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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mennonites of Congo, Burkino Faso

Notes from 20 Sept 2012 AIMM Centennial Roundtable at Goda Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Pastor Benjamin Mubenga, Evangelical Mennonite Church of Congo
“It is not good to cut the roots of this tree which has now grown so grand.”  [The tense in this is off – it seemed convey more a sense of we are preserving what is and celebrate it … not that it was actually threatened].
How can we bring the Good News to the rest of Africa?
a.      Spiritual priorities
b.      Community development

Question:  Many American Evangelicals feel that the missionary focus should be on Evangelism and that the church should not be distracted by social or economic development issues.  Would you agree or how would you address such criticism?
Originally Missionaries had one priority, which was good for the time, but now is the time to also learn how to be more self-sufficient materially – and then we can say that the Lord’s work is done.  [In context, this clearly seems to mean both a sense of the work of founding an independent self-sustaining church is “done” rather than truly advocating a dual-natured social gospel, while not ruling out the need for schools and hospitals, etc.].
Rather than to say we have prepared persons intellectually for Heaven with good heads while leaving the rest of the person behind to rot by ignoring their physical needs.
Goal is to use the great riches God has provided his people to meet these needs as well … especially in minerals, technology, animal husbandry and agriculture.
What is missing is for you to succeed so you also can support the church.  A great need is seed money that can recirculate through the local church community.
The churches of South Africa have become self-sufficient… why cannot Congo do the same?
When we (Congo) sends missionaries, we need to support them.  How are we going to pay for them without members who can pay?  How can we develop these spiritual and natural resources without development?
In the past, some teachings of the missionaries discouraged persons from work – “It is ok to go to Heaven poor”, but they themselves were receiving their support from churches in North America.  Their resources did not just fall from Heaven.  We need to develop our financial resources as well.

Pastor Sioka Traore, Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkino Faso
The Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkino Faso was established 34 years ago through AIMM with cooperation and assistance from MCC.
The capital of BF is about 15% Christian / Catholic (also Muslim and Animist)
Since 1980, there are 15 Mennonite Churches of some 500 Baptized (adult) members.
Focus was on Bible Evangelism in rural areas for the first 25 years.
Now there is a second generation of Christians who for work or study have moved to the cities so the ministry had to move with them to a new urban setting.
Work started with a meeting hall for Mennonite students studying in the capital.
Students need assistance and this became also a means of Evangelization and support for non-Mennonites and converts as well.
Hope is to complete training of new church leadership and then for Traore to move on to a new neighborhood to establish another church with perhaps a school that would be open to both Christian and Muslim students seeking a quality education.
               Education is a means of evangelization.
               Education is a means of training new leaders.
               Education establishes financial stability through job training, technology and expertise for the church.
AIMM and the Centennial Celebration is a bridge between two continents and two peoples.  This is a family affair where we share the same food, the same hope, the same faith and the same Lord, looking towards the Banquet Feast of the coming our Lord.

How can the North American church enrich itself from the experience of the churches in Africa?
Mubenga:  I understand that in the USA, many have family or genealogical connections to church.  This is not the case in Africa.  We tend to come into the church as individuals through Evangelism.  This is what has allowed us to grow.  So it is an encouragement for Christians in USA to move beyond family ties and to share the gospel with others [beyond their friends and family] in order to share in the African experience.  In Africa, having become members of one church, we have become one family.
Traore:  We are sad to understand that in the US more and more people are giving up the Christian lifestyle. … I had the impression that Americans always spoke of Jesus in positive terms.  Recently, I saw an American documentary that insisted that Christ had lived and died and then showed the grave where He supposedly remained buried [I think he is referring to a controversial Isreali history program called The Naked Archeologist].  I never expected an American to be so negative about Christ. 
    It seems Christan Americans have become too comfortable – maybe their lives are too materialistic or luxurious.  We pray that you would come to realize that you must use these things, these resources for Christ and not be used by them.
    We recognize that the same thing could happen to us in Africa.  I would recommend a sort of youth exchange so that we might influence each other and encourage each other too in our Christian lives and to positively influence each other.
    Everywhere we go in America, we see only people with grey hair [in the churches] – what happened to all of the youth?  We often worry about what will happen to this church from which we also started.  Perhaps we need to send missionaries to America.  If we did so, they would have to be very focused as to why they have been sent [short-term, project-oriented] so that these missionaries themselves would not simply adopt the same weaknesses they have come to challenge the Church in America on [materialism, negative spirituality].  Perhaps there might be a way to exchange skills so that we can most effectively learn from each other.  [Seems to be advocating a need for vocational training for the African church which also sees an opportunity to help re-ignite what they seem to perceive as a church that is perhaps cooling down in its excitement for Evangelism and Christ].

Question from the café owner, a Muslim from Djibouti:  Is Christian conversion often merely an attempt to improve one’s social status?
 … The response was complicated with both Rod and Traore responding … Rod indicating that maybe, especially when the colonial powers first ruled but that the Roman Catholics had been the primary beneficiaries of those early conversions.  The regular font is Traore’s original answer, the Italics are part of a response to a different question about the church in Burkino Faso that seem especially pertinent to this question: 
    Islam has become strong in Burkino Faso because Muslims control the economy.  Conversion [to Islam] helps one find work so one can survive and succeed.  Christians cannot convert in this manner … [there was a further response that even in this there is a need for economic development amongst the Evangelical community of Africa to prevent the perceived need to convert to Islam in order to feed oneself and ones’ family].
Follow-up from the Café owner:  Yes, but how much of being Christian is simply trying to be as white as possible?
Rod:  There was probably a bit of this going on in way of conversion to Roman Catholicism when the European colonial powers first took control of Africa, but that early phase had mostly been in favor of Roman Catholicism.  One aspect that makes it seem to be more prevalent is the perceived need to go to a “Christian” school in order to receive a quality education and to be successful but that is really a different thing.  Attending a Christian school is not the same as converting.
Traore:  [fragment] What is important to understand is that Burkino Faso is based on laïcité or rather it is a secular state.  When religious considerations are required, the state draws equally from the faiths, for instance, they will request five Muslims, five Roman Catholics and five Protestants.  There is some increasing tension where the Muslim clerics are asking why, if the majority of persons are Islamic, there would be only five Muslims and ten Christians and sometimes they will question whether all ten of the “non-Muslims” are really not the same religion or if they are really practicing Christians.
… what draws Muslims is that many do not practice their religion.  Evangelism presents a reconciliation with God.  The need for this reconciliation is within everyone’s heart whether they be Animist, Muslim or Christian.
    Traore converted as a Muslim and was on fire for the Lord.  When in religious school, it was time for him to tear a little bit of the Qu’uran and to dissolve it into his tea [to ingest it], he refused saying that he was a Christian.  His father cautioned him against leaving behind his Islamic beliefs but that they would wait and see if this was real or not and [if he would ingest Christianity and if it would be as effective as being faithful to the Qu’uran]  … and the Christian missionaries seemed ambivalent as to what to do with this young man who was so on fire spiritually, wondering perhaps why he was so enthusiastic and how much of his desire to convert was legitimate.  He had felt somewhat frustrated.  Of course his father was against the conversion but then the Christian evangelists seemed to sort of push him away as well leading him to feel equally frustrated by both sides.  [my thought:  perhaps this is a source of his call to be an evangelist?]  Certainly, in his case, no one had made it easy to convert.

Question:  Is it important for the church in Africa to be Mennonite specifically?  Is there a reason to continue the Mennonite identity per se in Africa?
Traore:  Yes and no.  The church in Africa is Mennonite but it is first and primarily Christian and African Christians interpret what it means to be Mennonite for themselves.  But the Mennonite identity has many positive and unique values it brings to the larger Evangelical community:
·        A strong sense of discipleship in Christ that is not found in all Evangelical churches.
·        To live the Christian faith in all areas of ones’ life.
·        Non-violence.  Not all churches have this value and many even seem to sometimes advocate violence and conflict.
·        To love those who oppose you.  This really speaks to or reaches the Muslim audience.  Again, many churches seem to preach the opposite. 
Key quote:    “We received from you [the Mennonites in North America] the Bible that we preach and the historical example of stories of faith and pacifism showing us how it is lived.  This heritage is important.”

Question:  In the context of the violence that has recently been in the news in North Africa regarding the film from the USA and the cartoons from France, to what extent are the peace churches in Africa cooperating or able to cooperate with Muslim pacifist groups to address these crises?
Traore:  There is cooperation between the Christians and the Muslims but this cooperation does not begin with a crisis.  Relationships of peace should begin when they are at peace and there is no provocation so that they [these relationships] can be there when a crisis does happen.
Note:  Traore seemed to indicate that many of these relationships are between individuals, not necessarily institutional.

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