Let Me Introduce You to Theo: Culture of Prayer [Part 10]

[fa icon="calendar"] February 10, 2020 / by Ray Van Gilst

Globe with Africa

Theo Burakeye is one of my heroes. He is a church planter who lives in South Africa, and one of the most extraordinary leaders I have ever met. When I was introduced to him, I was told that in the past fifteen years Theo and his colleagues have planted more than 79,000 churches in thirty-two different African nations.

Those statistics initially sounded incomprehensible; I wondered if they were exaggerated. When I spoke with one of Theo’s confidants and advisors, his friend completely confirmed the accuracy of these numbers. Theo is an African who is effectively reaching Africans with the good news of Jesus.

Theo was introduced to the upper room five years ago at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya. He was immediately struck by the dynamic and strategic nature of the upper room, and he instantly caught the vision of moving from the upper room to the nations. I was apprehensive to train him at first because I didn’t want to mess with a good thing. Theo was a thoroughbred church planter who was already so fruitful and successful that I thought,

What do I have to add? He is obviously doing something right as he trains indigenous leaders to reach their own people. I certainly don’t want to distract him from his primary calling.

When I voiced my apprehension to Theo, he set me straight: 

“But, Pastor Fred,” he explained, “I teach your curriculum all over Africa. Ever since you taught me about encountering God’s manifest presence and how to train pastors to build upper rooms and praying churches, my churches are much more healthy, more supernatural, and more prolific. From now on, I’m going to be planting upper-room churches because they are the churches that reach the final unreached people on earth. I’m going to do it whether you help me or not, but I know I would do it more effectively with your help. Please do not deny me this privilege.”


The last time I was with Theo in Africa, we served pastors in Malawi, one of the poorest countries on earth. The pastors we trained had influence over eighty percent of the churches in their country. We taught these pastor-leaders for three days, encountered Christ together, and equipped them with many of the principles contained in this book.

Just to illustrate how desperate these dear people were for God, I was introduced to one young, handsome African pastor who radiated the joy of the Lord in his countenance. I was told that he had walked three days in order to come to the training because he didn’t have the money for a three-dollar bus ticket. I was overwhelmed with affection for this pastor and with appreciation for his hunger for Christ.

That evening as we closed the service, I looked at the room full of high-impact leaders, and with tears in my eyes and deep respect in my heart for every one of them, I said,

“Brothers, by human standards you do not own much, but I want you to know that you are some of the wealthiest people on earth. God has invested in you the greatest deposit of riches you could ever imagine—He has entrusted to you the revelation of Christ His Son, and invested in you the riches of the knowledge of the glory of God. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are poor—you are rich!”

My voice cracked as I fought through the emotion.

On the final day we stood and locked arms together as we sang one of my favorite African revival songs that I have sung in dozens of African countries.

If you believe and I believe

 and we together pray,

The Holy Spirit will come down

and Africa will be saved.

And Africa will be saved. (3x)

The Holy Spirit will come down

and Africa will be saved.

(This is a popular African song. Despite multiple attempts with highly educated African pastors and worship leaders, the author remains unknown).

That night, following prayer and worship, seven workers at the retreat center gave their lives to Christ, including two night watchmen, several cooks, and the supervisor. When we asked them why they wanted to come to Christ, they explained:

“We have worked here for many years—some of us since we were children—but we have never felt the presence of Christ and His love for us like we have this week. We want what you have.”

It was the tangible presence of Christ that led them to Christ.        


Parts of this article have been developed with permission using material from Author and Rev. Fred Hartley, International College of Prayer.

Read more from our Culture of Prayer Series:

Harvesting: Culture of Prayer [Part 9]

Five Upper Room Elements: Culture of Prayer [Part 11]


Topics: Culture of Prayer