their hiding place, they watched as the armed men searched the village for them. “They didn’t find us in our house,” Pierre said. “They went to our neighbours, and they killed two men.”

Pierre and his wife eventually located their eight children, some of whom had been tending to their animals in the fields. The family then fled on foot, walking 40 kilometres to reach safety.

The Islamists attacked dozens of villages in 2019, forcing about 60,000 people in the region to flee their homes and seek shelter farther south, near Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou. Entire church congregations fled on foot, leaving behind all of their crops and livestock, their main sources of income. “We couldn’t bring food and clothes, nothing,” Pierre recalled, adding that he and his wife didn’t sleep well for months afterwards.

A Way to Continue
Local churches were overwhelmed by the needs of their displaced brothers and sisters in Christ. They determined that one of the best ways to help the displaced pastors and their congregations was to teach them how to start small, self-sustaining businesses that didn’t require a plot of land.

With VOM’s help, Burkinabe church leaders created a programme to train more than 140 displaced pastors, including Pierre, to raise poultry. The pastors attended a three-day course in which a Christian lecturer from a local agricultural college taught them how to raise chickens. Afterwards, all of the pastors received some chicks to get them started in the business. Some of the pastors say poultry farming has kept them alive since they no longer have fields to cultivate, and it also provides an income to support their ministry work. After months of living as refugees, Pierre and his family eventually found a small house to rent about 100 kilometres north of Ouagadougou; they shared their home with 20 other displaced people.

Pierre uses some of the money he earns from poultry farming to purchase fuel that enables him to reach more people with the gospel. Using an audio Bible he received from VOM, he preaches and teaches among the refugees in his city. “The people don’t have anything to do,” he said, “so they want to listen to the Bible. Many are giving their lives to Christ.”

Even in the relative safety of his new location, however, Pierre still occasionally encounters Islamic militants. “Three days ago, we went to a village to evangelise,” he said. “When I was coming back the terrorists and the military were shooting. I entered where they were shooting. There was fighting and I didn’t know what to do.”

While they were caught in the crossfire, a military plane bombed the militants, enabling Pierre to escape. He said close calls like that will not keep him from doing the work of an evangelist, a role he believes God has confirmed for his life.

Before being forced to flee from his home in May 2019, Pierre had a dream about Stephen, the first martyr. In the dream, he said the Lord told him that while he will have difficulties, he will not die. The dream, he said, ended with a command: “I want you to continue your ministry.”

So with his tattered flip chart in hand, Pierre carries on, committed to doing all he can to help displaced people in Burkina Faso find eternal hope in Christ.

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