From the official report issued in Orodara, Burkina Faso, in November, 2019, for the 40th anniversary celebration of the Mennonite Church and of Mennonite mission work. Translated from the French by Pastor Mathew Swora
The General Context
The Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso is the result of mission work coming from the West and of brothers and sisters from Burkina Faso, who responded to the Great Commission of Christ to go everywhere in the world to preach the good news. Today, the EEMBF is an institutional and spiritual reality in the family of evangelical churches of Burkina Faso. There are more than 20 local churches and cell groups scattered across the national territory, especially in the provinces of Kenedougou, Houet and of Kadiogo. It is a church essentially composed of young people who reassure us about the future, but who also present us with challenges regarding sound doctrine according to 2 Timothy 2: 1-2. Nonetheless, the workers and the sowers are experiencing the wear and tear of age, and fatigue starts to be felt. But the harvest is ready, the time to gather has arrived after so many years of hard labor. Thus, it is time to cast a retrospective glance on the work accomplished and to envision the future in order to enable the dynamism of the new generation. That’s the sense which we wish to give to this celebration of the 40th anniversary of Mennonite mission work in Burkina Faso. In effect, as the Bible says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, of those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).”
In the years 1970-75, Burkina Faso underwent a period of drought which was very trying for people and livestock. In this difficult context the Mennonite Central Committee was approached to bring humanitarian aid to Burkina Faso, which already had ministry work in the country. In responding to these humanitarian needs, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM), which already had ministry work in Africa, contacted the Federation of Evangelical Churches and Missions of Burkina Faso (FEME) about starting a ministry of evangelization. Following the invitation of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, two missionary families arrived in 1978 in Kenedougou to begin the work of starting Mennonite churches. Thus, after four decades, from a humanitarian situation were born Mennonite works that were as much social as spiritual, which are of blessing for many today.
Planting the Church in Orodara
A celebration is a moment of communion, of reflection and of rejoicing in relation to a major event of historic importance for a person or a community. In deciding to celebrate the 40th anniversary of missionary work and the birth of the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso in November 2018, the EEMBF wishes to consecrate a time to stop and take a retrospective look, to consider the present, and to envision the future. That’s why the theme chosen for this celebration is: “40 years of mission work in Burkina Faso: results, challenges and perspectives.”
In effect, does not the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ does say to go and make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? That is the foundation of evangelism and the planting of every church community. It is in response to this Great Commission that men and women have invested themselves for 40 years to bring the message of Christ to the people of the province of Kenedougou, where Orodara is the capital of the province.
Also, MCC chose to invest itself in water resources and the promotion of new cultural techniques under the authority of FEME. While giving such important aid, MCC identified great spiritual need in accord with the crucial words of the Master: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4).”
Thus did the Entz family arrive in August of 1978, and the Rempel family arrived in December 1978; another missionary team composed of Anne Garber and Gail Wiebe came from Canada to settle in Kotoura, a village situated at 50 kilometers from Orodara.
That is the beginning of a long march toward the accomplishment of the Great Commission. In this matter, the pastor Eric Kumedisa, from the Mennonite Church of the former Zaire, noted: “The first missionaries of AIMM arrived in 1978 and the church was planted in 1983” (from A Worldwide History of Mennonites, 1st volume, Africa, page 322).”
Finally we mention a remarkable fact: the installation of a Mennonite bookstore, named, “The Dove,” of which the founder is none other than Siaka Traore, with the support and encouragement of Mr. Jim Bertsche, executive secretary at the time of AIMM, which was the catalyst and the occasion for the arrival of other brothers, such as Paul Ouedraogo in 1983 and Abdias Coulibaly in 1986.
These two brothers and several others joined Siaka Traore to spread the gospel by way of Christian literature; their simple way of life, marked by respect toward all, aroused the curiosity of the people of Orodara. In addition, they did not hesitate to organize free evening classes of literacy for illiterate young merchants. The people of Orodara also noticed that these young Protestants did not run after the young girls like others, which intrigued many people and caused many to ask, “Who are you? How do you live? And what are you seeking in Orodara?” The young brothers seized these occasions to speak of Christ, but the results were meager. There were not always conversions, despite an evangelism campaign organized in October 1984 with the help of the evangelist Almamy Sanogo from Ivory Coast, in front of the Olympia Bar. How ironic that the Olympia Bar has become today the Evangelical Bookstore and a Hardware store managed by young Mennonites. But one important fact bears underscoring: Tieba Traore [father of Abibata Rebecca, the wife of Pr. Fabe Traore], was converted on this occasion. Nonetheless, our action at the Dove Bookstore was much appreciated, for there were also school supplies sold to the schools at a fair price, for less than the mark-up charged by other merchants. At that time, the worship services were planned by two missionary families, Loren and Donne Entz, Dennis and Jeanne Rempel, with the help of Siaka Traore, Paul Ouedraogo and Abel Hanna Tera. We should also recognize the contribution of Brother Philippe Coulibaly and his wife, Marthe at Badara in the department of Djiguera, who were the pioneers in that zone. It was later in 1985 and 1986 that brothers and sisters who were civil servants, newly transferred to Orodara, joined the Mennonite church, because their home churches had no presence yet in Orodara. Among these we can count the brothers Frederic Bassole and his wife Jacqueline, Issa Thierry Ouedraogo, teacher at Tin, Assetou Traore, Paul Ouedraogo, his wife (now deceased) Lizeta Diendere, Moussa Sanogo et many others who were already there, as members of the local church of Orodara. This brief historical review enables us to return to the 40th anniversary of the EEMBF, for the history of this church is also the history of men and women who responded in their unique ways to the call of the Master to bring his name everywhere in the world. Thus the 40th anniversary celebration of the EEMBF is a task of remembering more than just a festive celebration
The Purposes of the 40th Anniversary Celebration
Some have asked, understandably, why we should celebrate the 40th anniversary, when the norm is to celebrate 50 or 100 years? For us there are many reasons, but we will limit ourselves to citing a few goals of this celebration. It pertains especially to:
- Compiling a history of the EEMBF for future generations while the principal actors are yet alive, to attest, in words of the living, the feeble beginnings of this community
- Taking stock of present challenges, in effect, What must we improve, or what must we change, in order to leave for our descendants an uncorrupted heritage?
- Draw out proper perspectives for the future.
We submit that the 40th anniversary of the EEMBF is fully justified: Did not Jesus fast for 40 days in the desert before launching his saving mission? Did not Moses spend 40 days on Mt. Sinai listening to God? Did not the people of Israel journey for 40 years after their departure from Egypt before arriving at the Promised Land? Did not God stop the flood after 40 days of judgment on the world, so corrupted at the time? It’s important to note that the wrath of God was appeased after the 40 days of punishment and ended with the flood in the time of Noah. By evoking these events from the past, we are formulating a theological conception about the number 40 and its meaning. It has to do with a simple concept, because comparison is not always identical to logic. Remember that, in Africa, if you are not yet 40 years of age, you are not yet authorized to sit among the council of the elders. We will therefore celebrate the 40th anniversary, if such is the will of God, with joy, but also with responsibility, because the work has only begun. We therefore celebrate this 40th anniversary with thanks to God who has permitted us to be laborers in this great field so ready for the harvest in the Province of Kenedougou, and “to the uttermost ends of the world.”