March Prayer Letter

New Prayer Letter Format

Greetings once again from Ouagadougou! This month we’re test-driving our new prayer letter format. Instead of sending an attached file we’re using a service called MailChimp to embed the letter directly into an email message. We hope this works better for those who have not received our letters consistently because of technical glitches. If you’d like to sign up to receive our email prayer letters, click on the link Subscribe to our newsletter in the column on the right, just above the calendar. Let us know what you think of this new medium.

International Women’s Day

March 8 was International Women’s Day around the world. In Burkina Faso it is also a national holiday. The standard joke is that 364 days of the year are “Men’s days” and that women get the one remaining day! On March 8, 1987, Thomas Sankara, then leader of Burkina Faso, required men to do the shopping and cook for their wives. He felt it would help men to understand the challenges their wives faced. In many homes there is conflict over how much money the men give their wives to shop with: the wives say that it is not enough, while their husbands accuse the wives of not purchasing enough with the money they get!

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This year on March 8 the students who live in the hostel organized an outing at a local park. We spent some time debating the topic of community life. The discussion leaders asked questions like: What is life in community? Does the student hostel constitute a community? Is it important? What behaviors will help us be successful in our community living? The most interesting answers were about how easy or difficult it is to live in community. Some said that it was easy if we learn to listen to each other and demonstrate respect and understanding. Others said no, it is difficult because we are different from one another and all need to work at self-control. Clearly with 24 students currently living at the hostel, this is a very relevant topic!

 

It’s Hot!Screen_shot_2013_03_09_at_18.52.42_

I (Nancy) have never liked air conditioning. I get cold very easily and prefer to be warm rather than cool. When it gets hot I slow down, drink more water, wear loose clothing and sit under a fan. When we lived in Benin we kept cool with fans and didn’t use air conditioning. In Ouagadougou we’re encountering a level of heat we had not experienced before and have taken to using the air conditioner at night. We’re hoping for an early rainy season to cool things down! Although we were warned, I don’t think we really understood how much the temperature would change. Pray that we acclimatize rapidly in this new context!

Jeremiah and Deborah

Growing up in Cotonou and now here in Ouagadougou, Jeremiah and Deborah have benefited from having relationships with people from a wide range of socio-economic levels. They’ve had friends at the international schools they attend who are wealthy. But they’ve also had friends who are quite poor. They have seen both wealth and poverty and place themselves somewhere along the continuum. This year they have the opportunity to reflect on the rich/poor disparity. Their youth group is organizing a thirty hour fast which includes raising money for three different social programs in Ouagadougou: a ministry for street children, a home for at risk young women, and a food program for needy families. After the fast they will have a hands-on experience with the three ministries. We hope this experience will further educate them about wealth disparities and increase their desire to put their faith into action.

Please join us in praying:

  • Pray for the students at FEMO, the Mennonite hostel. Recently two have lost fathers rather unexpectedly. Pray for Elizabeth and Kinani and for their respective families.
  • Pray for a smooth transition as the students prepare to move to the new FEMO site. Pray that the remodeling will be finished quickly and for good closure with the landlord as we move out of the rented facilities. Pray for the community spirit and understanding to remain strong as the students adjust to a new living situation.
  • Pray for Jeremiah and Deborah and their youth group, that their thirty hour fast will be a good experience as they learn to make sacrifices in order to share God’s love with others in concrete action.
  • Join us in thanking God for abundant goodness in our lives. We are grateful for cold water, for air conditioning, and for a reliable car, all of which facilitate living and working in Burkina Faso.
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Church in Ouaga

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.

Josué showed us the battery that the solar panels charge to provide lights for the students to study.

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.

Settling In

We have now been living in Ouagadougou for six weeks and have been living in “our” house since the beginning of September.  Even so, we still seem to find ourselves spending a lot of time on “settling-in” activities related to getting our living space in order and learning to know our way around. Such mundane tasks seem to take longer here than they did back in Massachusetts!

As you might imagine, our first task upon arrival was to find a house to live in.  We finally moved into our rented accommodations twenty-four days after our arrival on August 8.  The various steps in getting into the house – which was empty and ready for a new occupant – took that long.  By Friday August 10 all four of us had agreed upon the same house (right price, right location, right amount of space …), but  before we could move in a number of things needed to happen.  We had to open a bank account to which we could transfer funds from the United States for the security deposit and the first three months rent.  Now this might sound simple enough except that to set up a bank account you have to have proof of residency (a utilities bill, for example), and we could not supply anything like that until we had money to rent a house!  Sounds like a vicious circle!  Fortunately, the bank was able to adapt to circumstances. Pastor Bananzaro has a good relationship with the bank and was able to facilitate the opening of our account. We asked for a money wire to be sent that evening, and Pastor Bananzaro negotiated with the rental agent to not rent the house to someone else until the funds arrived. Once we had paid the first month’s rent and security deposit there were a host of other tasks necessary before we could move. These included changing the locks, fitting screens and screen doors in the windows and doors to keep malaria carrying mosquitos out, getting electricity reconnected (it had been disconnected and the meter removed), among other things. Take a look at our blog post below for a blow-by-blow account of getting into our new place.

More recent settling-in activities have included such tasks as getting a local carpenter to make furniture and starting the process of getting a phone/internet connection installed. The carpenter brought the desks we ordered for Jeremiah and Deborah last night. Homework gets done much more efficiently with separate spaces in which to work! The same carpenter has promised that this Saturday he will bring the dining table we ordered. We hope to order another desk in the next week or two since we want the adults in the household to get their work done too! Last week we made the necessary deposit at the phone company to have a phone and internet connection installed. We’ve been told to expect a three-week wait. In the meantime we have been using cyber cafés or restaurants with Wi-Fi to connect, often without much success.

For those who are active social media users, we have also set up a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Frey-Yoders-in-Ouagadougou/255052374597337. Visit and “like” us! We hope to update regularly, but for the moment posts will be irregular until we have a more reliable internet connection at our house.

The Mennonite Church’s Hostel for University Students

The local congregation with which we collaborate has a hostel for university students as its main ministry. The twenty-four students who live there are a significant part of the activities of worship, Bible study, prayer meetings, etc. As the students are recently back from summer break, we have been participating in these activities, learning people’s names and becoming familiar with the weekly rhythms of worship and study. They are a talented and energetic group and actively engaged in the ministries of the church. We feel privileged to be walking alongside such a gifted and committed group of future Christian leaders!

We covet your prayers. Join us in thanking God for:

  • Finding a house that we all like and that doesn’t leak, as many do, during this time of heavy rains.
  • Finding a very competent computer expert to help us get our computer working.  (It didn’t like the jostling it got on the trip here.)
  • The talented and committed group of young Christians whom we are getting to know through the Mennonite Student Hostel.

Pray for:

  • Our ongoing integration into the spiritual life of the Mennonite Student Hostel.
  • Wisdom and resilience for the university students who live in the Hostel as they balance academic requirements with employment and other responsibilities.
  • Successful completion of the more mundane tasks of setting up house and settling into the rhythms of life in Ouagadougou.

Back to West Africa!

Greetings from Ouagadougou! It feels good to be able to finally write that. Many of you who followed our work in Benin and the move to Boston know that we have been looking forward to returning to West Africa. After one major delay we now feel blessed to have finally arrived to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. This is new for us since our base in previous terms was Cotonou, Benin, but after three years in North America we are pleased to be back. So this is a short update with more to come later.

Update:

Where is our new assignment?

We are living in Ouagadougou (pronounced wa-ga-doo-goo) the capital of Burkina Faso.  You can see it on the map north of Benin, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast and south of Mali and Niger.  The capital where we will be living is in the middle of the country.

When?

We flew from Martinsburg, PA on Tuesday August 7 and arrived the next day after catching flights in Washington DC and Brussels, Belgium. We have made a commitment to be here for 6 years.  We will serve for 3 years, return to North America for a couple of months and then go back for a second 3-year term.  After 6 years, we will need to see what makes the most sense for our family and for our ministry.  We are open to staying longer, but are also willing to move on if that is best for all concerned.

Why?

We see our role in West Africa as being one of resourcing and partnering with churches in order to help them achieve their goals.  In Benin Nancy worked with the Benin Bible Institute, an institution that provides training for leaders of African Initiated Churches. She participated in the teaching ministry as well as assisting with the administration of the institution. Bruce taught at BBI but also worked with Mennonite leaders in Ghana and Nigeria.  While we are both very interested in the area of biblical and theological training, our main goal is to empower our partners and to assist them in setting and achieving their ministry goals.  Therefore, we did a variety of tasks in Benin that the above description does not begin to address!

In Burkina Faso our primary role will be to partner with the Mennonite Church. In the coming months we expect to discern with church leadership how we might best contribute in ministry here. We expect, for example, to be involved in the ministry team at the local Ouagadougou congregation. As well, we will likely work closely with the Mennonite university student group and contribute in initiatives of biblical and theological training.  Beyond that, there are many other possibilities that they and we will explore together.

While in Ouagadougou, we expect to travel. Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Africa Director for Mennonite Mission Network, has reduced his Africa role to be able to increase time working at church relations in the US.   Therefore, we will pick up some of the administrative visits that he normally has made. We hope to get back to Benin to teach from time to time at BBI.  Since all the courses there are offered in an intensive seminar format, we will be able to teach a full course in a 2-week visit.

What about Jeremiah and Deborah?

They will attend the International School of Ouagadougou, http://www.iso.bf. We trust they will get a good education there.  Jeremiah is going into 7th grade while Deborah will go into grade 6. The school is a K-12 school; the teaching is done in English and follows basically a North American curriculum.

We covet your prayers. Join us in thanking God for:

  • Safe travel to Burkina Faso as well as the fact that all of our luggage (12 bags) made it with us intact.
  • The Mennonite Church in Burkina Faso and the dynamic young congregation that we are learning to know.
  • The reception we have experienced via church leaders here and for temporary shelter at a guesthouse while we find a place to live.

Pray that:

  • Jeremiah and Deborah get off to a good start at their new school which began August 16.
  • We continue to learn our way around the city as we set up house and get to know people with whom we will be working.
  • The university students with whom we will work in the coming months, currently on summer break, will travel back safely to resume studies in the next weeks.

Third Culture Kids

It is the beginning of 2009 and this year will be one of major transition for us.  After 10 years overseas, our family will be returning for a year in North America.  We will leave Benin which has been our home since February 2000 and move to the USA, a foreign country to our children.  Afterward we hope to return to West Africa but to another assignment.

Why make this move?  There are no finished tasks, no fall-outs, no instant convictions that this was the way things should be.  Rather, it was a slow coming to a decision as many factors guided us in this direction.  One of the reasons for going to North America for an extended period is the knowledge that our children are growing up overseas instead of living in the culture in which they will most likely settle some day.  Our hope is that an extended period in North America now will make it easier for them to adjust later on when they return as young adults.

Jeremiah and Deborah are part of a small but significant minority of children know as “Third culture kids” or TCK’s.  TCK’s are children whose parents are from a different culture/country than the one in which they live.  Included in this group are the children of missionaries, embassy, state department/foreign service, or military personnel, and of parents who work overseas for transnational corporations or NGO’s, etc.  What is distinct about TCK’s is that they do not share the culture of their parents.  They often don’t feel “at home” in their parents’ home country.  At the same time, they do not necessarily fit in in the culture/country in which they are growing up because they are being raised by their parents who are from a different culture.

The characteristics of TCK’s are many.  They are “homeless” in that they don’t feel rooted or belong anywhere and yet they can be at home anywhere.  They are often “awkward” in that they don’t fit into the culture in which they live (whether that be in their partents’ country or in the country where they grew up).  At the same time, they are able to operate as world citizens, able to adapt to many different environments.

The advantages for TCK’s are that they often speak more than one language and have a broader outlook on the world.  They are exposed to people from many different countries and so are less intimidated by “difference.”  They understand world issues such as poverty or differing world views because they have seen them firsthand.  They have a better sense of world geography (or at least a different sense!)

The disadvantages for TCK’s are: the rootedlessness and feeling out of place everywhere that leads to a longing to find home.  As well, the transience of their lifestyle and the movement of people in and out of their lives make it difficult for some TCK’s to form lasting relationships.

In practical terms, how does this look through the eyes of Deborah or Jeremiah?  In November we were going to an American Thanksgiving dinner.  The children asked what would be on the menu.  I explained that there would be turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing…  “What is stuffing?”  Jeremiah asked.  That reminds me of a similar question a number of years ago now, as we were going through a breakfast buffet:  “What is cereal?”  Our children know many foods:  pounded yam, bean cakes, “yovo doko”, “aloko”, but they don’t know cereal, stuffing, or pumpkin pie!  They know were Dassa, Ouagadougou and Accra are, but couldn’t name 50 American states or 10 Canadian provinces.  Along with George Bush and Obama, they know Dr. Boni Yayi, President of Benin, as head of state.  (I’m not sure they have a clue as to who is the head of state of Canada – if Canada even has a government right now!) At school they learn how to use currency: CFA (that we use in Benin), euros (for Deborah who goes to the French school.)  and the British pound (for Jeremiah who goes to an English school.)  They also understand dollars – Canadian and American.  Some of their knowledge would be extraneous in a North American context.

One day the children were watching the animated film “Pocohontas”.  At one point the European settlers and the North American natives are getting ready to go to war against each other.  Each side begins to sing a song: “Savages, savages, barely even human; they are different from us and so they must be evil; now let us sound the drums of war.”  Jeremiah asked why they were saying this about one another and I explained that people are often afraid of people who are different from themselves.  Jeremiah who is exposed to people from every continent at his school found this hard to understand.  The greatest blessing of being a TCK is perhaps this: being different, it becomes easier to accept and appreciate people who are different from us.  Everyone is a potential friend.

Praise and Prayer items:

  1. Praise God for a wonderful family Christmas, made extra special by the presence of Grandma Fray.  Praise God for her good health and her ability to adapt to our lifestyle.
  2. Pray for our on-going ability to trust God to lead us as we make major changes in our lives this year.  Pray for clarity of direction as we anticipate where we might live, work and study and where our children might go to school.
  3. Pray for a good transition out of Benin as we sell household effects, say goodbyes and wind down ministry commitments.

Man Proposes, God Disposes

A popular Beninese proverb says: Man proposes, God disposes.  It basically means that even with our best-laid plans, things don’t always work out as planned.  That certainly seems to be the case at the Benin Bible Institute (BBI).  At the same time, we find that if we don’t insist on doing things our way, but leave ourselves open to the moving of the Spirit, things work out – maybe even better than we had planned!

Man Proposes

The original vision for the leadership training at BBI was to add to the basic seminar program, a more intensive full time program for pastors.  The seminar program which has been running since 1994 is a general program of 27 classes that teach biblical and theological knowledge in order to better equip pastors and lay leaders to build up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12).  Every three years we begin a new class and every time we have to cut off enrollment at 250 students!  It is a very popular program.

A full time program that ran over 9 months following the Beninese school year began in 2004.  The first year we began with 7 students, but one withdrew for health reasons.  The second year we began with 5 students, but 2 did not finish the program.  The third year we did not have any students.  The fourth year we had one student, not enough to justify running the program!  On Nov 1, 2008 we graduated all 9 students who had finished the program and received a Baccalaureate in Theology.  Was this the end of the program?  The lack of students forced us to rethink what we were doing.  What were the obstacles preventing students from enrolling at BBI?  Why was the seminar program so popular, while the full time program suffered from lack of students?

The graduates front and center

At the same time, BBI had plans to offer training in pastoral counseling.  The program would enable people who felt called to that form of ministry to obtain specialized training over 1 or 2 years.  Such a program does not currently exist in Benin.  To that end, BBI sent a young couple off to the United States to pursue training in the field.  When the couple did not return as planned in 2005, it provoked a lot of reflection.  What should be done?  We still wanted to offer a specialized training, but how should we go about it?

God Disposes

After much reflection and discussion between the administration and the teaching staff, the decision was made to try a new format for the “full time program.”  We decided that a more flexible program, similar to our seminar program, would better meet the needs of our potential students.  Since they did not feel able to abandon their ministries for 3 years while studying, we needed to create a format that would enable them to study and still carry out their responsibilities.  So we changed the format from full time classes over nine months to two six week intensive sessions.  The students attend class for nine hours a day (yikes!) for six weeks.  Then they return to their regular activities, but we send them off with some research projects to complete before they return for the next six week session.  This change, along with a reduction in the cost of the program (we reduced the cost by one third) has led to the enrollment of five students.  We are very satisfied both with the number and the quality of the students we have before us.

Abel and Timothé, two of the new students

Abel and Timothé, two of the new students

Last April, when the administrator of the Benin Bible Institute and Nancy traveled to Canada, they met Richard Ouillette in Montreal.  Richard has begun a ministry called Reseau Compassion International (International Compassion Network).  He teaches seminars that help people overcome their hurts and address their problems in order to overcome them or to live with them without being overwhelmed by them.  Richard came and taught a weekend seminar at BBI in October.  The seminar was entitled “Living my life to the fullest: healed of my past, happy with my present and confident about my future.”  It was very well received by the students.  In further discussion we have outlined a potential return for Richard in Sept 2009 at which time he will lead a three week seminar that will be the beginnings of a program in pastoral councelsing.  How this will happen and what it will look like needs to be worked out in fuller detail, but we see already the hand of God as we move forward toward this goal.

Prayer and Praise

  1. Praise God for the graduation of nine pastors who now have a Baccalaureate in Theology.  Pray that they will be effective instuments in the hands of God.
  2. Thank God for the five students who have enrolled in the new BAC in Theology program.  Pray that God will encourage them and strengthen them as they pursue their studies.  Pray that nothing will hinder them from completing the program.
  3. Thank God for the seminar led by Richard Ouillette in October.  His teaching brought healing and comfort to many.  Pray that God will continue to guide Richard, Reseau Compassion International and BBI as they seek to provide training and counseling in Benin.
  4. Pray for Ina Fray, Nancy’s mom, who will be spending the month of December in Benin.  Pray that she will remain healthy, tolerate the heat and experience special bonding with her grandchildren.
  5. Pray for Nancy as she teaches “Foundational Biblical Teachings” December 5-12.  This is the first time she will teach this seminar.
  6. Pray for the students (they are 5 in number) in the distance education course in Anabaptist History and Theology that Bruce is directing with Ghana Mennonite Church leaders.  He will meet with participants Dec. 18-19 to assess their progress thus far and introduce the new assignements.

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.