Onesphore Manirakiza was born in the first week of the 1972 genocide. As his village was torched, the whole family fled. His Mother was still bleeding from giving birth, and she thought Onesphore was dead. She shouted to her husband that she was going to throw him in the bush, as carrying him was slowing the rest of them down and risking all of them being killed. But his Father said: “No, keep running! We’ll always regret it if we threw him away not knowing 100% for sure that he was dead!” When Onesphore was told about it years later, he says he knew he had been saved for a purpose.
The family were nominally religious and as a child Onesphore remembers being aware of spirits and death which left him very fearful. He also recalls, “Unfortunately, those who knew the Good News were from the other ethnic group and could not connect easily with mine.” This led to him not fully understanding the challenge and comfort that the gospel presented until a few years later.
Things changed when the church leaders decided to pray for the local families, that their spiritual eyes would be opened. They set up overnight prayer meetings and God answered their requests. Three years later there was revival!
It was at this time that the 15-year-old Onesphore was touched by the Holy Spirit and he gave his life to Jesus along with his siblings. After initial reticence and opposition, Onesphore’s parents also became Christians. Onesphore remembers the deep impact of these teenage years and says, “I kept that fire for prayer and fasting”.
By the age of twenty, Onesphore was convinced regarding God’s calling upon his life and he preached everywhere he could. During National Service, he heard the voice of God and felt led to start a movement for revival. He started the organisation, ‘Harvest for Christ’, now ‘Harvest Initiatives’ (HI).
After initial opposition to their preaching and even facing arrest, Onesphore realised that a holistic approach would be needed to engage with hard to reach communities. As well as sharing the good news of Jesus, Harvest offered practical help. This gained the trust of the Batwa (pygmy) community. The team met with members of the Batwa ethnic group to understand what they needed in practical terms. It was clear that the number one priority was housing, followed by food and medicine. Once these needs started to be met the community asked them, “Show us how we can have your peace, love, passion and joy?” Currently, HI serves 650 families in 5 areas and there are Batwa-led churches in three of the areas where HI works.
Onesphore pioneered a summer outreach campaign which has continued to yield extraordinary fruit. Over the last 15 years (apart from 2020 because of Covid), teams averaging 700 young people have gone out across Burundi to preach and serve and pray for the sick. They have witnessed apostolic miracles, with demons being cast out, witchdoctors burning their charms and repenting, cripples being healed, and more. We reckon that 170,000 people have come to Christ over those 15 years, it has been truly remarkable.
Onesphore handed over the leadership of HI in 2015, and he has more recently co-founded Antioch Africa, which is one of GLO’s partners (you can read elsewhere about the vision). He has a pivotal role in strengthening the theological rigour and practical effectiveness of a new movement of churches in the nation.
Onesphore currently represents Great Lakes Outreach in Burundi. He has authored several books and is married to Dr Innocente, they have four children.