​Bonaventure Akowanou, director of Benin Bible Institute; Cindy Voth, lead pastor of Waterford Mennonite Church: Elijah Voth; Christophe Zankpo, tailor; Rod Hollinger-Janzen; Thomas and Luke Voth. Zankpo made the Beninese outfits that the Bible institute gifted to the men of the Waterford delegation. Photo provided. 

By Lynda Hollinger-Janzen
Wednesday, February 14, 2024

On Nov. 2023, a delegation from Waterford Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana, visited Benin Bible Institute in Cotonou, Benin, to review their partnership that has allowed God's people in Africa and North America to experience their membership in Christ's global body in new ways.

In November, a delegation from Waterford Mennonite Church (WMC) resumed fraternal visits with Institut Biblique du Bénin (IBB — Benin Bible Institute) after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and a backlog in processing U.S. visa applications. This was the 21st visit, and like former exchanges, sought to strengthen a partnership between the congregation and the Bible school, formalized in 2003.

IBB and WMC share news and prayer requests throughout the year from their respective continents and, once a year, there is an in-person gathering. Until 2019, these annual exchanges took place, with Benin sending a delegation to WMC one year and, the following year, an WMC delegation would travel to Benin. Some years, more than one visit happened. Although financial support is peripheral to the partnership, WMC does contribute to Mennonite Mission Network's budget for IBB and has helped with special projects, such as the training of a new generation of IBB faculty and staff.

IBB connections with WMC began long before the partnership. In 1997, WMC sent people to work alongside their Beninese siblings in the construction of the IBB building to house the institute which serves the rapidly growing Beninese churches by training the leaders of 70 denominations. IBB's curriculum focuses on adult learners of all academic levels, creates an environment in which different theological perspectives are shared respectfully and seeks to build greater unity in Christ's body through inductive study of the Bible.

Cindy Voth — WMC's lead pastor, her husband and two of their four children represented WMC, along with Rod Hollinger-Janzen, WMC member, who served with Mennonite Mission Network and its predecessor agencies in Benin from 1987 – 2000. The WMC delegation joined current and past IBB board members in a weekend retreat to talk about the strengths of the partnership and where improvement could be made. They spent time in worship and prayer before looking back over the history of the partnership and then, looking forward to envision what the next five years might look like. The findings from these conversations formed the basis for a new partnership covenant that will be revisited in five years.

In her Jan. 28 sermon, Voth shared her belief that partnerships help each participant experience more of God.

"It is a temptation for our congregation, and perhaps any congregation, to become self-focused," she said. "Our 20-plus years of partnership with IBB invite us to remember that we are just a small part of the global family of God. As a small part we have something to offer, and perhaps more importantly, we also have something to receive and learn from our global family. Through mutual sharing we begin to get a fuller picture of who God is and who we are called to be as followers of Jesus."

Elijah Voth, 14, said that he probably wouldn't know anything about Benin, if his congregation didn't have a partnership with IBB. "I, now, know people who live in Benin, and I've visited them in their homes, schools, and churches." He also remembers IBB visitors, who have visited his home in past years and looks forward to those who will visit in the future.  

Luke Voth, Cindy's husband, appreciated how the visits are tailored to the specific interests of the visitors. In his case, because he is a woodworker, Bonaventure Akowanou, the IBB director, made sure to tour a furniture cooperative. Akowanou also arranged a meeting with leaders from the World Scouting Movement, as Voth is an Eagle Scout, and his sons are Boy Scouts in the troop he leads.

"In addition to broadening our knowledge, these meetings also generate new relationships and pathways of connection," Luke Voth said.

Thomas Voth, 12, summarized his thoughts on the importance of the partnership with IBB. "Through it, we learn about the Beninese culture. They can teach us things that they know, and we can teach them things that we know."

Hollinger-Janzen was encouraged by the presence of former board members, who attended the retreat.

"It was inspiring to see their commitment to ensuring a healthy transition to a new generation of leadership for IBB," he said.

Bruno Gansa, an IBB board member who participated in a visit to WMC, wrote an article about the partnership and how it helps people from Benin and people from the United State to live for Christ and work together to find solutions to their problems.

"This partnership grows deeper and more meaningful over the years," Gansa wrote. "No one is labeled 'giver' or 'receiver.' We all give and receive. This partnership helps us progress further in God's will."

Cindy Voth echoed Gansa's appreciation.

"I am deeply grateful for our partnership and look forward with joy to see how the Spirit will move among and between us over the next five years," she said. 

 

 

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https://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5038/Benin-Bible-Institute-renews-a-20-year-partnership-with-Indiana-congregation

​Lynda Hollinger-Janzen is a writer for Mennonite Mission Network.

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