It started with a desire to reach the nations in North America.

As many people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other areas of Africa resettled in High Point, N.C., Pastor Jean Munyambabazi and his wife Esther had a desire to see them reached for Christ. 

When Munyambabazi, a former minister in Africa, and Esther came to the U.S. in 2016, they began meeting many Swahili speakers in the area and realized that language was a primary barrier to getting involved in a church in the Triad. Seeing the need for healthy, Swahili-speaking churches for African refugees became Munyambabazi’s mission. 

“Pastor Jean leads the church to proactively engage the lost and the newly arrived immigrants,” said Russ Reaves, N.C. Baptist Great Commission catalyst. “They are also very sensitive to the needs of the Congolese and broader African community in the Triad and are quick to respond.” 

In 2019, nearly half of refugees resettled in the U.S. were from the Congo. Munyambabazi launched United Awakening Baptist Church in High Point on Sept. 12, 2017, primarily as a means of reaching Swahili-speakers like those from the Congo and other areas of Africa. 

Throughout the process, N.C. Baptists have partnered with Munyambabazi in this work to see more churches started in North Carolina, across the country and around the world. 

One of the biggest tests of faith for United Awakening came in 2018 when tragedy struck their church family. On May 12, one of the families in the church was involved in an apartment fire, which killed five of their children. The apartment complex was home to many recently resettled Congolese families. 

Through that hardship, Munyambabazi came alongside this hurting family and church congregation to provide comfort and gospel-centered hope.  

Since 2017, Munyambabazi has seen five churches planted in Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. This ministry has also extended into Africa, where more church plants connected to United Awakening have been actively ministering to their communities.

Through the ministries of United Awakening church plants across the world, 11,729 people have heard the gospel and 3,792 have received Christ in five years. In the U.S. alone, 781 people have received Christ and 110 have been baptized. 

God is at work through Munyambabazi and many other church planters across the world, but, as Munyambabazi has noted, the need for support is still great. Investing in the global work of United Awakening takes churches coming together to see the mission move forward among Swahili-speaking Africans, many of whom in the U.S. are refugees and immigrants.  

“We need partners in different ways so we can continue … expanding the kingdom of God worldwide,” said Munyambabazi.

N.C. Baptists have also played a large part in helping Munyambabazi understand the value of partnering with the larger N.C. Baptist family in his calling to lead United Awakening. He participated in an 11-month Send Network training and a mission strategy equipping cohort led by Reaves and Ralph Garay, international church planting strategist for N.C. Baptists, and Zac Lyons, a consultant for N.C. Baptists. 

Garay also connected Munyambabazi with Dillon Road Church in Jamestown, where he and his congregation were able to move from meeting in his apartment to sharing the church facility for worship services. 

In addition, Michael Barrett, Associational Mission Strategist for the Piedmont Baptist Association, explained that during the pandemic, the association assisted United Awakening and its church plants in Pennsylvania and Virginia by providing meals, meetings spaces and training in evangelism. 

“The church planting movement in North Carolina is built on the goal of pastors who seek to make disciples, engage missional leaders and send missionaries to reach the nations,” noted Garay. 

“Another way that God is using Pastor Jean is in helping his congregation see that they don’t exist for themselves,” said Garay. “They exist for other cities and other states.”

What United Awakening and Munyambabazi’s story exemplifies is that successful multiplication of churches doesn’t depend on large numbers. It doesn’t even depend on vast financial resources in place, nor does it have to take a long time. Reaves described church planting as a mindset, not a one-time initiative. 

“They planted early, simply and sustainably, with small numbers, and they did it repeatedly,” said Reaves. “Pastor Jean is a sweet-spirited brother in Christ who has led United Awakening to turn a mission field into a mission force.”

by Lauren Pratt, N.C. Baptist Contributing Writer