Last Sunday, we opened our house to the members of the Mennonite Church of Ouagadougou. It was an opportunity to offer hospitality to the church and also to make more contact with the students who fill up the majority of the seats at church. It was a big undertaking for us, since neither of us ranks hosting people (cleaning house, making food, having things look nice …) as among our stronger gifts. To prepare enough refreshments for up to sixty people along with figuring out where everyone would sit took some planning. In the end, all our efforts were more than rewarded by a very meaningful encounter.
By the time the open house was to start (2:00 PM) we had plates with sandwiches and cupcakes set out; watermelon cut up; soft drinks on ice; chairs and benches set out. But no one came! So we went and lay down for a short nap until 3:00. Then we went back to waiting. At 3:45, the first people started to trickle in. Lesson number one: don’t bother inviting people over the hottest part of the day. Most people prefer to set out after three!
The first to arrive were two young women who used to live in the student hostel and who continue to relate closely to the church and to the student community in the hostel. Pastor Bananzaro told us later that originally the hostel was only going to host male students. Then one of these young women, Ebenezer, asked, “What about the female students?” The wisdom of the leaders shines in this story. They told the young women who wanted a room in the hostel that if they could make it work, then they were welcome to live there too. Rather than deny them the opportunity to try, they were given a chance. Fortunately, Ebenezer and Elizabeth are very confident and have strong leadership abilities. They opened the way for other young women to also join the hostel. So today the hostel is co-ed and it has been a positive experience for the young men and women who make up the student members of the hostel.
Other students came and soon the house was full to overflowing with chatter and laughter. Both Deborah and Jeremiah found themselves engaged in conversation as the students wanted to get to know them better. In broken English (on the part of the students) and broken French (on the part of our children) they began to make some connections.
After everyone had eaten, the student hostel president (whose name also happens to be Jeremiah) called all the students together. Jeremiah explained that this gathering was an opportunity for the students to get to know us better, since there were no older adults present, and so he suggested a question/answer session. We crowded into our living room/dining room area and the students asked us their questions. It was a good opportunity for them to get to know us, but it also gave us a glimpse into their concerns simply by paying attention to the kinds of questions they asked.
The first question was “What is your job description?” A very good question indeed, since we are still working that out in discussion with the National Church and the mission partnership council. Another question: “Do you have experience working with students in other contexts?” We were able to talk about our experiences in Benin, our past history, our vision for ministry and how we hope to work in Burkina Faso. The session ended with the promise that we would find other opportunities to interact.