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Fired-up youth build walls, unity in Burkina Faso


Pierre Toilliez and Nicodème Coulibaly pause to check their progress on the radio recording studio that 27 Mennonite youth built in Orodara, Burkina Faso this summer.

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August 18, 2006
-by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen

Orodara, Burkina Faso - Skin burned in the tropical sun. Biceps burned with the effort of mixing cement and carrying bricks. Enthusiasm for the church of Jesus burned in the hearts of young Mennonites from France and Burkina Faso as they sweated together to construct a recording studio for the Christian radio program of the Église Evangélique Mennonite du Burkina Faso (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso).

As mortar dried and the individual bricks became solid walls, so unity grew among the youth from two continents who labored side-by-side July 12-30. Twelve French teens and their mentor, Philippe Klopfenstein, worked with 15 university students from Burkina Faso. Each person participated in a variety of experiences as work groups alternated between the construction site, a children's camp, street evangelism and a village visit.

The French-Burkinabe work team put muscle behind the November 2005 decision made by the Comité de mission mennonite français (French Mennonite Mission Committee) to become full members of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission's Burkina Faso Partnership Council, the body through which the Mennonite churches of Burkina Faso, Canada, France and the United States collaborate in ministry.

"I saw that Christ brings many kinds of people together," said Sabere Othniel Dakouo, a Burkina Faso student. "Whether we are Bobo, Mossi or French, we are all united as one. We are all empowered by the same Holy Spirit."

Fellow Burkinabe Aimé Ouedraogo experienced how God's love joins people in a global family.

"If not for God, we would not have made the effort to work hard at understanding each other. These kinds of exchanges are very positive. We need more of them in the future," Ouedraogo said.

For Jean Gasteuil of France, the short-term mission assignment fulfilled a dream of going to Africa that he had since he was five years old. Gasteuil mentioned the unity that grew out of the Burkina Faso experience but recognized that unity should not eliminate diversity.

"It is important to know people from other nations and build relationships with them, to respect their culture and to learn to know them instead of keeping away from differences," Gasteuil said. "We all know that differences are a wealth if we consider that we are all created by God. I lived this truth here."

The French youth reported that their friends in Burkina Faso taught them how to welcome guests with joy and simplicity, how to be happy in health or in sickness and without material abundance, and the importance of worship, prayer and living out one's faith in daily life.

The young people from Burkina Faso said they learned from their French counterparts too, including new pedagogical methods.

"I was most deeply touched during the time we did evangelism with the children in this section of town. We had never done that before." Ouedraogo said. "The French taught a way teaching a new game to the children that was great."

The Burkinabes also observed with interest as the French shared gender-related tasks.

"In France, the guys and the girls both do dishes," Dakouo said. "We had to follow their example."

Gouda Charles Yoda said the French youth encouraged him to more faithful discipleship.

"The French came here to help and are sacrificing for us. It would not be right for us to sit with crossed arms," Yoda said. "We have a proverb that says, 'If someone washes the part of your back you can't reach, at the same time you need to be washing your own feet. We do not have the financial resources [for building materials], but we can contribute the strength in our arms."

Klopfenstein, a mason who shared technical expertise in the construction as well as spiritual leadership, said: "These kinds of experiences are incredibly important for the youth of our churches. They learn to depend more on God by being in a different cultural setting."

The studio the youth built will be used for recording The Samogho Program, a weekly radio broadcast that combines traditional stories and proverbs with original Christian musical compositions and a biblical message (see related news release, Radio promotes gospel, preserves culture).

Donna and Loren Entz, mission workers with Mennonite Church Canada Witness in partnership with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission and Mennonite Mission Network, hope that the studio will be fully equipped by January 2007, although they expect recording to begin in the new construction within a few weeks.

Though the need for a recording studio launched the cooperative service project, Donna Entz said the greatest contribution of the French youth was demonstrated in children's ministry where they organized the first-ever local church camp.

"The closing program was a great delight," Entz said. "The youth had facilitated more than a French-style camp. They built on the Burkinabe children.'s gifts in dance and theater. One child's father said, 'Now we have a big problem because every time we have a seminar, the children are going to want to have one as well.'"

The Entzes, of Fiske (Saskatchewan) Mennonite Church (Donna), and Zion (Kansas) Mennonite Church in (Loren), have served in Burkina Faso since 1978, helping to organize the Mennonite church and working among the Samogho people. Their ministry has pioneered appropriate ways of sharing the good news that are sensitive to the Muslim context in which they live.