Burnt Hickory Baptist Church opens Kenya Ministry Center to offer the hope of Christ in one of the poorest places on earth


POWDER SPRINGS, Ga. — Peter Abungu and his ministry helpers in Nairobi, Kenya, have seen nearly 20,000 people surrender their lives to Christ in the past 10 years.

That’s an average of 2,000 people a year, and the number is growing daily.

That level of effectiveness convinced Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Powder Springs to help Abungu and the Swahiba Networks he founded to spread the gospel in one of the poorest places on earth.

“It is amazing to see what’s happening there,” said Matt Petty, senior pastor at Burnt Hickory, a metro Atlanta megachurch. “In 2012, we took 100 high school students, plus the adults with them, and served two weeks in Nairobi. We saw over 1,000 people come to Jesus. From that point on, we have had an established relationship with Peter that I truly believe will be a lifelong relationship.”

As part of that relationship, Burnt Hickory decided to build the Kenya Ministry Center, which allowed Abungu to move his outreach out of the humble two-bedroom apartment where it had been based.

When Petty arrives in Nairobi next week with a Georgia group to train pastors and help build a home for a widow, they will walk into the newly opened four-story, $800,000 ministry center paid for by Burnt Hickory and dedicated to reaching the millions of marginalized, underprivileged, and destitute people living in Nairobi slums.

“My heart is to see our people involved in reaching our community as well as our state, nation and world with the gospel,” said Petty, who said he felt “a heart connection” after his first meeting with Abungu.

That connection led to Petty and his congregation to establish a partnership with Abungu, who, with his Kenya team, provides weekly training for more than 100 pastors, shares the gospel with residents of the Nairobi slums, and helps meet the physical needs of residents, including children who are living in dire circumstances.

Abungu said he is trying to offer hope to people living “very challenging” existences in crowded communities of huts that have no electricity, tap water, nor toilets.

“Out of those challenges there is hope,” Abungu said. “We want to radically transform the lives and the minds of these young people we interact with to give them a hope that things can be better.”

Such crucial ministry resonated with the folks at Burnt Hickory.

“God just really put on our hearts that to whom much is given much is expected,” Petty said. “So, we built the 30,000-square-foot ministry center that has the capability of feeding people, of being the hub for community ministry, of housing a solid Bible-believing church that I think will literally transform the area, and of housing mission teams. It has dorm-style and hotel-style living arrangements. It has a reception area, a staff area, restrooms with showers, breakout rooms, multi-media rooms where we can do pastor training, and an incredibly well-equipped kitchen to help feed kids.”

Buck Burch, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s missions catalyst, said Burnt Hickory's heart for missions has always been obvious.

“Last year I had the joy of hearing the missions heartbeat of current pastor Matt Petty and missions pastor Brian Foster as they promoted a wide range of local, national, and international missions opportunities for their people,” Burch said. “This level of mission work, although remarkable, is not surprising when you discover that missions is an integral part of the DNA of the church.”

Burnt Hickory’s congregation is especially enthusiastic about shining the light of the gospel in the slums of Kenya.

“Many lives have been touched, changed and saved through our efforts,” the church says on its website.

The church’s mission initiatives aren’t limited to Kenya. The congregation also sends mission teams to Guatemala each year, and supports state, national and global missions through Cooperative Program giving that totaled more than $437,000 last year alone. That doesn’t count the church’s giving through special offerings to support the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. And it doesn’t count spending on the Kenya Ministry Center and other direct support of missions.

“Our heartbeat is just to be obedient followers of Jesus,” Petty said. “That means crawling up into the arms of the Father and seeing just what he wants us to be, and where he wants to go, and how he wants us to live. This is who we are. And we’re just getting started.”