Harmattan

It has been refreshingly cool lately, at least for those of us accustomed to the heat and humidity of Cotonou. Every year we experience harmattan sometime between December and March. Harmattan is a dry and dusty wind that blows down from the north carrying dust that it has picked up from the Sahara.

These days when we walk outside in the morning there is fog settled over the city, except instead of moisture it’s a fog of dust that even keeps one from seeing the sun clearly. It brings cooler weather, perhaps because the northern winds are cool or perhaps because the dust blocks the sun, I’m not sure which. In any case the temperature drops to as low as 65 F at night before getting back to the mid 80s F during the afternoon. Now admittedly that’s not so cold for those of you in cooler climates, especially during these wintertime months in North America, but here it’s quite a change from the normal temperatures in the mid to high 90s F.

We enjoy the reprieve from the heat but it’s not quite the same for our Beninese friends who haven’t spent a winter in North America or Europe. When it gets down around 70 F folks start getting out the heavy coats, gloChristopheves and stocking caps. Today Christophe arrived all bundled up!

While we enjoy the cooler weather, we could definitely do without the dust. It’s so fine that it finds its way into the house. Even though you dust something in the morning by the afternoon if you wipe your finger on it you’ll find a thin film of dust. People seem to get more colds and coughs during this time too as we’re all breathing those fine dust particles. I really notice it on the car because even if it gets washed in the morning it’s all dusty by evening again.
Dusty Car

BBI/Good News Exchange Visit

The visit of Thomas Oduro, principal of Good News Theological College and Seminary, to the Benin Bible Institute these past few days was a positive experience for both parties. Both BBI and Good News see themselves as the continuation of the work of Mennonite Missionaries Edwin Thomas Oduro addressing BBI studentsand Irene Weaver who started working with African Initiated Churches (AICs) in West Africa almost 50 years ago. Today they are looking for creative ways to continue that ministry of leadership training with AICs.

Dr. Oduro addressing the BBI students.

The conversation these past few days highlighted a number of challenges that both institutions have in common:

  • Few students are able to take the time to study full-time and many don’t have the resources to do so.
  • The AICs that the schools serve have limited financial resources and often can’t fully support the students they send, let alone give significant support to the schools themselves.
  • The senior leadership of some AICs don’t value theological training and hence don’t encourage their developing leaders to seek training.

Despite the challenges that were expressed, the conversation was upbeat and led to a number of ideas about ways the two schools might cooperate. :Dr. Oduro and IBB Administrator Bonaventure Akowanou

  • The possibility that BBI teachers could contribute articles in the journal that Good News publishes.
  • Good News teachers could spend time at BBI to increase their French language capacity and vice versa BBI teachers could work on their English at Good News.
  • There can be ongoing conversation about how to reduce financial dependence on overseas supporters.

Thomas returned a day early to Ghana because of an unexpected announcement that the accreditation committee of the Ghanaian Ministry of Education would be visiting Good News today, 16 January 2008. Good News is in the process of becoming accredited to offer a Bachelor of Theology degree. It’s a long and complicated process. Pray that all the hurdles will be overcome and that by next fall they will be able to offer the BTh degree.

First Post

Greetings,

We hope this blog will be a means of sharing about life in West Africa and keeping folks informed about our partners and their different ministries.  We welcome your comments and questions.

This weekend is the start of the monthly seminar at IBB, Mr. Alphonse Godonou is teaching the course on The Gospels.  Starting tomorrow we are also hosting Dr. Thomas Oduro, principal of the Good News Theological College and Seminary http://www.gntcs.org/ in Ghana.  Good News has a mandate that is similar to that of IBB, to provide biblical and theological training for church leaders, particularly those of African Initiated Churches (AICs).   AICs are those churches founded by Africans, not by Western missionaries, to meet the need of a contextualized Christian faith on the continent.  Mennonite missionaries have worked with both schools over the years and continue to provide ongoing support.  We hope that this visit will initiate a fruitful relationship between the two schools.  Up to now that hasn’t been much contact between these two initiatives, perhaps because of distance and different languages (Benin – French and Ghana -English).  We’re looking forward to a good visit.

December Prayer Letter

December 2007

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

Sometimes people think of missionaries as people who “suffer for Christ”. They feel sorry for missionaries who are making sacrifices in order to live out their call or they feel relieved that the call to be a missionary hasn’t gotten a hold on their lives! When people express this idea to us we can start to dwell on all the uncomfortable aspects of our lives and begin to feel sorry for ourselves. When the electricity began going out on a regular basis and for longer and longer periods, it was tempting to fall into this trap. That was when it was time for me to stop and re-evaluate. In fact, not having electricity does not constitute real suffering. It is an inconvenience, but it is not life threatening. It may make us uncomfortable because the fans don’t work or we don’t have any cold water to drink. However, discomfort and inconvenience do not constitute suffering.

2007-12.jpgWhat constitutes suffering? In fact, we see many examples of suffering on a regular basis. Not having enough to eat and watching your children go hungry qualifies as suffering in my books. So does not having access to health care or clean water. Not having decent
schools for one’s children should also qualify. This year the government here in Benin has decided to make public education free for everyone. However, the classrooms are now too full, with neither adequate seating arrangements (30 children on benches made for 10, for example) nor books and supplies. These forms of suffering are connected to the poverty
inherent in an “underdeveloped country”.

Other things which I consider suffering: having a life threatening or life-altering disease or watching someone you love suffer from such a disease. Living with constant physical or emotional pain constitutes suffering. So does losing a loved one. Slavery to addiction in its many
forms or being trapped in a cycle of violence are forms of suffering. These conditions exist in North America as well as in Africa.

So Bruce and I are not “suffering for Christ” as the saying goes. There are things we miss, like being at a Christmas family gathering. The last time I attended a Frey Christmas family gathering was probably in 1997 and the last time Bruce attended a Yoder Christmas was also probably in 1997. We haven’t been in North America for Christmas since 1999. I miss snow at Christmas, and Christmas carols, and houses all lit up for Christmas. We look forward to a time when we will be able to celebrate Christmas in North America.

We rejoice in the many blessings we share in living in Benin. One that comes to mind at this time of year is being spared all the pressure to buy, buy, buy! OuDeborah on Christmas morningr children are not exposed to television advertising which, I must admit, seems to be highly effective. After two months in the land of plenty this past summer, our children came back knowing all sorts of advertising jingoes and knowing about toys that I had never heard about! Our focus at Christmas time can be on family, friends and Christ’s birth.

Our children are blessed growing up in an intercultural setting; at school they interact with children from many parts of the world on a daily basis. They are growing up bilingual. They may not know the states or provences and their capitals, but they do know where Togo, Ghana and Nigeria are. They understand first hand about poverty and privilege.

Our prayer for you is that you will rejoice with us in the hope we have, hope not only for us, but for the entire world. A hope that is real because a baby was born, not as a king, but as a child of poverty. A baby that grew up and transformed the world by his life,death and resurrection. We have a living hope that God’s reign WILL come and God’s will WILL be done on earth and there will be an end to suffering. May those who know suffering find comfort in this hope. May we persevere in prayers of faith knowing that prayer changes things. And may we be led to act out our faith so that others
may experience the hope that we know.

We thank God for:

● Safe travels for Bruce throughout the year. From the time of our return from North America on August 21 until the end of December, Bruce traveled for 57 days. We thank God for bringing him back home safely every time.

● Good health. We have all had good health, other than minor ailments and colds. We thank God who keeps us safe from accidents and illness.

● Good teachers for our children. We feel satisfied with the education Jeremiah and Deborah are receiving and they like their teachers. Overall they enjoy going to school.

● Having all we need. God has supplied our every need and we are grateful that we are lacking nothing.

Please pray with us for:

● The full time program at the Benin Bible Institute. We are looking for new forms of scheduling to replace the full time model that does not seem to work for most people. Pray that the Lord would direct us to new ways of making biblical education available to those who are called to full time ministry. Pray also that we would find ways to
decentralize our programs.

● The fledgling Mennonite congregation in Abuja, Nigeria, the first church plant in the nation’s capital by Mennonite Church Nigeria. This congregation, made up largely of young professionals, has stepped out in faith to purchase land on which to expand their facilities. Pray that God would provide for this new infrastructure initiative.
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