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New church in Burkina Faso celebrates first baptisms


Mohammed Traoré emerges after being baptized.  Jeff Warkentin assists in background.

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Church leaders
Church leaders lay hands on Calixte and Noélie Bananzaro as they are commissioned for continuing work in the Foyer Evangélique Mennonite de Ouagadougou. L to R:
Abdias Coulibaly (Pastor of the Mennonite church in Orodara), Gaston Paul Pohégnan (helping the church in Bobo), Siaka Traoré (EEMBF President), Mamadou Traoré (Pastor and missionary in N’Dorola), Jeff Warkentin (Mennonite Church Canada Witness Volunteer)

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 three newly baptized members of FEMO
The three newly baptized members of FEMO.  From L to R: Rose Sawadogo, Mohammed Traoré, and Charles Yoda.

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February 1, 2008
- Jeff Warkentin

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso — It was a rare chilly and windy morning in Ouagadougou for the first baptism in our little church known as the Foyer Évangélique Mennonite de Ouagadougou.

The baptism service on January 6 was a suitable way to open the New Year.  Three were baptized on this busy day, which also included the ordination of a pastor, Calixte Bananzaro, with his wife Noélie. They have been invaluable in the life of this new faith community.  Four pastors from the western part of the country – the centre of Mennonite work in Burkina Faso – also participated. 

Pastor Coulibaly exhorted the ordination and baptismal candidates using Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 4:2-5, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable…endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”  Speaking of the many false doctrines that the world is following, Coulibaly urged the congregation to teach “holy” doctrine.  “Uphold it, follow it, exalt it,” he implored.

The soon-to-be-baptized disciples faced the first of many new challenges ahead by confronting the weather.  An abundance of worshippers forced the service outdoors, against a stiff, cool wind, and under a sand-suffocated sun.  After singing and shivering for an hour, the baptismal candidates were immersed in a large tub of cold water before emerging in the cool breeze to be welcomed as part of the congregation.  The baptismal ceremony was followed by a communion service.  Rice, spaghetti, white beans and fellowship were shared afterwards.
The Mennonite church in Burkina, known as the Église Évangélique Mennonite du Burkina Faso (EEMBF), is in need of leaders.  The goals of our church community in Ouagadougou include nurturing an environment in which people are free to share and explore their God-given gifts, encouraging them to consider using these gifts for the wider church.  We also provide a home away from home for the students, some of whom have never set foot in the big city before leaving their native villages. 

The pressures on these students are immense.  They are usually the most educated in their village and among the most educated in all of EEMBF.  Not only do the hopes for the future leadership of the Mennonite church rest on their shoulders, but also the hopes of their villages whose wishes for success in the job market can compete for priority against the goals of the broader church; pastoral roles are not high income jobs.

The Foyer in Ouagadougou provides lodging for these students in their first 2 years of schooling in the city so that they can get their feet on the ground and retain ties to their home congregations and churches.  We are also working at developing a library of francophone Anabaptist literature as well as other faith-building books.  Informal guitar, computer and English lessons are also occurring using the model ‘I teach you, now you go teach the next guy.’ 

Although talk of denominations is down-played in the Burkina context for the sake of church unity, many Anabaptist principals are being followed. Leadership, preaching, worship leading, visitation and other tasks are shared among the believers.  Church members and participants are encouraged to say what the Spirit has put in their hearts regarding the given scripture passage during Bible studies as well as following the Sunday morning sermon.

Reader’s prayers for this small fellowship, for the wider Mennonite Church in Burkina, and for our family are welcome.

Jeff and Tany Warkentin, together with their children Danika and Asher, are Mennonite Church Canada Witness Volunteers working in Burkina Faso.  They have been working with Foyer Évangélique Mennonite de Ouagadougou since the summer of 2006, working mainly with  university students who have come from surrounding rural villages to further their education.

Check out their website at