A Refugee Uses WhatsApp to Make Disciples on Social Media

One of the most important things we can do as Christians is encourage those around us. Lord knows people need it. Take a quick scan of the news or social media and you’ll see a constant deluge of negativity. In the face of a global pandemic, war, inflation, natural disasters, poverty, rampant sin, and climate fears, people are in need of some encouragement.

And our call to encourage others is a biblical one. “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up,” Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:11. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching,” he writes in Hebrews 10:24.

In a recent episode of Indigitous CoffeeTalks, we met with Kelly Londoni, Cru’s digital strategies leader for Africa, to talk about how he shares God’s encouragement on WhatsApp.

Kelly knows a bit about the need for encouragement. Though he grew up in a Christian family, he didn’t have a relationship with God. That changed in 1996 when civil war broke out in the Congo. Kelly fled the conflict by walking 350 miles to safety over the course of two weeks. Along the way, he saw the horrific human toll of the war. “I thought that any time, any minute I was going to die,” Kelly says. “During that walk I experienced God’s supernatural protection. In the middle of the shooting everywhere, I did not die. I saw all walks of life of people dying, but I was still alive.”

Once he reached a safer part of Congo, Kelly began asking why he had survived when so many people had not. In doing so, he heard a voice from God saying that He needed Kelly to serve Him. “I sensed a need to surrender my life to Christ,” Kelly says.

For years, Kelly lived in a refugee camp that didn’t have enough food. Out of desperation, he discovered what types of grass were edible. “I used to say, ‘Why, God? Why am I going through this experience?’” Kelly says. “Now I understand it. I understand that the experience was necessary for me to be who I am today.”

Through some soul searching, prayer, and conversations with mentors, Kelly came to realize how he was meant to serve the Lord. “God has called me to comfort the afflicted,” Kelly says.

Planting churches in Zimbabwe

Kelly became a church planter while living as a refugee in Zimbabwe. He enjoyed going to people’s homes, visiting poor villages, and explaining what God has done in his life and how there’s hope for everyone who follows Jesus. 

Along the way, Kelly realized that there are only so many people he can meet face to face to encourage, but with his phone, he can reach many more people. He started sending text messages to people to remind them that God loves them or share something from the Word. “The more I kept sharing, the more I would hear responses that were so overwhelming,” Kelly says. 

It was then that a friend encouraged Kelly to use WhatsApp to expand his reach and be able to share his story and share the Gospel with more people. WhatsApp is one of the most popular social media apps in Zimbabwe and throughout Africa.

Kelly started out by sending people daily devotionals through WhatsApp messages. He started with the people he was ministering to in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and then expanded that, eventually messaging people all over the continent. His devotionals were ways to offer encouragement and also share from the Bible. 

“The response has been so overwhelming. People share testimonies, saying, ‘This is what God has been doing. You don’t know, God spoke to me through this message,’” Kelly says. “It has all come from my story, how God brought passion in my heart to bring hope, to share the hope of Christ.”

Whenever Kelly planted a new church, he created a WhatsApp group for them. Some groups are used for training, some for discipleship, but Kelly takes time to share with each of them from his heart and from Scripture.

A WhatsApp message prevents suicide

One time Kelly shared a verse from Ecclesiastes 9:4 that means a lot to him: “Anyone who is among the living has hope.” Kelly shared his personal story about what he endured during the civil war and life in the refugee camp and then gave an exhortation. “Never think of committing suicide. As long as you are alive your life can change any time,” he wrote. 

At the same moment that Kelly sent the message, a young lady in Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe had decided to commit suicide after an argument with her mother. Inspired by Kelly’s message and believing that God was speaking to her through Kelly’s devotional, she called Kelly. “Pastor Kelly, you don’t know, but God has just used you,” she said between sobs. “I was about to take my life and your message just came.”

She shared her story and Kelly prayed with her. They still speak today as God continues to work in her life. “When I looked at that, I said, ‘Wow, how God has used that message to save somebody’s life,’” Kelly says.

Hope during the pandemic

When the COVID pandemic first hit and most of the world was on lockdown, people were in need of hope and encouragement. With campuses, churches, and workplaces closed, more people than ever were going online in search of hope. And traditional ways of reaching those people were impossible. Needing a new way to make an impact, leaders across various strategies and ministries within Cru worked with Kelly on the Hope 2020 campaign as a response to COVID.  The campaign shared the Gospel by focusing on Jesus as “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). 

As a result of the Hope 2020 campaign, sixty million people were exposed to the Gospel message and four million made a decision to follow Christ. “In a time when people thought that nothing would have happened, that was the time where God used that as an opportunity to bring many to come to know Him,” Kelly says.

Lives had been changed from the campaign. And people who had been skeptical about the power of digital strategies to make Jesus known took note. “God brought something good out of the COVID-19 situation,” Kelly says.

No matter how busy Kelly gets with other things going on in his life, such as his role leading Africa in digital strategies or a recent move to Orlando, Florida, he always takes time for his WhatsApp ministry. Kelly has around 2,000 contacts on ten lists that he communicates with through WhatsApp, using his story to bring hope to so many. It is his hope that, through his story, other people can find the hope that he has in Jesus.