ORODARA, Burkina Faso (AIMM/Mennonite Mission Network) – Jesus often used similes from everyday life to help his listeners understand God’s realm – mustard seeds, yeast and nets. For Kay Fleming, the kingdom of God is like upside-down cake.
When Fleming was called upon to substitute-teach her husband Tom’s English class of Samogho Bible translators, the questions came even before she opened the text, Donald R. Kraybill’s The Upside-Down Kingdom.
“I explained ‘upside-down’ and how that related to the kingdom of God as best I could, but I knew that an object lesson would help,” Fleming said.
For a following class period, she baked a pineapple upside-down cake. When Fleming flipped a normal-looking cake over and lifted the pan, the students were astonished.
“When you turned it upside down, it was a surprise,” said one of the students, Felix Dakuo, who was preparing for biblical studies in Canada. “It looked like a whole different kind of cake. And when I tasted it, the cake was even better than I thought it might be! It is truly like the kingdom of God.”
At the end of August, the Flemings completed a one-year assignment with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission’s Burkina Faso Partnership Council through Mennonite Mission Network. Drawing on her artistic talents and her love of gardening, Kay Fleming worked with others to refurbish the mission guest house and landscape its grounds. She also hosted guests and did some English teaching. Tom Fleming’s major responsibility was teaching biblical and theological English to expand research opportunities for the Bible translators.
Although the Flemings invested many hours in teaching and other forms of service, they also learned much during their year in this West African country.
During one class period, Fabé Traoré was practicing question words with Tom Fleming using the verb “betray.” The questions came quickly:
Traoré: Who betrayed Jesus?
Traoré: When did Judas betray Jesus?
Fleming: After the last supper.
Traoré: Where did he betray Jesus?
Fleming: In the Garden of Gethsemane.
Traoré: Why did Judas betray Jesus?
“I burst into tears,” Fleming said. “It caught me quite by surprise, and as I closed my eyes to weep, I heard from across the table a very quiet, compassionate and understanding, ‘Oh.’ Later Fabé told me that he, too, was deeply touched by the pathos inherent in the question.”
Fleming and Traoré talked about the reasons that may have led Judas to betray Jesus.
“But I was left pondering,” Fleming said. “Where did my deep grief come from? In seeking a ‘reasonable explanation’, I considered the sources of grief in my life and in the life of the world these days.”
Sources of Fleming’s grief swarmed through his thoughts: his dear friend Jesus’ betrayal and death on the cross; his dear friend Rolland’s cancer; the massive, intractable poverty he meets each day outside his gate in Orodara, and the current world wars provoked by greed.
“In the end, I only know that my tears have washed me clean in some way for now, and I receive the peace of God that passes all understanding,” Fleming said.
One of the greatest lessons that Fleming learned in Burkina Faso was to listen to the sounds of ordinary life.
“Do these sounds express grief, longing, fear? Do they call you to pray for both the familiar and the unknown? Do you hear sounds of blessing, sounds of God’s kingdom that is simultaneously present and coming? Listen. Pray. Give praise,” Fleming said.
The Burkina Faso Partnership Council supports existing ministry within the country and discerns new mission opportunities. AIMM and Mennonite Mission Network are members of this council, along with the Eglise Evangélique Mennonite au Burkina Faso (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso) and three other international partners. AIMM and Mennonite Mission Network contibute financially to programs in Burkina Faso and help update North American Mennonites about what God is doing in this country through exchange visits and publications. The two mission agencies have committed to helping Dakuo complete a three-year master’s program in Anabaptist history and theology at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that he plans to begin this fall.
Mennonite Mission Network also helps support North American mission workers in Burkina Faso.