BOBO-DIOULASSO, Burkina Faso (Mennonite Mission Network) — Thirteen years ago, we began planting Mennonite churches around Bobo-Dioulasso, the second city of Burkina Faso. Today, we worship in three locations, with the newest being in Kodeni.
It began with Ousmane Hié, a teenager from Kodeni, who was forced to end his education due to lack of family resources. He worked for two years as an apprentice to an auto mechanic. My wife, Claire, and I saw much potential in Ousmane, and Claire helped him get back into school.
Each Sunday, Ousmane and three of his siblings walked about three miles from Kodeni to attend our church in Bobo. Claire helped them get their paperwork in order so they, too, could attend school. These four children were the beginning of the Mennonite Church in their village.
To celebrate World Day of Evangelism in 2016, we held three evening meetings in Kodeni. Because of this outreach, more than 50 children gathered for worship and Sunday school in a classroom of a nearby public school. This church plant is led by Samuel Traoré, a Bible school student from the Bobo congregation.
Believing that this new congregation would soon outgrow a classroom, we searched for a plot of land on which to build. As soon as we bought the land, we visited the people who lived in the neighborhood. They are all Muslims, but they welcomed us warmly. They began giving us valuable building tips.
Each time we visited our new plot of land, we first visited our neighbors, especially the family of the imam whose property adjoined our church plot. God seemed to precede each encounter and soften their hearts so that they were friendly toward us, even though there is much distrust and persecution between Christians and Muslims in our country. Because of our good relationship with the imam's family, we asked if they would guard our construction materials — cement, boards, shovels and wheelbarrows — against theft.
What is even more remarkable is that when our church members have workdays, Muslim youth come and help us build our church!
Our prayer is that we will be a church of peace that builds relationships with everyone — without laying aside our distinctive identity. One of the verses that guides us comes from 1 Peter 2:9: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called you from the shadows into marvelous light."
Siaka Traoré has retired from formal leadership positions with Eglise Evangélique Mennonite du Burkina Faso (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso), but continues to serve with Mennonite World Conference. He owns franchises of Christian bookstores and hardware stores in Burkina Faso, and lives in Bobo-Dioulasso with his wife, Claire.
Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mennonite Mission Network’s co-director for Africa and Europe, and Siaka Traore stand on the foundation of the new Kodeni Mennonite Church building. Photographer: Rod Hollinger-Janzen