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A short time coming: Baptism by water, rain in Burkina Faso

   

Dec 7, 2004
-by by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen with Dan Dyck

 


Ezekiel Maadou Traoré, pastor of the Kotoura Mennonite Church (left) and Abdias Coulibaly, national president of Burkina Faso's Mennonite Church, baptize Aminata Traoré, one of 25 new members received into the church in September.

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Kotoura, Burkina Faso — The residents of Burkina Faso’s savannahs welcome rain on a picnic day as a great blessing. So joy abounded when 25 baptismal candidates waited inside the Kotoura Mennonite Church until a heavy downpour – drowned out by complex rhythms of a drum, a marimba, gourd shakers, tambourines and all manner of homemade metal gongs accompanying the dancing congregation’s songs of exuberant praise – ceased pounding the red, baked-mud walls.

More than 20 years ago, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission workers anticipated that building a foundation for the church among the Sicité-speaking people of Burkina Faso would be a slow process. God had other plans.

Within two weeks of the Mennonite missionaries' arrival among one of West Africa’s most traditional ethnic groups renowned for their powerful sorcery, God’s word began to take root in the heart of the chief's son, Tiéba Traoré. Traoré shared his new-found happiness with such abandon that before a year passed, a small congregation gathered in Kotoura several times weekly to pray, worship and study God's word as it was translated.

Over the years, the Kotoura congregation gave birth to two other congregations in neighboring villages. These three congregations gathered around a baptismal fount in the Kotoura chuch courtyard as the Sept.12 rain abated to a gentle patter. Members sang of death being drowned in the waters of baptism and the newly baptized person emerging from those same waters to a reborn life in Jesus Christ.

While showers of blessings sprinkled the congregations and curious onlookers, Abdias Coulibaly – national president of Burkina Faso’s Mennonite church – assisted the Kotoura pastor, Ezekiel Maadou Traoré, in immersing each candidate in thigh-deep baptismal water drawn from a nearby well. Before being lowered backward beneath the water, the candidate announced, “I want to be baptized and become a worker for the Lord.”

Because of the church’s location in the middle of the village, non-Christian spectators joined the crowd to witness the baptisms of men and women from 15-60 years old.

“Seeing elderly mamas entering into the water to be baptized was a great testimony,” said Daniel Kompaoré, a church leader in Burkina Faso and husband of Anne Garber Kompaoré, a mission worker jointly supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network through Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission. “The non-Christians were thinking, ‘If these wise people are leaving old traditions behind, this new faith must be something concrete and of very great value.’”

Although 32 candidates from four villages desired baptism, only 25 from two villages – 16 from Kotoura and nine from neighboring Sayaga – passed the oral test to determine adequate assimilation of Christian knowledge. Mennonite tradition in Burkina Faso requires questioning of baptismal candidates by church leaders to be certain each candidate understands the importance and implications of baptism.

At the end of the ceremony, worshippers and onlookers alike gathered around big enamel basins of toh – thick corn porridge – and meat sauce to continue conversation about the day’s events.

Anne Garber Kompaoré (Listowel MC, Ont.) and Gail Wiebe Toews began a ministry through AIMM among the Sicité-speaking people of Burkina Faso in 1982, anticipating years of careful work to prepare the villagers for the gospel message. Garber Kompaoré, who recently earned a master's degree from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., and Wiebe Toews planned to allow time for themselves, as foreigners, to gain a thorough understanding of the Sicité culture and for the Bible to be translated into the local language.

However, God had the mission workers, trained as Bible translators, running to keep up with conversions and learning to lead a congregation. According to Garber Kompaoré, conversion to Christianity was basically a youth movement for 20 years. The elders – the village decision-makers – first condemned the conversions, and, then, as they saw transformed lives, tacitly condoned the Christian faith.

Through MC Canada Witness, Listowel MC (LMC) partners with MC Canada Witness to support the translation ministry of Anne Garber Kompaoré in Burkina Faso. Through Anne and Daniel’s ministry, the congregation in Southern Ontario has also begun connecting with the Kotoura Mennonite Church. Though they were unable to fully respond to an invitation to personally attend Kotoura’s baptism service, LMC held an early intercessory prayer service to coincide with the Burkina Faso time zone. Pastor Fred Lichti said, “The impact of the invitation is ongoing because the Missions Committee is dreaming about either sending a service-learning team from LMC to Burkina Faso or, perhaps, raising money to bring some of the Kotoura brothers and sisters here for an exchange visit.”

At the baptism, Daniel Kompaoré read a letter of blessing from LMC to the Kotoura church, and the two congregations exchanged gifts. Garber Kompaoré was moved by the baptism of many wizened, wise women – some of them mothers of the first Christian converts.

“I was under the control of water spirits," said Bintou Traoré, an older widow. "I worshipped them and offered sacrifices to them each year so they would protect me. I was the Devil’s servant.

“When the way of the Lord was introduced in our villages, my children gave their lives to the Lord. Through their [transformed] behavior, I understood God’s love. So I, too, have decided to give my life to God. Through God, I not only have [physical] protection, but also eternal salvation for my soul. Now, I follow God with joy and peace in my spirit.”

Bintou Traoré concluded her testimony with a theme common to all those who were baptized: that God will make use of her life to bring others to the knowledge of Jesus.