HAMPTON, Virginia (Mennonite Mission Network) – More Mennonites worship in Africa than on any other continent. In this epicenter of Anabaptist witness, Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso and Mennonite Church Nigeria celebrated anniversaries last November.
An entire weekend of festivities attracted guests from around the world for both occasions. Mennonite Church Nigeria celebrated their 60th anniversary Nov. 15-18 at their headquarters in Ikot Ada Idem, and Eglise Evangélique Mennonite du Burkina Faso marked their 40th Nov. 23-25 in Orodara. Vibrant worship embodied full sensory experiences that touched the hearts and bellies of the thousands who attended.
Roaring cheers of "60 years! 60 years! 60 years!" filled the air as neighbors joined Nigerian Mennonites in dancing through the streets. Drivers in pick-up trucks stopped in the middle of the road to join the celebration.
Singing and sermons encompassing history, reflection, and vision were the focal points of the weekend. The 42 Mennonite congregations in Nigeria are thriving. Leaders are being developed, homes are being restored, employment is being created. Seeds that were planted more than a half-century ago have sprouted into a full-blown movement.
Mennonite Church Nigeria's president, Bishop Victor UmoAbasi, shared the importance of spreading the positive message that the Mennonite Church has to offer the country. Misunderstood words caused confusion, while also inciting curiosity among Nigerian citizens who had mistaken "Mennonite" gatherings for "men of night" meetings. In the future, UmoAbasi envisions a radio broadcast that will clear such misunderstandings, while also witnessing to a broader audience.
James R. Krabill, former senior executive for Mission Network, was in attendance and expressed his excitement for the future of Mennonite Church Nigeria.
"One of four Africans live in Nigeria," he said. "Endless possibilities are open to the church by spreading Christ's message through other media outlets in Africa's most populated country."
The weekend following the Nigerian celebration, Mennonites in Burkina Faso assembled at the local stadium. From there, they marched toward their gathering place in groups representing the denomination's 19 congregations. This courageous procession through the community was a bold declaration, following a series of attacks that have shaken the country. Despite the potential of being a targeted group, especially with Western expatriates walking by their sides, the Mennonites of Burkina did not allow fear to shake their confidence.
Unity births peace and purpose, which was what the anniversary celebration in Burkina Faso symbolized. Benjamin Siribié, a balafon player of local renown, led a group of traditional musicians in providing dance rhythms far into the night. (A balafon is a type of marimba.) Assétou Ouédraogo composed original words for an anniversary hymn. In joyful unison, the voices of representatives from local congregations lifted up the name of Jesus Christ, honoring and giving thanks for all that has been done. This beautiful moment set the tone for the rest of the weekend. "God's faithfulness was the theme," said Abdias Coulibaly, national president of the denomination.
Krabill, who attended both anniversaries, drew parallels between the events. Both churches witnessed to their communities by confidently marching in parades, held joint worship services filled with singing, and prepared generous meals for those in attendance. He expressed the significance of these two churches withstanding the test of time, not just increasing in membership, but in their unwavering commitment to carry out the mission of Christ. Misunderstandings, fear, or circumstances beyond their control have not stood in the way, Krabill said, and he looks forward to what is yet to come.
Donna Entz and Terri Goaré shared memories during the anniversary celebration. Donna and Loren Entz served in Burkina Faso for three decades. Photo by James R. Krabill.
Benjamin Siribié, a balafon player of local renown, led a group of traditional musicians. Photo by James R. Krabill.