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God’s powerful and precious word inspires long-term worker for mission


Joint Mennonite Church Canada, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, and Mennonite Mission Network release
For immediate release
October 6, 2004
- by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen


Anne Garber Kompaoré (Listowel MC) is a linguistics worker for Mennonite Church Canada Witness in Burkina Faso, Africa.

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Elkhart, Ind. — When a government coup d’état occurred in 1982, the villagers of Kotoura hardly noticed. But a few weeks later on Christmas night, awed discussion lasted far into the star-lit darkness in this remote village in Upper Volta, today’s Burkina Faso.

A young Christian from another region, Siaka Traoré, delivered the life-changing news. Traoré, the same man who stirred Mennonite World Conference last summer with his address in Zimbabwe, explained to the villagers of Kotoura who Jesus was and why God sent him into the world.

A month before Traoré’s Christmas speech, Anne Garber and Gail Wiebe (later to become Wiebe Toews) arrived in the Kotoura. However, prayer preceded them to this Sicité-speaking village. They prayed that God’s Spirit would prepare the villagers’ hearts to receive the message of God’s love and care for them.

“We also asked for one person to search for truth,” Garber Kompaoré said. (Garber married Daniel Kompaoré, the founding director of the National Bible Translation and Literacy Association in 1992.)

“When we moved [to Kotoura], the village people did not expect us to stay long. It’s not that they did not want us, they just did not think that two white women would be able to endure [their] lifestyle and diet,” said Garber Kompaoré, who has worked with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission through Mennonite Church Canada Witness and its predecessor agencies for more than two decades.

“The village people were delighted and amazed to find these white people interested in them and in their language. They were even more amazed when we asked the chief for land to build a house on,” Garber Kompaoré said. “They saw we were serious about staying!”

The village chief assigned his 24-year-old son, Tiéba, to “supervise” the two North American women. During one of Tiéba’s visits, he picked up a French book and began to falteringly read the story of the prodigal son.

When he had finished, Tiéba exclaimed, “Wow! What a wonderful story. Tell me more and I’ll tell others.”

Within two weeks of the Mennonite women’s arrival among one of Burkina Faso’s most traditional ethnic groups, renowned for their powerful sorcery, God’s word began to take root in the heart of a future leader.

“It was like Tiéba was prophesying,” Garber Kompaoré said. “Within a year, he gave his life to Christ. He became quite the evangelist and soon brought in a group of seven friends.”

Tiéba and his friends had an insatiable desire to learn to read so they could understand more about what God wanted to communicate to them. After working all day in their fields, the young men would come to the mission workers’ home to read biblical portions. The enthusiasm of the new believers often exhausted their Mennonite mentors.

“We had to insist they stop at 10 pm. so we could get some sleep,” Garber Kompaoré said. “They had us preaching four nights each week. We had been prepared to take time to be culturally sensitive, but we weren’t ready to lead a church.

“We were looking at a time frame measured in years, before anticipating conversions, but God had other plans. The first convert came before the Bible even began to be translated,” Garber Kompaoré said.

Although the church was growing quickly, it faced opposition. “Life for the believers became really hard when the village elders realized that the young men would no longer sacrifice,” Garber Kompaoré said.

The young believers struggled to find ways to show respect to their families without supporting ancestor worship and the accompanying sacrifices. Tradition dictates that a married man give money to pay for animal sacrifices when his father-in-law dies. Tiéba reasoned that money is more useful in life than in death and proposed giving an equivalent sum to the wife’s family before the father-in-law died.

Ten years after her arrival in Kotoura, Garber Kompaoré moved a two-day journey away to join her husband in Burkina Faso’s capital city. The Kotoura church, under local leadership, continued to experience the growing pains of all new congregations.

A major blow came in 1994. Tiéba died at the age of 36 after a sudden illness leaving two wives and eight children. Many believers disappeared and went back to the traditional ways. A 36-year-old is not supposed to die, the Kotoura villagers reasoned, perhaps the new religion Tiéba preached offended the spirits.

The church struggled after Tiéba’s death, but today the Kotoura congregation and two congregations that have grown up in surrounding villages have a vibrant Christian witness. In September, these congregations will baptize 32 people.

Garber Kompaoré, equally at home in a mud-brick courtyard or in an academic ivory tower, often responds to questions about why she did something with “because no one else is doing it”.

That’s what she says about the motivation for her current masters’ thesis she is writing at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. on discourse analysis of biblical law. “Mosaic law may seem to be the driest part of the Bible,” Kompaoré said, “but it’s hard to say in a few words how it affects me.

“There are some passages that I read and a light goes on – so that’s where Jesus got it! One of these passages is Leviticus 19:17-18, ‘Don’t hate your brother in your heart, rebuke him. Don’t hold anger in your heart, but love your brother as yourself.’ Most people don’t know that, ‘Do good to your enemies is also part of Mosaic Law.’”

A foundational truth underlying Garber Kompaoré’s ministry, whether it be in North America or in West Africa, is that “God’s word is precious.”

For the past seven years, Garber Kompaoré has been seconded to Wycliffe Bible Translators in Burkina Faso as a linguistic coordinator working with more than 20 of the country’s 60 languages.

Upon her return to Burkina Faso in December, she will serve as a United Bible Societies translation consultant, assuring accurate and understandable biblical translations.

“Translation is one of the biggest challenges I face in my work,” Garber Kompaoré said. “Illiteracy is another. You could translate the Bible into all the languages in the world, but if people don’t know how to read it doesn’t have a lot of effect.

“Biblical literacy programs are highly, highly important for the church [in Burkina Faso]. Biblical material is often the only written material in their language. I’ve seen brand-new believers so excited about their faith, they can hardly wait to get their hands on written material that will tell them more about God.

“In North America, we have so much information at our disposal that the Bible often gets put on the back shelf,” Garber Kompaoré said.

Garber Kompaoré is eager to rejoin her husband, their three children and four grandchildren in Burkina Faso after her six-month North American assignment. The Kompaorés also have two children and seven grandchildren in France.

Garber Kompaoré grew up in Ontario and is a member at Listowel Mennonite Church.