Four thousand people gathered in Cotonou’s Palais des Sports du Stade de l’Amitié,
an indoor auditorium connected to Benin’s Friendship Stadium, to hear the 120 members of Benin Bible Institute’s sixth graduating class of Benin Bible Institute swear an oath on July 7.
Each graduate, 26 of them women, wore a golden sash proclaiming Récipiendaire
(recipient) of the diploma that joined to the ranks of more than 1,000 Benin Bible Institute alumni, who are leavening agents in West Africa. Photo by James Krabill. Download full-resolution image.
Four thousand people gathered in Cotonou’s Palais des Sports du Stade de l’Amitié, an indoor auditorium connected to Benin’s Friendship Stadium, to hear the 120 members of Benin Bible Institute’s sixth graduating class of Benin Bible Institute swear an oath on July 7.
Bonaventure Akwanou, the school’s administrator, said that this was the first time to include an oath in the graduation ceremonies.
Madeleine Fagbemi, 69, has worked toward graduation at Benin Bible Institute for many years. Those in attendance applauded her enthusiastically when she received her diploma from Gervais Hounkpadode, president of Collectif d’Association des Eglises Evangeliques du Benin – an association of evangelical churches in Benin. Photo by James Krabill. Download full-resolution image.
“We have learned that receiving a diploma is not the most important thing. What we really need to celebrate is what happens after the diploma, the accomplishment of God’s mission. That is why we asked the students to swear faithfulness to God’s call on their life,” Akwanou said.
Each graduate, 26 of them women, wore a golden sash proclaiming Récipiendaire (recipient) of the diploma that joined to the ranks of more than 1,000 Benin Bible Institute alumni, who are leavening agents in West Africa.
The festive crowd that included 20 national heads of churches, representatives from 40 denominations, and two government cabinet ministers symbolized the power of a small portion of yeast to transform society. Less than 25 years ago, Benin was a Marxist dictatorship that persecuted Christians. Current president, Yayi Boni, came into power in 2006 as “a born-again Christian.”
James Krabill, Mennonite Mission Network’s senior executive of global ministries, was invited to be the keynote speaker during the graduation ceremonies as this class chose to be named in his honor, La Promotion Krabill. Krabill has frequently taught courses in Benin, beginning with week-long seminars that were precursors of the systematic program of study now offered, and was part of the envisioning process that eventually became Benin Bible Institute.
Krabill compared Benin Bible Institute’s first graduating classes that had higher percentages of church leaders, many of them younger in age, with this year’s class that pulled from a slightly older group of people engaged in a broader spectrum of congregational ministries, as well as lay people in virtually every profession possible – midwives, electricians, farmers and government officials, as well as pastors.
Other graduating classes named for mentors of Mennonite Mission Network and its predecessor agencies include David Shank, Rod Hollinger-Janzen and Nancy Frey.
Krabill said that everywhere he traveled during his week in Benin, whether in cities or rural settings, he met many former students or ardent supporters of Benin Bible Institute.
“Few ministries in Benin have done more to reach across denominational lines than this important training center,” Krabill said.
Murielle Calixta Abiassi (foreground), a mid-wife, gave a testimony about how her Benin Bible Institute education enhances her ability to integrate her faith and her profession. “With this Bible training,” Abiassi said, “I am able to minister more effectively with young parents who are beginning family life together.” Photo by James Krabill. Download full-resolution image.
Mennonite Mission Network has a long partnership with more than 70 denominations in Benin, having been invited in the 1970s by the Interconfessional Protestant Council of Churches to work alongside them in establishing programs in leadership training, community health and agriculture. Harry Henry, an astute Christian leader at that time whose influence extended beyond West Africa through his involvement in the World Council of Churches, requested partnership with Mennonites because they had proven in their ministries in the neighboring countries of Nigeria and Ghana that they could walk alongside national churches rather than imposing Western-style control.
In addition to helping lay the groundwork for Benin Bible Institute that began its formal theological and biblical program in 1994, Mennonite Mission Network’s collaboration with the churches of Benin include helping to start a community health program. This program grew to become one of the most respected hospitals in the country with a community development component that in known internationally for its garbage recycling, job-creation and community bank.
Benin Bible Institute is now taking up the challenge issued by the church leadership nearly 50 years ago to develop an agricultural training program. The school sees this as important step for several reasons. It will help to improve agricultural productivity and nutrition as well as help pastors in small village settings to provide for their families in congregations that are too small to pay sufficient salaries.
Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-523-3024 or 866-866-2872, ext. 23024.