Bruce had a chance to sit with Pastor Bananzaro this past week and hear about the development of FEMO. Here is what he learned:
When the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso (EEMBF, Eglise Evangélique Mennonite de Burkina Faso) started the Mennonite Youth Hostel of Ouagadougou (FEMO, Foyer de l’Eglise Mennonite d’Ouagadougou) a number of years ago, church leaders wanted to provide housing and spiritual stability to Mennonite students new to the university and big city life. But it has become much more than that. These were the words of Calixte Bananzaro, pastor to FEMO residents and the Ouagadougou Mennonite congregation.
Besides providing a home for recently arrived Mennonite young people, FEMO has developed into a church community. Together with former students and a few families that have joined the group, hostel residents participate in a fledgling Mennonite congregation that celebrated Easter by moving into its new, permanent location from rented facilities. Thanks to support from North American partners, FEMO was able to buy a lot of it own close to the university campus. The students have moved in and the congregation is able to meet on the site, although renovations are ongoing.
The ministry of FEMO has developed in ways its founders had not foreseen in its seven years of existence. According to Bananzaro, the congregation that has sprung from the initiative provides its residents with a kind of “training ground” for spiritual leadership. In Burkinabe churches those who have a university education of any sort are called upon to provide leadership, even if they have no theological or ministry training. The Ouagadougou congregation has been a place where FEMO residents can hone leadership skills through leading worship, preaching, teaching Sunday school, filling other congregational roles, and sometimes attending local ministry training programs. Bananzaro noted that former FEMO residents have expressed gratitude for such learning opportunities after discovering that their university degrees entail leadership expectations in the church that go far beyond their professional identities.
In addition, the presence of a number of students from other denominations has meant that FEMO has provided an increased awareness of the Mennonite Church and its Anabaptist distinctives in the wider Burkinabe church community. The EEMBF is a small denomination with congregations in a limited geographical area. Pastor Bananzaro noted that non-Mennonite FEMO residents often act as “unofficial emissaries” to their home churches. Their testimony has resulted in an increased appreciation for Mennonite faith and ministry in the larger Burkinabe confessional milieu.
Perhaps the next seven years will result in even more unanticipated ministries! The new FEMO site increases the capacity from twenty-four to thirty residents. The congregation has also secured land on which a daughter congregation can be planted on the outskirts of the city. Such progress lays the base for a strong and vibrant Mennonite presence in Ouagadougou in the coming years.