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French Mennonites fan African flames of mission


Adolphe Komuesa and Siaka Traore were among 25 participants who met in northeastern France for Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission's annual meeting. Komuesa is the president of the Communauté Mennonite au Congo. Traore is vice-president of the Mennonite Church in Burkina Faso and president of AIMM's International Central Council.

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January 6, 2006
-by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen

Buhl, France – During a week when the rhetoric from French officials toward immigrants of African descent flared as explosively as the cars burning in the streets, Mennonites in the northeastern part of the country warmly welcomed delegations from Botswana, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Canada and the United States.

On Nov. 11, Jean-Paul Pelsy – president of the Comité de Mission Mennonite Français (French Mennonite Mission Committee) and host for the gathering – opened the week of meetings during which Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission's International Central Council met for the second time since the agency restructured its program two years ago. Pelsy greeted 25 representatives with words from Psalm 133: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.”

In the course of the business sessions, the French Mennonite Mission Committee united with AIMM to become an official member of the Burkina Faso Partnership Council, joining four other agencies; the Église Évangélique Mennonite de Burkina Faso (Burkina Faso Mennonite Church), Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Church Canada Witness and the Evangelical Mennonite Conference in United States and Canada.

“It is truly exciting to see this small group of French Mennonites join the Burkina Partnership Council,” said Janet Plenert, who represented Mennonite Church Canada Witness at the meetings.

AIMM personnel worshipped, preached and built fraternal relationships in 10 local Mennonite churches. They found that many of the congregations were working with African youth in their neighborhoods. Though Africans in many French cities had rioted to protest racial injustice, there was no sign of violence in the Mennonite communities.

The four national AIMM Partnership Councils, in various stages of organization, also met to draft and refine their mission statements. This work continued a reconfiguration begun June 2004 when African Mennonite leaders and representatives of North American mission agencies that related to them in the context of AIMM met to transform the institution so more administrative functions would reside in Africa.

A Partnership Council makes country-wide decisions. Each church or agency active in a Partnership Council has the right to a representative on the International Central Council that provides an accountability structure, a legal framework and services, like fundraising and advocacy, for the Partnership Councils.

“Although AIMM’s new structure still has a lot of shortcomings, I see signs indicating that African leaders are being increasingly empowered to shape their own future,” said Rod Hollinger-Janzen, AIMM’s executive coordinator. “They now have a stronger voice in decision-making.”

The expense and difficulty of scheduling travel on the African continent contributed to AIMM’s decision to convene the International Central Council in France. The French Mennonites, grateful their country had been chosen to host the meetings, gave logistical support. They procured visas for participants, arranged accommodations and supplied transportation to and from airports.

French Mennonite youth met with AIMM representatives to plan a mission trip for the summer of 2006. They will help build a recording studio for a recently begun Christian radio ministry in local languages.

The Burkina Faso Partnership Council, whose ministry has been primarily in villages, finalized plans for a venture into urban mission in the capital city, Ouagadougou. In addition to addressing the spiritual needs of urban non-Christians, Mennonite leaders in Burkina Faso want to reach out to their own youth who move to the cities to attend high school and university. They believe the church is loosing its successors to other denominations when there is no Mennonite church near these institutions of higher learning. Jeff and Tany Warkentin (Springridge MC, Alberta) will arrive in February to begin this ministry.

By the beginning of the 2007 school year, the Partnership Council hopes to have a Mennonite dormitory and church in Bobo Dioulasso, the country’s second largest city.

"This way of working together feels right," said Donna Entz (Fiske MC, Sask.), mission worker through AIMM, Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness in Burkina Faso since 1978. "We are excited that mission is being developed by the church [in Burkina Faso] rather than being driven from North America. This is a first."

The Congolese Partnership Council, dealing with a complex situation that brings together three Mennonite denominations, worked at forging a common vision.

“We live together and we must be open and willing to share with each other,” said Adolphe Komuesa, president of the Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Community of Congo).

The embryonic Partnership Councils of Botswana and South Africa also discussed which institutions should be invited to become members.