Africa has big problems. Throughout recorded history, Africa has been exploited, woefully misunderstood, and too often misused by the rest of the world. The continent still struggles to dig itself out of a past fraught with injustice and oppression. The struggle is exacerbated by the sad reality that the aftermath of colonialism, corruption, and mismanagement by post-colonial leaders deepened rather than soothed the suffering of the most vulnerable. And yet, there are plenty hopeful trends in today’s Africa that defy the characterization of Africa as a continent bereft of hope.
Seeds of hope can be seen in stories like those reported in this issue of ministry developments through a partnership with sisters and brothers in Benin. After the mid-point of last century, Mennonite mission workers realized that ministry and mission in, with, and from Africa in the 21st century must be built upon a foundation of dialogue and discernment rather than dictate and decree. We saw that if mission is to be successful, sustainable, and mutually beneficial, it must be committed to interdependent partnerships, reciprocity, and complementarity.
The work with Benin Bible Institute (BBI) and ONG Bethesda in Benin confirms how small beginnings, along with accompaniment of local leadership, can build capacity and effect far-reaching social transformation.
In response to an invitation from local church leaders, Mennonite Mission Network (through a predecessor agency, Mennonite Board of Missions) recruited 130 students from more than 40 denominations to begin biblical and theological studies in rented facilities in Cotonou. Over the years, BBI has developed a full-time degree program and a satellite program in another city. BBI has trained more than 1,000 graduates who serve 70 denominations and other institutions throughout Benin.
The healthcare chronicle, born of equally small beginnings, is just as inspiring. The needless death of a child led Mennonite mission workers to support and encourage the Inter-confessional Council’s Health Commission’s decision to create Bethesda Health Center. Today, that health center is regarded as one of the premier health providers in Benin.
Healthcare ministries uncovered the need for a community development program. That program grew from a small Mennonite Board of Missions grant of $40 in 1993. Today, it is a multi-million-dollar enterprise that includes garbage collection and recycling, and has been replicated throughout the West African region. Additionally, a community bank, PEBCo (Promotion d’Epargne-Crédit à Base Communautaire), which grew from $2,000 given by Mennonite Board of Missions as a start-up fund, has helped improve the economic status of many families. Today, it has grown into an institution with assets of more than $14 million, and operates as a micro-enterprise bank with 23 branches that serve all the provinces of Benin.
The ministries that developed in Benin had small beginnings. On the strength of relationships, partnership arrangements emerged that were respectful of the perspectives of each of the partners and served to advance the dignity and accountability of all involved. The fruit of this engagement has bolstered the faith of all the partners. How could we have imagined the mustard seed we planted together could grow into such a massive tree in whose shade so many would find healing and hope and life? Every relationship along the journey of building authentic partnership can grow to bear fruit that may someday surprise us. No investment we make today, however modest, is insignificant. Thanks for your investments, both large and small, that are making miracles of healing and hope possible across the street and around the world.