Lynda and Rod Hollinger-Janzen are visiting churches in Benin, Burkina Faso and Congo, through a partnership with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Mission Network. This is the third in a series of reflections that Lynda is writing as they travel. Click here to read her first and second reflections in this series.
On Saturday, Oct. 9, Siaka Traoré waited at the Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, bus station to pick up my husband, Rod; me; and Bruce Yoder, co-coordinator of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, We had just taken a six-hour bus trip from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso's capital city. We enjoyed an evening of fellowship and a meal, which featured local specialties that Bruce, Rod and I had been missing since having left our Mission Network ministry assignments in West Africa. That was two years ago for Bruce and his family, and 21 years ago for our family. We visited with Siaka and his wife, Claire, late into the evening.
Siaka has influenced the Eglise Evangélique Mennonite du Burkina Faso (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso) since its early days, bridging religious and cross-cultural divides with wisdom and compassion. He is now redirecting his focus away from formal leadership positions in the Mennonite church, though he is still serving on the Deacons Commission of Mennonite World Conference.
He also continues to play a reconciling role between the majority-Muslim culture in which he lives and the Christian church, from the local to the national level. He owns franchises of Christian bookstores and hardware stores in Burkina Faso, in addition to other business ventures. Claire and Siaka have three adult children, two of whom are married and living in Burkina Faso. Their youngest son is studying veterinary science in Senegal.
After leaving us at Shalom, the Traorés' guesthouse, Siaka got his hair cut in preparation for a joint worship service for three recently planted Mennonite churches in Bobo. He told us the next morning that he was so exhausted from the day's activities that he had fallen asleep in the barber's chair. However, as soon as he had walked in through the door of his home, Claire informed him that her brother, Benjamin, was in the hospital, undergoing hand surgery.
Benjamin, a firefighter, was among the public servants called upon by the military to search out people engaged in guerilla warfare in Banfora, Burkina Faso. This city is in the southwestern part of the country, a region where many Mennonites live. When Benjamin's unit finished its work, and their vehicle headed homewards, it struck a landmine that had been planted on the road and it exploded. Benjamin's injuries are not life-threatening, but at the time of this writing, one of his fellow unit members remains in critical condition.
The increasing violence in Burkina Faso has mostly been incited by foreign actors, spreading extremist religious ideology. However, centuries-old animosity between herding and farming communities, and the modern-day frustration with the inequity in economic development in the country, also feed into the terrorist raids. In the past five years, these attacks, attributed to groups with ties to the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda, have killed more than 1,500 people and displaced more than 1.3 million. They have created a serious humanitarian crisis in the country.
Banfora is about an hour drive from Bobo Dioulasso. Siaka spent several hours on Saturday night and Sunday morning at the hospital. He got home in time to catch a few winks of sleep before getting up to go to church. When he arrived to pick up Bruce, Rod and me, he was full of energy and goodwill. It was hard to imagine that he had spent the night ministering to a blood-spattered brother-in-law.
The three Mennonite congregations in Bobo — Belle Ville, Colma and Kôdeni — gathered at the Belle Ville location for an exuberant celebration. The neighborhood pulsed with music and color. Choirs from each congregation sang, accompanied by a balafon (a traditional gourd-resonated xylophone), djembes, calabash shakers, a battery of drums and a keyboard. The pastors from the three new congregations — Josué Coulibaly, of Belle Ville: Joseph Sinou, of Colma; and Samuel Traoré, of Kôdeni — led the service. (Samuel is not a close relative of Siaka. Traoré is a very common name in this region.)
Siaka presided over the communion service.
"When we approach the Lord's table, we remember and are grateful for the price Jesus paid for our deliverance. Our pardon cost Jesus dearly," Siaka said.
God's people came forward to hold the communion elements in their hands, eating and drinking them as a reminder of Jesus' body, broken for our healing, and Jesus' blood, which flowed as an ultimate sacrifice. As my brothers and sisters participated in communion, the mystery of blood, symbolizing both life and death, swirled together for me. How does one understand such a mystery?
Siaka closed the joint worship service with prayer, imploring God to help each person carry the spirit of unity that we had just experienced into our daily lives.
"Let us work to maintain the unity we experienced this morning," Siaka said. "Unity requires forgiveness. Unity requires that we forget ourselves in desiring the happiness of the person next to us. May we never forget how Jesus gave himself for us without reserve. May our family of brothers and sisters in the Lord continue to grow and become strong in our communities."