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Worshipful work builds Ivorian Anabaptist church
June 14, 2005
Yopougon, Ivory Coast — The construction worker in heels and a lace blouse lifted her skirt to step over a pile of beams. She moved to steady a homemade ladder for her equally well-dressed husband who was helping situate a trestle atop two of the walls that were becoming their church building. It is a common sight in Yopougon, where every Sunday after worship, more than 300 men, women and children grab hammers, masons' trowels and shovels and put their faith to work.
After nearly a decade of phenomenal spiritual growth and meeting under makeshift tarps to keep out the worst of the sun and the rain, the Yopougon congregation of the Protestant Anabaptist Church of the Ivory Coast decided this year that the time to build had come.
The complicated and frequently changing construction ordinances issued by the Ivorian government have not dampened the energy of these Anabaptists who live around Yopougon, a suburb of Abidjan. Regulations decree that property owners must begin building on land within six months of the purchase date in order not to have it repossessed, so the congregation began making cement blocks even though they had few funds.]
Little by little they bought rebar to bend into forms for supporting columns. They poured a foundation and began to lay blocks. Each week the walls mounted a little higher.
Not only were the Ivorian Anabaptists’ hands used for labor, they were also laid on walls and rebar skeletons, as church members petitioned God for resources to continue construction in the coming week. "Lord, provide the cement to finish this column,” they prayed.
In 1994, Raymond Affouka Eba, founder of the Protestant Anabaptist Church of Ivory Coast, left a promising career as leader of a large Baptist church. He gathered together a group of believers who tried to live out a theology of adult baptism, nonviolence, peace, justice and the importance of community.
“As a Baptist, there was a lot of emphasis on salvation but little attention paid to discipleship,” Eba said. “It was all about having a big church and a big name but nothing about growing in Jesus.”
Eba had a church without a name. Then, one night in a dream, he says he saw the word, “Anabaptist” written on a scroll. Although Eba knew a little about the 16th-century Anabaptists from church history courses that he taught in Baptist settings, he had no idea that Anabaptists were alive and well in the modern world.
As he re-examined Anabaptist beliefs, he realized how closely they expressed his own convictions. A year after beginning his new church, Eba met James Krabill, a Mennonite mission worker who served two decades in the Ivory Coast.
Krabill, now Mennonite Mission Network’s senior executive for Global Ministries, helped Eba connect with Anabaptist leaders around the world and Anabaptist literature. Mennonite Church Canada Witness helps to financially support ministries in Ivory Coast.
“Anabaptists care about lifestyles and living out the Christian life,” Eba said. “One of the biggest challenges in the Ivory Coast is the influence of Islam and much violence. I am trying to teach my followers that we can’t make any true changes through violence. Building relationships with Mennonites makes me feel like I have a whole community behind me.”
The Protestant Anabaptist Church of Ivory Coast grew from 200 members in three congregations in 1994 to more than 1,500 members in a dozen congregations today.