“One for Fifty” Training

Nancy translating for the Cheryl, the "One for Fifty" trainer.

Nancy translating for the Cheryl, the “One for Fifty” trainer.

Cheryl, our instructor, held up two candles: the first had never been used, while the second was half its size, having been used at least once.  “When the power goes out,” she said, “which candle is the better investment?”  Everyone in the class encouraged her to purchase the unused candle even though it was more expensive because it would last longer. “In the same way,” she said, “investing in the lives of children may seem costly if we only look short-term; however, in the long run, that investment will make a bigger impact because children have their whole lives ahead of them.”

This was only one of the many ways Cheryl encouraged us to value and care about the children around us: those in our homes, in our communities and neighborhoods, and around the world. She encouraged us to see children through God’s eyes. God values children and loves them as much as God loves adults. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139, each child has been lovingly knit in the womb, known by God even before the child is born.  Yet too often churches do not invest in children’s ministries, preferring to invest scarce resources elsewhere. By the end of our five-day training, every one of us had understood and was ready to speak out on behalf of children.

Last week from Jan. 21 to 25, I (Nancy) participated in the One for Fifty training.  The goal of 1 for 50 is to train one person for every 50 children so that all the children around the world can hear about Jesus.  It was not simply the usual call for evangelism, however.  If we see children through the eyes of God, we cannot overlook them or ignore their voices.

  • We were encouraged to become children during the different activities of the week in order to remind ourselves how children experience and respond to the world.
  • We learned about the needs of children at risk and were called to engage in holistic ministries that meet not just physical needs or not just spiritual needs, but that address all the needs of children.
  • As parents, we were encouraged to take seriously our responsibility to nurture the spiritual lives of our children.  In a single week, there are 168 hours; only tending to their spiritual needs for one or two hours a week is as ineffective as it would be to feed them only once or twice a week!
  • We learned about children’s development and the best way to teach them at every age.
  • We learned that we too must become like children if we want to inherit the kingdom of God.

I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in this training along with three other members of the Mennonite Church of Ouagadougou. The church paid for us to attend. In return, we will train others in the Mennonite church and beyond. Victor and Hawa Windinga, also members of the Mennonite Church of Ouagadougou, were part of the organizing committee.  Victor is one of three people who will head up the work of 1 for 50 in Burkina Faso.  Pray for him and for the committee. In many countries, children make up more than 50% of the population. It is time for us to prioritize children.


Moore Lessons

In Ouagadougou and the surrounding towns, the Mossi people who are preponderant speak the Moore language (pronounced More – ay).  Soon after our installation in our house, we decided to take Moore lessons.  Not only is it an opportunity to learn another language, but also to better understand cultural values and customs.  Each language has its own logic. The logic is different from language to language, but every people group has its way of seeing the world, which is conveyed in the way the language is structured and in its vocabulary.

Our teacher, Constance, who used to teach in MCC’s language school until it closed down, teaches Moore to both American Peace Corps and French volunteers.  She also offers private lessons and agreed to come to our house once a week for lessons. It has become painfully clear that our brains are no longer 20-something!  While we have a highly qualified and very patient teacher, it takes a lot longer for the words to stick in our brains.  As well, whenever life gets busier than usual, as it did in December, it is easy to put off studying.  Therefore we have not made huge gains, nor are we conversant with any except our night guard who enjoys letting us practice with him.  Nevertheless, we have slowly gained a repertory of words and have just recently begun learning verbs.  Now at least perhaps we can begin to form actual sentences!

Some of the things that we have learned from our Moore lessons:

  • The name of the country, Burkina Faso, is a combination of the three principal languages (Moore, Fulani and Djula) and means “The patrimony of people of integrity”. Much nicer than the previous name: “Upper Volta.”
  • The first thing we learned was how to greet people.  Greetings are extremely important in the Moore language and they are not limited to a simple “hello, how are you?” Along with this common greeting are added questions concerning one’s family members, one’s work and one’s day.   In rural settings, people greet everyone with whom they cross paths whether they know them or not.  Since people are mostly on foot or on bicycle, it is a simple matter to stop and exchange greetings before continuing on.  In urban settings, it is less likely that you will greet everyone.  It is, however, impolite to ignore people.  Greetings and many other phrases which we have learned help to ensure that we acknowledge our common humanity with other people.  Relationships are of highest importance here.
  • One of the first words we learned is “laafi” (pronounced “laaa-fee”). It is very similar in meaning to the Hebrew word “shalom” in that it conveys peace, health and general well-being. In greeting another, one asks if she has “laafi” and the first answer (which might be followed up with more accurate information) is always “laafi.” We trust that a society that values laafi so much can model peaceful living for other peoples as well.
  • When you take your leave of someone, your farewell is always in the form of a blessing: “God grant us next time”; “God make you arrive home in safety”; etc.  The appropriate response is “amiina” (amen) which means “let it be so.”  As we found in Benin, blessings are a very important part of life; words are considered very powerful and the expression of well-wishes can bring about the very thing wished for.
  • We spent several weeks learning the different words for family relationships.  The organization of families and the roles of different members is an important indicator of cultural values.  In Moore, there are different words to express “maternal aunt” or “maternal uncle” or “paternal aunt” and “paternal uncle”.  More importantly, one’s paternal uncles are given the same status as one’s own father. Sometimes a child (whose father has died and who is subsequently raised by an uncle) does not even realize that the man he calls father is really his uncle.  There is also no word for “cousin”; cousins have the same status as siblings.
  • Learning the numbers alone will not help us when we go out to buy in the local markets. In Moore, money amounts are expressed differently from the way they are expressed in French.  So 100 francs as expressed in French is expressed as “twenty” in Moore because “one” when it concerns money is really 5 francs.  This has to do with the way coins and bills are manufactured.  The smallest coin is 5 francs, so it is one.  The next coin, 10 francs, is two (2 x 5). The third coin, 25 francs, is five (5 x 5) and so on.  Thus 100 francs is expressed as twenty (20 x 5).This is an interesting example of cross-cultural impact on language development.  The monetary system comes from outside the Mossi culture, but the Moore language assimilates the new information.

Neither of us expects to become truly fluent in Moore.  We hardly ever need to use it and the second language (after French) in our church community is Djula!  Nevertheless, it has been helpful to study Moore and to learn more about the culture and the people among whom we live.

Year-end Post

Merry Christmas and many blessings for the New Year from Burkina Faso! We trust that you have had a meaningful and refreshing holiday season and are alive with the hope of new possibilities in the coming year. We find ourselves at the end of a very eventful year in which we made a major move from Brookline, MA to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. As we take some time to slow down and reflect on these past months of “settling-in,” we are thankful for your thoughts and prayers and God’s provision. Our house feels like home now, and we are happy to have developed somewhat of a routine: Jeremiah and Deborah in their school and extra-curricular activities and Bruce and Nancy in ministry engagements, especially with the FEMO (Foyer de l’Église Mennonite in Ouagadougou), the Mennonite Church’s student hostel and congregation here in Ouagadougou.

Our first Christmas in Ouagadougou was a combination of regular family traditions along with some new twists. The regular traditions included children’s stockings and a tree with lights and tinsel. We also had our usual Christmas treat: ice cream cake! This tradition dates back to the early years in Benin when we spent Christmas with our colleagues, Christine and Phil Lindell-Detweiler. They left us the recipe and we have eaten this dessert every year at Christmas time no matter where we happen to be!

This year we also spent the morning of Dec. 25th with FEMO. The children of the congregation shared a Christmas skit, Pastor Bananzaro’s sermon encouraged us to share the gift of Jesus with others, the students gave a report on their recent evangelistic visits in the surrounding neighborhoods, and we spent time in prayer and song. Afterwards we shared the noon meal together.


Partnership Council Meeting

In these past months we found ourselves increasingly involved in church activities. In November Bruce participated in the Burkina Faso Partnership Council (PC) meetings. The PC brings together the various Mennonite agencies that work in partnership with the Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso.  There are a number of different agencies: AIMM (Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission), Mennonite church Canada Witness, Mennonite Mission Network (from Mennonite Church USA), the French Mennonite Mission committee, Evangelical Mennonite Church of Canada, and the Mennonite Brethren Mission.  Once a year the PC meets to coordinate the various mission efforts in the country. During this year’s meeting church leaders shared their new three-year plan that includes church planting, evangelization efforts via existing congregations, an HIV/AIDS educational program, and leadership training. It is an ambitious and exciting vision of the church’s ministry in the next years!

Nigeria TripWater Factory

From December 12 to 20 Bruce traveled to Nigeria to participate in the Mennonite Church Nigeria’s annual convention. It was an opportunity for him to reconnect with the church after our three-year hiatus in North America. He was encouraged by the progress there. The church completed a number of building projects at the national headquarters and at local congregation sites and new, energetic leaders have been integrated into the church structures. Mennonite Church Nigeria is a very charismatic church, so Bruce enjoyed four days and nights of energetic praise and worship with old friends and new acquaintances.

Job Description

After settling into our house this fall, our next task was to work with FEMO and the National Church to develop a formal job description. This process was a first for the church and us and has taken some time. The conversation began at the end of the Partnership Council meeting where a preliminary job description was entrusted to FEMO for further editing. The church committee took some time to look at the different items on the list and then gave it back to Nancy and Bruce for final editing.  The final draft is now being studied and will be presented for adoption at the next church committee meeting in early January.

The job description does not contain any surprises. It lays out the various ministries in which we will engage at the local and at the national level along with some accountability structures so that it is clear how we will work. Our local involvement will include oversight of FEMO and various initiatives with the students, as well as involvement in the ongoing congregational initiatives. On the national level, we will also be available as resources for theological and biblical education. The job description allows for similar involvements beyond Burkina Faso, particularly in Benin and Nigeria. As well, Bruce will work on finishing his dissertation and Nancy will do some teaching at the International School of Ouagadougou. She will begin in January by teaching an SAT English prep class. (Applicants to colleges in the USA are required to submit SAT scores; the SAT focuses mainly on English and Math skills.)


FEMO Land Purchase

In December FEMO purchased a property with a building that will serve as a student residence as well as provide a meeting space for the congregation. The building is large enough to house the 24 students who are currently residing in the rented facilities, but some work will need to be done before they can move in. The bathrooms and showers which are roughed in will need to be finished. This is an exciting step towards making FEMO a permanent ministry. We look forward to seeing the ministry develop in its new location in the coming year.



      Join us in prayer about the following:

  • Thank God for the new FEMO facilities. Having its own land will provide stability for this ministry and provide consistent, ongoing ministry opportunities among the students. Pray that the needed reparations to the building will be possible in a timely and economical manner.
  • Thank God for Bruce’s safe travel to and from Nigeria and for the energetic and committed members of Mennonite Church Nigeria. The Nigerian context is one of economic and social inequality and periodic violence between ethnic and religious groups. Pray that the church can be a witness to Christ’s love in such a challenging environment.
  • Pray for guidance and energy for Nancy as she takes on some teaching responsibilities at the Ouagadougou International School where Jeremiah and Deborah are enrolled.
  • In this season during which we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, pray for peace in Africa. Recent violence in Nigeria, the Central Africa Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo reminds us that the gospel is especially relevant in our age. Pray also for our neighboring country, Mali, where rebels are still in control of the North of the country. The international community is considering military intervention, a proposition that, while it seems to make sense in the short-term, will add significantly to the amount of arms in the region and risks increasing violence for some time to come.

Nancy’s Recent Advent Reflection

Advent is the season of hope and expectation.  I recently read this about expectation:

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues , nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness.  But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love.  You see what has happened?  A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philosophical importance.  The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.  I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. … Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.

From The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis

One of the gifts that I have received from my years among Christians in Benin and now in Burkina Faso is that I have learned to expect things from God as opposed to depending on my own abilities and strength to make things happen.  If we trust in God and hope in God, we wait in hopeful expectation for those things for which we have asked.

I am reminded of this once again as Bruce has returned from his latest trip to Nigeria. The day that Bruce left, I told a group of parents from Jeremiah and Deborah’s school about Bruce’s travel plans.  One of the parents told me that there is now a web site from Nigeria that lists the prices of each kidnapped victim according to their nationality.  At the top of the list, for the highest price, are American citizens. On the eve of Bruce’s return, a French man working in the north of Nigeria was tragically kidnapped by thirty armed men.  This French citizen was guarded around the clock by armed guards, but they were outgunned.  Bruce did not travel with guns, nor was he accompanied by an armed guard.  He went out of love for the Nigerian Mennonite Church with whom he has had an ongoing relationship since our time in Benin.

I knew that I could do absolutely nothing to assure Bruce’s safety, but I did not worry long about this.  Instead, I entrusted him to God and asked God to keep Bruce in God’s perfect will. Each time I began to feel anxious, I prayed for Bruce’s safety, once again entrusting Bruce to God’s perfect will.  I also asked the church to be in prayer for Bruce.  When Bruce returned home safely, I was of course relieved and grateful.  I was also reassured that God had indeed been with Bruce and watched over him.  This experience, added to many earlier ones, has reinforced my confidence in God and strengthened my willingness to trust God rather than to rely on myself.  That feeling of being able to rest in God’s strength rather than relying on my own has in turn brought me immeasurable peace.

I am well acquainted with the notion that bad things happen to good people.  I do not mean to imply that kidnap victims are at fault because of their lack of faith or that their families are to blame because they did not pray enough.  I do not even mean to imply that Bruce could never be kidnapped.  Rather I mean to say that God who hears and answers our prayers can do more than we can ask or imagine.  I will continue to expect great things from God and to live in grateful hope.