Partnership

Partnership is the current paradigm for our mission involvement in West Africa. That means that whether it is community health, theological training, or any number of other ministry initiatives, we collaborate with partners who are working in those areas instead of working unilaterally. The vision of what should happen and how is shared between the different partners who work together to implement that vision. In a very practical sense partnership makes for more efficient ministry. Partners with a long history in a specific context are inevitably better equipped to carry out objectives than those of us who are foreigners. Working together also builds relationships, an important benefit of the partnership paradigm.

North American congregations are also participating in this way of doing missions. For the last number of years Waterford Mennonite Church in Goshen, In. has been developing a partnership with the Benin Bible Institute. They share topics of prayer and praise with each other, host each other in yearly visits back and forth, learn from each other’s different cultural and religious perspectives and occasionally share resources in the form of teaching personnel or funding.

St. Jacobs Mennonite Church in St. Jacobs, ON is also partnering with the Benin Bible Institute. In 2003 they sent a group to train Beninese church leaders in the skills necessary to implement what in the North American church tradition is Vacation Bible School. Many of the Christians in Benin are first generation believers and perhaps haven’t yet thought through what it means to cultivate belief in those generations that follow. So a group of church leaders who are responsible for, or who work with, children’s ministry spent a week at the Bible Institute leaning the hows and whys behind Vacation Bible School. It is of course impossible, and would be ill advised, for them to simply copy North American models for their context here in Benin. Yet they were exposed to methods and educational philosophy that impact positively their continuing work with Beninese youngsters in their respective churches. In addition, the involvement by St. Jacobs Mennonite has developed into an ongoing partnership that is building relationships between the congregation and the Bible Institute through reciprocal visits and exchanges.

This past week representatives from University Mennonite Church in State College, Pa. and Maple Grove Mennonite Church in Belleville, Pa. made the first steps toward partnership with Good News Theological College and Seminary and the Ghana Mennonite Church. A group representing both congregations spent 10 days in Ghana at Good News getting to know the staff, the students and the ministry that happens there. They developed new relationships by accepting and offering hospitality in a new place among a new people. And they started to ask, “What does it mean to be the church together, we from the heartland of Pennsylvania and our Ghanaian brothers and sisters from the coastal plains of West Africa?” That, it seems to me, will be a fruitful question to keep asking, not only among ourselves but also with our African partners.

How might God be calling you and/or your congregation toward partnership? Let us hear from you about how partnering with brothers and sisters in West Africa might fit into your faith journey!

David Miller from Univeristy Mennonite presents a peace flag to the Ghana Mennonite Church

David Miller from University Mennonite presents a peace flag to the Ghana Mennonite Church.

Nancy Kauffman from Maple Grove Mennonite sharing resources for children with Ghana Mennonite Church leaders.

Nancy Kauffman from Maple Grove Mennonite sharing resources for children with Ghana Mennonite Church leaders.

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A Time to Celebrate

Pastor Mesmen Gbaguidi opened the inauguration ceremony for the new Casa Grande center with the passage from Ecclesiastes chapter 3 For everything there is season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Today, he said, was a time to celebrate, and it certainly was.

In August 2000 Paco and Annette Castillo were sent by the Mennonite Church in Burgos, Spain to work with orphans and abandoned children in Cotonou. They started out small in a house not far from ours and welcomed, one by one, abandoned and orphaned children into their home. The idea was to provide a family centered environment where they would have a second chance to develop into well rounded, mature young adults. That focus hasn’t changed, but Casa Grande has certainly grown beyond those humble beginnings.

They soon outgrew the house here in Cotonou and moved to a larger place in Allada, about 40 kilometers north of the city. There the “family” has grown to include 25 youngsters between the ages of 1 and 17. Paco and Annette returned to Spain because of health concerns but left the household in the capable hands of Paulin and Easter Boko. Before leaving they oversaw the acquisition of a plot of land where they envisioned building a center that would quadruple the number of children they could welcome. This week that vision became a reality when the first phase of that center was inaugurated.

Named Fifatin, the center will eventually house 96 children in 8 different housing units. This first phase included digging a well, building 2 of the housing units for children and one staff unit, connecting electricity and phone lines, and putting up about half of the enclosure wall. This month everyone will move from the rented house to the new facilities.

The inauguration was a celebration that focused on God’s faithfulness to the ministry since its inception 8 years ago. Pray for continued blessings on the Casa Grande children and for a rapid completion of the following phases of construction. A school, workshop, sports field and more housing units are in the plans.

Check out Casa Grande’s web site http://www.lacasagrandebenin.org/enghome.html

See more photos of the inauguration here.