The Ouaga congregation is made up of young people with only three families in the group. So it is with great joy that we celebrated the announcement of the coming marriage between two of our members, Ebenezer and Lassina. The first step was a formal meeting of two families to acknowledge and give their agreement to this union. We are looking forward to the marriage celebration in a few months. It will be a joyful and much-anticipated event. Please keep Lassina and Ebenezer in your prayers.
Every year young people from around the world travel to North America to participate in Mennonite Central Committee’s International Visitor Exchange Program (IVEP). Two young men from Burkina Faso left a couple of weeks ago to spend the year in Calgary and Montreal.
They are members of the Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso and were residents at the Mennonite student hostel in Ouagadougou. We are thrilled for them to have this opportunity and even more so because for a few months we were not sure that they would be able to participate in the program. The Canadian government first refused their request for visas, so they were not able to leave in August as planned. They finally received their visas in October and left on Oct. 28. After an initial orientation in Vancouver, they will go to their placements and begin their activities. Although the delay of their departure was worrisome, it did permit Kinani to take his third-year law exams which had been postponed since July and were finally given Oct. 10-26. We see God’s hand even in those circumstances that seem adverse. If he had not been able to take his exams, he might have been required to repeat all three years!
Nineteen years after the launch of the first seminar in the Systematic Bible Training Program in Cotonou, things are still going strong. I (Nancy) just got back from teaching Homiletics (the Art of Preaching) to around 200 students in the 7th class since the program began in 1994. Every three years the Benin Bible Institute (BBI) enrolls new students for its three-year series of courses. BBI has graduated over 1,000 men and women who work as pastors, preachers, Sunday School teachers, choir members, and youth leaders. The demand for the program doesn’t seem to diminish.
I taught the class first on the weekend in French (Friday night, Saturday and Sunday: 15 hours) and then re-taught it during the week (Monday through Thursday: 20 hours) with translation into Goun, one of the local languages. The final task was to grade the exams, 184 of them; I was happy to leave the 30 exams written in Goun for someone else to grade!
Sometimes the students complain that BBI is too difficult; they suggest the standards are too high and the demands too rigorous. Yet in Benin anyone interested in serious study of Bible and Theology knows BBI is the place to go. This has become even more evident this year as BBI test scores were among the best of 7 theological institutions in West Africa that participated in the exam regime.
One of BBI’s programs in which we teach periodically is the Baccalaureate in Theology. The BAC is a diploma accorded at the end of secondary school in many Francophone countries and is the equivalent of a junior college level degree in North America. In order to attain the BAC, students must pass a series of exams which BBI students took in June. The exams, prepared by CITAF which coordinates the accreditation of institutions of theological education in Francophone Africa, covered a range of subjects including theology, philosophy, English, French, and Koine Greek.
Of BBI’s 9 candidates 7 passed, including 2 who passed with distinction. That is a success rate of 77% and compares favorably with the overall success rate which was 40% this year. So BBI has shown that it prepares its students well and that it has quality programs!
This week the Mennonite Hostel in Ouagadougou is hosting a seminar on marriage. It started last Saturday and will end next Sunday, in total including 24 hours of teaching and discussion time. Marriage is an important and challenging issue for young people in the church in Burkina Faso. If in the West marriage is a lifestyle choice, here marriage and children are an assumed stage in life to the point of being required of everyone. The issue is not one of whether or not to marry but of when to marry and to whom.
Young people see examples of conflictual marriages and divorce, and they fear that this will happen to them. We hope that this seminar will help them prepare for marriage and give them additional ways to think about the marriage relationship. The instructor has done a lot of teaching and counseling in this context and uses practical examples, encourages questions, and includes participant discussion in his teaching strategy. We’re happy to see this opportunity for exploration and learning for the hostel residents.
This past week Nancy, Jeremiah, and Deborah started the routine of school again at the International School of Ouagadougou. Yes, you read correctly, this year Nancy went back to school too! Tuition at ISO is expensive, so to help pay Jeremiah and Deborah’s fees she is teaching three classes: 8th grade Language Arts, Yearbook, and SAT Prep. Since Jeremiah is in 8th grade this year (Deborah is in 7th), he has his mother as a teacher for Language Arts and yearbook. Should be an interesting year as they explore their new relationship as teacher-student.
Besides their regular classes Jeremiah has joined the ISO softball team and Deborah is taking up flute again (she took flute lessons when we were living in Boston) as part of the band. As is normal in an international school like ISO, there is a lot of turnover in the teaching staff and students. So everyone is making new friends and learning to adjust to new teachers. We’re confident that it’s going to be a good year.
The students who live at the Mennonite Student Hostel face a number of challenges. Many come from families with minimal financial resources, most often they’re from agricultural communities in the country-side where there are few educational opportunities. While the students who make it to university have already gone very far in the minds of their families and home communities, the problems they face when they come to Ouagadougou seem enormous. But of course they persevere, facing challenges with courage and determination.
Among the problems the students face is theft. Last Thursday morning they awoke to discover that two of their bicycles had been stolen during the night. One wonders how those who have so few resources can survive the loss of property or money. This is where the community that the Hostel provides becomes their strength. Earlier this year, one of the students was on her way home from a tutoring job when a man pulled up beside her bicycle and spoke briefly to her. Before she realized what was happening, he had reached into the basket on the handle bars, taken her bag, and driven off. The bag contained her telephone and the equivalent of approximately $10.00 USD in cash. When she arrived back to the Hostel and told the others what had happened, they pooled their resources. One person had an extra telephone to lend her, and others gave small amounts of cash. The love and generosity of her fellow students consoled her heart.
There is now a new complication for university students. While traditionally the university closes down for the month of August for vacation, this practice has been suspended over the last few years because of irregularities in the school calendar. For example, this year the tests that are given to choose those graduates who will be employed by state agencies are happening during this month of August. But this past Thursday officials announced that university cafeterias upon which the student population depends will be closed for two months. On July 31 the residents of the university dormitories were informed that they had to vacate their rooms by August 1st. Some who had no other options had to sleep under the stars that first night. This is not a good option as the rainy season is upon us. At least the students in the Hostel have a place to stay even if their daily bread will be scarcer in the next two months!
For the Hostel residents, the community will be their strength once more. Those who are free to travel home will likely leave Ouagadougou for a time. Those left behind will find ways to pool their resources in order to have enough to eat. They will help each other and the congregation will contribute some foodstuffs and look for ways to support them in their efforts.
Please pray for the students, both those at the Hostel and those who find themselves scrambling to find food and lodging. This is a time of increased strain between the authorities and the student population. There are likely political factors mixed with economic considerations that have led to these abrupt changes in policy. Recent demonstrations of those in opposition to the current regime have taken place near the university and may have included students. By closing the university at this time and forcing students to move away, authorities may be attempting to decrease the size of such demonstrations. The student population was already frustrated, and the current situation risks increasing tensions. Pray for wisdom and wise action on the part of both the authorities and the student leaders.
In November of 1959 Edwin and Irene Weaver arrived in southeastern Nigeria, the first Mennonite Board of Missions (MBM, the predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network) missionaries assigned to the region. Their arrival was in response to a request for assistance and an invitation to establish a missionary presence from a group of “independent” congregations that desired to take on a Mennonite identity. In fact, when the Weavers arrived Mennonite Church Nigeria had already been established and congregations were in the process of affiliating with it. But the Weavers took action that seems, in many ways, strange for missionaries to take. They stopped the process of adding congregations to the new Mennonite church and, over the next eight years, focused much of their time and energy on resourcing African Independent Churches, those that had decided against affiliating with western denominations. In the following decades MBM as a mission agency also shifted much of its focus in West Africa in the same direction.
Why would missionaries or a mission agency make such a decision? In order to start answering that question, I’ve written an article that identifies missiological issues such as mass movements, the indigenous nature of the church, and ecumenism as being important considerations for the Weavers and others as they fashioned their missionary strategies. The article has now been published in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR). It’s likely more than should be include in a blog post, but if you’re inclined to read it, I’m providing links for you to do so.
There are two ways to access the article. You can go to the IBMR website and see it in the July 2013 issue. You will need to sign in, but registration is free. Or, to open a pdf file of the article directly, you can click here Mennonite Mission Theorists and Practitioners in Southeastern Nigeria, used by permission of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research. R. Bruce Yoder, “Mennonite Mission Theorists and Practitioners in Southeastern Nigeria: Changing Contexts and Strategy at the Dawn of the Postcolonial Era, ” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 37, no. 3 (2013): 138-144.