When we moved to Ouagadougou, one of our priorities was to become part of the Mennonite Church of Ouagadougou. Every Sunday morning, we arrive at church for the 9:00 AM service. We gather on backless benches and sing in DJula or in French from songbooks. The service includes a significant amount of singing and praying and the sermon is around an hour long. We usually finish by 11:30. If the service can be counted on to start at 9, the end time varies from week to week. Jeremiah and Deborah find it difficult to sit through the service because it is hot and long and in French!
One distinguishing feature of the congregation is its youth. The benches are filled with university students and young adults. Of the fifty or so attenders on any given Sunday, only a handful are over 45 and no one is over 60! The reason for this lies in the history of the congregation. The Mennonite Church of Ouagadougou (Eglise Mennonite de Ouagadougou) began as a cell group which met at the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) office. Siaka and Claire Traore began the group while they were living in Ouagadougou where Siaka worked for MCC. (Siaka is now the president of the national church and lives west of Ouagadougou in Bobo Dioulasso.)
Four young Mennonites came from the countryside to the city to study at the University. When they arrived they had a very difficult time finding suitable housing. They were grateful for the small Mennonite community which provided emotional support and counsel. Siaka was touched by their plight and developed the vision of a student residence for those from out-of-town. He shared this vision first with Mennonite missionaries from France. Since a similar project had developed in Strasbourg, France, due to the same needs for community and housing for Mennonite young people there, the Mennonite churches in France quickly understood the need and supported the project. The vision grew when Jeff and Tany Warkentin, workers with Mennonite Church Canada Witness, arrived in Ouagadougou in 2005. Together with leaders of the Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso, Jeff and Tany looked for a suitable building to house the hostel. They provided leadership to the hostel and to the church which met in the same building. What began as a small group of male students has grown to 24 students living in the co-ed hostel.
While West African congregations tend to be more exuberant than our Mennonite churches in North America, the youthful energy of this congregation has a particular feel to it. It is not unusual to have jovial eruptions during the service in reaction to what is happening. The pastor, Calixte Bananzaro, a former teacher, connects well with his audience, often asking them questions and soliciting responses from them during the sermon. In this way he ensures that they are listening. The children who attend leave for Sunday School just before the sermon, but occasionally one or two wander back through the room where the adults are meeting. The service has a relaxed, informal and youthful feel to it. Most importantly, however, the students have many opportunities to use their gifts and to contribute their ideas. They lead worship, preach, teach Sunday School, organize and lead Bible studies and prayer meetings, etc. They see this as their church and they are very engaged. Over the long run, we believe the student hostel will ensure that the students will remain engaged with the Mennonite church long after they are no longer students. Already a number of the members are former hostel residents who continue to participate in the community due to their sense of belonging; they feel at home there.
Join us in thanking God for:
- the young members of the Mennonite Church of Ouagadougou who are spending every evening this week and next in a seminar to learn to better lead worship. They are committing to 21 hours of training on top of their usual studies and work commitments.
- the Mennonite Church of Ouagadougou’s commitment to training its members. Currently the church is paying for six members to study Bible and Theology in local programs in Ouagadougou.
- the recent installation of solar panels that provide a few hours of battery-powered light each night to facilitate the students’ need to study. Lack of electricity at the site has been an ongoing challenge.
Join us in praying for:
- the seminar on leading worship. Pray that the instruction will be useful and will better equip those who lead worship. Pray also that some of the students who have not yet taken on leadership responsibilities will feel empowered to do more at the end of the seminar.
- permanent housing for the student hostel. The students have had to change buildings three times in six years.