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Burkina Faso Mennonites teach reconciliation

   

October 24, 2008
-Tany Warkentin

Samogohiri, Burkina Faso — The past few years have not been easy for Nafi.* Three years ago she decided to follow Christ and began attending the local Mennonite church in Samogohiri, her village in Burkina Faso. At first, her Muslim husband had no problem letting her attend church services, but as her faith continued to grow, so did her husband’s opposition towards it. Regardless, Nafi has remained firm in her commitment to Christ even through the physical abuse and spiritual battle that followed.

It was mid-August, 2005, when Nafi’s husband Issa* severely beat her for the first time in their 26 years of marriage. According to Issa, Nafi had neglected her cooking duties, and had not had a meal ready for the workers when they returned from a long day’s work in their fields. Instead, she had been attending a church service. Repeated assaults followed. One day her front teeth were knocked out. Today, Nafi has moved away from home, traumatized and afraid that her husband will kill her if she remained with him. Having left the home also included leaving her seven children. It seemed unlikely that Nafi and Issa would be able to reach a reconciliation on their own, so the village chief and even government authorities were asked to intervene. Both urged Issa to stop this abuse and allow Nafi to return to care for her family. Nafi has not returned home, still fearing for her life.

More recently the local pastor and various other leaders of the national Mennonite church have acted as mediators between Nafi and Issa. Their goal is to first resolve the social side of the problem before addressing the spiritual side, so they are working to bring Nafi back to a safe environment at home. Later, they will discuss the possibility of her attending church. They have been encouraged by the fact that Issa says that he still loves his wife, wants her to come back home and has assured them that he will not abuse her any more. But for Nafi, the conditions for her return include freedom to attend church immediately.

“We share this information so that [other Christians] may also join us in this spiritual combat for the victory of faith in Christ in Samogohiri,” wrote Siaka Traoré, president of the national Mennonite church in Burkina Faso in a message to a concerned circle of friends and supporters.

“We have reassured Nafi that our prayers will be her strength as she returns to her family. Pray, pray, pray with us that God touch Issa’s heart and that he humble himself before God’s love which has the power to transform hearts… God can also give us our ‘Saul of Tarsus’ on the road to Damascus.” *Names have been changed


 


Siaka Traoré, President of the Burkina Faso Mennonite Church, led a reconciliation teaching seminar for a gathering of West African pastors and missionaries in Ouagadougou. Traoré and his wife Claire attended the Mennonite Church Canada assembly in Abbotsford (2007) as speakers and special guests.

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Burkina Faso Mennonites teach reconciliation

- Jeff Warkentin

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso — “See the positive in the person, then focus on the problem…” Siaka Traoré told a group of ten West African pastors/missionaries during a training session at the Sahel Missiological Institute in Ouagadougou from Oct. 6-10.

Traoré, president of the Mennonite church in Burkina Faso was asked to spend the week with this ecumenical group sharing biblical perspectives on conflict, conflict resolution, and mediation. He emphasized the absolute importance and power of dialogue between members in conflict.

“The non-violent approach relentlessly seeks out dialogue…and if refused, provokes it.” Traoré emphasized each person’s imperative to never give up in the reconciliation process. No one person is ever totally innocent in a conflict. Each one must strain to assure that the dialogue does not fail. To do so, Traoré stressed the importance of working at reconciliation, especially when dealing with those who see themselves as somehow superior. The non-violent approach does not allow the adversary to hide behind his or her title.

One pastor shared the story of a conflict between a rich businessman and a less-privileged neighbour. The businessman astonished that his adversary was not backing down in the conflict, angrily responded, “You don’t know who I am?” The neighbour responded, “I know who you are! You’re a person, like me!” Getting both parties to recognize the humanity in the other is key to resolving the conflict, the pastors learned.

Mennonites make up a small minority of the Christian landscape in Burkina Faso. Yet through the work of Traoré and other leaders in the Mennonite churches, Mennonites are being recognized for their work in reconciliation and social justice. The largest Mennonite church, in Orodara, provides regular HIV/AIDS awareness sessions in the local villages, while church leaders are often ready to devote significant time to resolving interfamily conflicts in their churches and villages.

Conflict is a natural part of life, requiring proper management instead of avoidance, Traoré told the group. “Without conflict, there is no progress.”