This is a talk which I gave at Calvary Mennonite Church during worship on Sunday, December 30, 2018.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24: 14
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robesand were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Why should we care about a poor and small country like Burkina Faso? What does such a poor, isolated country, that touches the desert, that has neither coast nor wealth apart from its people matter? Let me tell you a story that shows us what we have in common with the people of this faraway Country:
I have a friend from Burkina Faso who was born in the northwestern part of the country, very close to the desert. At the age of 8 or 9, my friend came to understand that “life comes from the south.” That is to say that the clouds that carry rain come over the horizon from the other side of the hills and mountains to the south. The life of all beings in his world depends on the rain that falls only 10 or 12 times each year for only two or three months. That’s only enough rain to grow a little millet and sorghum during the year. During the long dry season, they do some gardening with water from the wells, if the water holds out.
My friend didn’t know that the clouds were coming out of the ocean way far to the south. He even didn’t know what the ocean was. He simply wondered, what is on the other side of the horizon and the hills that produces the clouds that mean life? A huge cauldron with boiling water, with steam rising?
So, very early one morning, my friend left his house and his little village and began climbing the hills to the south. When he arrived at the top of a very high hill, he looked to the south, to see what generates the life-carrying clouds. From the summit my friend saw…. more clouds, coming over other horizons of hills and mountains further to the south. From that moment, my friend came to understand how great is the world of God, and how mysterious and great is the source of all life. And he began to understand the saying, “Beyond the mountains are more mountains.” That saying explains a lot of things in life.
One reason Burkina Faso matters is that the country and its people matter so much to God. The citizens of Burkina Faso are human beings who carry the image of God Just like Us. As the preacher says in Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, “God has put eternity in the hearts of human beings.” We all then have an insatiable yearning to find the reason and the source of our existence. If we do not find it in our Creator, we will look for it in bottles of alcohol, or in pleasures, possessions, power or other persons. God is calling each person to come look for him, while God is looking for us in the person of Jesus Christ. Our brothers and sisters in Burkina Faso are all blessed, loved and called by God, without distinction, just like us. God has put eternity into their hearts, too.
Another reason that the country and its people matter so much is that the ancestors of many people in our hemisphere came from that part of West Africa, as slaves, so long ago. From there came the ancestors of many of our African-American neighbors. It may be that some of us Here Have ancestors from that region of Africa. While living there, I came to understand just how much their peoples have affected the cultures, the food, and many other things in our hemisphere.
Another reason that the church of Burkina Faso matters so much is that the existence of this Church tells us that God’s plan for The renewal of The whole creation is still developing according to God’s plan, promises and purposes. Jesus said, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, that “… The good news about the kingdom will be preached all over the world, so that all nations will hear it; And then the end will come. ” The nations of which Jesus speaks include the nations that are in Burkina Faso. There are around seventy nations, or tribes, with their Own Languages, traditions and Identities in the country of Burkina Faso. Today, the Gospel and the church are taking root In those tribes, according to God’s plan. That’s All that I know with certainty about God’s program for the return of Jesus: that the more there are believers and churches in the millions of tribes and ethnicities in the world, the more we approach the return of Jesus. God knows when that plan is fulfilled.
There is one more reason to heed our brothers in Burkina Faso: the Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso gives us a good example of how God’s mission Can Develop. What started as a mission field for foreigners from North America and France has rapidly become an independent and indigenous church. It is already Our partner in the Mennonite World Conference, equally as capable and responsible as the other churches. That happened surprisingly quickly. In less than thirty years it has become a growing denomination planting its own new churches, and raising its own new leaders, pastors, missionaries, linguists and translators of the Bible in their own languages, or in the languages of the Neighboring tribes. It is also progressing in economic development, in order to subsidize its own churches and projects. And doing all this while facing poverty and persecution, and all the foibles and frailties of our shared human nature.
In that poor and small country we see the first fruits of what John saw in his Apocalypse, Chapter 7: “…I saw a huge crowd of all people and every nation, tribe and tongue, which was so numerous that no one could number it. They were standing before the throne and in front of the lamb…. ” A Mennonite missionary there told me that she could withstand the relentless heat, the dust, the tropical diseases, and the difficulty of the language she was trying to learn, Only with the courage that This vision of John gave her: that there would be worshipers of the lamb around his throne from the tribe with which she lived. Currently, there is A new church of That very Same Tribe.
There is no secret to this amazing development: it is the power of God. It is also about the faith and the prayer of the saints there. And your prayers and support here. There’s also another thing that’s shown in another story I shall tell. When I was living in Minnesota, I befriended a French teacher from the country of Mali, which is Next door to Burkina Faso. He told Me that, when he went to visit friends in France, he met a man from Burkina Faso. He told his new friend, “I know a missionary who lived in Burkina Faso, in the city of Orodara.”
His Burkinabe friend replied: “I am from Orodara.”
“He was a Mennonite missionary,” my Malian friend said.
“I remember the Mennonite missionaries,” said the guy from Burkina Faso. “We called them ‘the poor missionaries, ‘ because they live fairly close to our standard of living, in our neighborhoods, in our kinds of homes, they wear our clothes, they eat our food, and they learn our Languages and Customs. Most other missionaries, by contrast, live apart from us, at a much higher level economically, in houses or places very separate and different from our own.”
One reason then for the growth of the church and its power in Burkina Faso is the respect and love that the missionaries have shown for the people there, and for Their languages and their cultures. That’s how people remembered and treasured Ron and Gloria Camp of this congregation, whenever I brought words of greetings from them.
So when our brothers and sisters there invited us to celebrate 40 years of the life, mission and worship of the Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso, I knew that I had to go. Unfortunately, my wife, Becky, could not go, because of her new job. But, our friends in Burkina Faso are still deeply rooted in her heart, too. When Don and Kelly Yoder also accepted the invitation, even if this would be their first trip in Africa I had confidence that they would bear well the challenges of that trip. After all, they had done so well when we went together to the Mexican and American border last year with the Mennonite Central Committee. Everyone understands the language of love, of smiles, of open and friendly hearts. Of, those Don and Kelly are quite fluent, and have plenty in abundance.
To better understand what we experienced, I would like to show you some slides:
- First, the map of the continent of Africa; To the northwest corner you see the country of Burkina Faso.
- Here we see the map of the country of Burkina Faso, roughly equal in size to our state of Colorado. We arrived on Saturday, the 17th November in the center of the country by plane, in the capital city of Ouagadougou. After spending two nights in that city, we went to the southwest, and spent a day in the second largest city of Burkina Faso, Bobo-Dioulasso.
- Here you can see a very important and historic place in Bobo-Dioulasso, the Great Mosque, in the traditional style of this region, built of mud bricks. Many people in Burkina Faso are Muslim, although their variety of Islam is often mixed with traditional African magic and spiritism.
- It is currently the dry season, and here you see a road in the normal condition of many routes and tracks. Even if the condition looks really bad, be glad it’s not the rainy season.
- No matter the season, nor the condition, You’ll meet a lot of hardworking people on the roads, going to their fields or to the markets, or to their homes after having worked in their fields, as in the case of this woman, bringing firewood home.
- One never knows who is going to be on the roads, like these cows with their cowherd, crossing this river.
- Careful! Don’t get too close and set them off, or they’ll scratch your car with their horns! Try explaining that to your insurance company.
- There is a lot of work to be done during the dry season, which cannot be done during the rainy season, including making mud bricks. They have to dry out in the sun for a few days.
- The harvest of cereals, root crops, rice, and vine crops is done when the dry season begins, like the sorghum seen here, drying under the sun on that platform.
- After drying, the cereals are stored in granaries like these, made of clay bricks and topped with thatch roofs.
- The 40th anniversary celebration took place in the city of Orodara, in the southwestern corner of Burkina Faso, not far from the border of Mali and the Ivory Coast. Here lived my wife, Becky, and I, many years ago. Here also lived Ron and Gloria Camp in the same house we lived in. The second day of the 40th anniversary celebration in Orodara began with a parade in the center of the city, with many representatives from every Mennonite church in the country. When we left the country 30 years ago, there were 4 congregations. Today there are 25 congregations.
- Here we see the first sanctuary of the Church of Orodara in which Ron and Gloria and we worshiped. It is currently used as a warehouse for……
- …. This new sanctuary, 4 times bigger than the old one. It was necessary not only for this celebration, but because of the growth of the Church of Burkina Faso.
- With the participants of the parade we entered the interior of the new sanctuary.
- We do not enter just to sit, but also to celebrate, sing and dance. Hopefully we worship God from our hearts. But the African wants to worship God from the soles of the feet, upward. They take the words of the Psalm seriously: “Let all that is within me bless the Lord.”
- Since long journeys are difficult, dangerous and tiring, African hosts recognize and honor the effort and sacrifices of their guests. Here the Orodara Church Women’s Choir welcomes travelers and guests and honors them by means of a song in Jula, which says, “Thank you, you have done so much to come here; may God reward you.”
- The earliest and longest-serving missionaries were honored at the 40th anniversary celebration. But not all of them were from North America nor France. Here we see the church leaders, Pastor Abdias Coulibaly, and Pastor Siaka Traore, being honored. Siaka has served with Mennonite Central Committee, as the global executive director of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, and is currently on the Deacons’ Commission of the Mennonite World Conference. Together, he and Abdias have about 60 years of serving the Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso.
- You may have noticed that this is a bit different from the usual reports and sermons about the church and mission work overseas. Usually such messages are by the mission workers and about what the mission workers are doing. And such reports are important and valuable to hear. We must ever honor the faith and the faithfulness of those who leave the comfortable and familiar settings for the sake of Christ and the gospel.
But the testimony of the Mennonite Church in Burkina Faso is not only about how the gospel of the kingdom is being preached as a witness to all the nations, but also about how the gospel of the kingdom is being preached as a witness by all the nations, to other nations. That is the work of God, who does not play favorites with any culture, color or continent. Jesus fits very well in beautiful African clothes, and speaks eloquently in any language, especially the language in which our mothers sang us to sleep as infants. I can’t express my gratitude about this any better than does Ababata Traore, as she leads the women’s choir of Samogohiri. In Jula, they are singing, “We must praise God…Great power is in Jesus.”
TO ALL THE NATIONS/THROUGH ALL THE NATIONS