The Zingbe sisters brought together three continents to care for children in West Africa. Now, the hospitality modeled by their family in western Ivory Coast returns full circle.
Though Annette and Esther Zingbe’s parents had eight biological children, the door of their home in Man, Ivory Coast, was always open for one more.
“My father’s salary as a teacher meant there was not much money, but my parents were always eager to help people,” Esther Zingbe said. Annette and Esther believe that their parents’ concern for children with nowhere to go, grows from their father’s losing his parents as an infant. His grandmother cared for him and helped him get an education. That compassion has flowered across three continents and into the fourth generation.
Annette, the older of the two sisters, followed her parents’ example as she went to work among street children in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast’s neighbor to the northeast. During her three years in Burkina, Annette met a Spanish co-worker, Francisco “Paco” Castillo, who would later become her husband.
Annette and Paco shared a vision to help children “in difficulty.” Paco’s connection to Comunidades Unidas Anabautistas (the Mennonite church in Burgos, Spain) allowed them to be part of a teaching delegation that visited Benin Bible Institute to present a seminar in 1999. In Benin, the couple heard God’s call to create a home for children who needed food, shelter and love. The following year, La Casa Grande (The Big House) opened its doors with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, providing the legal in-country status.
Paulin Bossou, whose father had died when he was a child, was studying at Benin Bible Institute, and heard Annette and Paco describe the La Casa Grande ministry. Intrigued, he began to volunteer. There, he met Esther Zingbe, who had come to help her sister and brother-in-law.
“It was my first time away from home,” Esther said. “It was so difficult; I cried for the whole first year.”
However, two people touched Esther in her grief. One was Jean Léo, a 3-month-old infant who was ill and undernourished. Esther found meaning in nursing him back to health. The other was Paulin, who won Esther’s heart. They got married in 2005 and, a year later, began to serve as co-directors of La Casa Grande, a ministry that they continue even as they parent their four biological children.
La Casa Grande’s children are not called orphans, because they are all part of God’s family. The bonding between the 40 brothers and sisters happens daily as they play, worship, and do chores together. La Casa Grande children have the option of studying or learning a trade such as carpentry or sewing. Some of them have begun university studies.
La Casa Grande also reaches out to children in the surrounding community of Allada through Les Leaders (The Leaders) school, weekly Bible camps, and a weeklong summer camp.
“We do everything on the basis of the love of Christ. We are trying to make sure the children can grow up in a Christian environment so that one day, they may also reflect the Lord’s love to others, because we have the firm conviction that the world can change with the love of God,” Paulin Bossou said.
With La Casa Grande capably managed by Esther and Paulin, and with a ceasefire in the armed conflicts in the Man area (2002–2007 and 2011), Annette and Paco have been able to fulfill Annette’s childhood dream—to continue the work that her parents began among the children in her hometown. Their ministry is called Jeunes Espoir d’Afrique, Youth—Hope of Africa. Having come full circle, Annette and Paco serve as co-directors of this ministry that helps to rehabilitate child soldiers and young prisoners. Annette described the conditions in which prisoners exist with 200–300 people in one cell.
“It’s horrible,” she said. “When they leave prison, life isn’t much better because people are afraid of them.”
Currently, Annette and Paco parent 30 children in addition to their three biological children. Following schooling, the youth are taught trades like masonry, electrical wiring, sewing, and raising small animals like rabbits and poultry. The ultimate goal for Annette and Paco is to demonstrate God’s love to their growing household. The Castillos rejoice with the 24 youth who have been baptized since they joined their extended family.
“The cry of my heart is for these young people to know the Lord,” Annette said. “I want the gospel to touch their hearts. The need is so great.”
From the faithful hospitality shown in the Zingbe home, hundreds of lives on three continents have been touched by Jesus’ love. The churches in Benin and Ivory Coast and Mennonite Mission Network join the local communities who support the children’s homes.
The parent congregation of these twin ministries, Comunidades Unidas Anabautistas in Spain, has also gotten the municipal government of Burgos interested in contributing to the well-being of the West African children they love and are educating to become tomorrow’s leaders.
La Casa Grande. Photo by Karla Minter.
Paulin Bossou and Esther Zingbe with three of their four children: Ruben (9), Ephraïm (2), and Nathan (10). Baby Grace was born as this publication went to press. Paulin and Esther are co-directors of La Casa Grande. Photo provided.
Jeunes Espoir d’Afrique. Photo by Steve Wiebe-Johnson.
Paco and Annette Castillo with their children: Tika Amanda (5), Daniel (15), and Ariel (10). They are the founders and directors of Jeunes Espoir d’Afrique in Ivory Coast.