Feature

Taking Missions to Heart

Ivorian missionaries are sowing the gospel

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In the 1980s, Yao N‘’ Guessan Nolë, a high school student in Divo, Côte d’Ivoire, began spending time at the local Alliance church youth center. There, he met Alliance missionaries and soon began to go with them to show the JESUS film around town and in the nearby villages, where they preached the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Two international workers, especially, impressed him with their dedication to reaching non-Christians in the area. Traveling around the district with these workers, Yao learned firsthand what moved them to do what they did and what it took to announce the gospel. He saw their reactions to opposition and setbacks, and even today is greatly moved when he remembers how they persevered in the face of challenges.

Yao’s experience instilled in him a desire to continue proclaiming Christ to those who had never heard. He went to Bible school and became a pastor, dedicated to working in unreached areas in his country at great sacrifice to himself and his family.

Today the American, Canadian, Dutch and French Alliance missionaries are gone from Côte d’Ivoire, but Yao N’Guessan continues to reach out to the multitude of Ivorians—most of them under the influence of Islam or traditional African religions—who have not yet come into the Kingdom of God. Pastor N’Guessan is the director of missions and evangelism for the national Alliance church in Côte d’Ivoire (Église Protestante Évangélique CMA), overseeing a program that includes 40 national missionary couples working among 15 people groups in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. The process begun in one country now benefits three, and the hope is that the blessing will soon be shared in many more countries on the continent and around the world.

One of the prime objectives of the U.S. Alliance is to plant churches that will become “sending churches,” taking on the vision of proclaiming Christ to unreached people groups. This is the “raison d’être” of The Alliance. For more than a hundred years, North American and European missionaries have toiled around the world to achieve that purpose.

The national Alliance church in Côte d’Ivoire is an example of that goal coming to fruition. Yet, it wasn’t until 2005, a full 75 years after the first American Alliance missionary came to Côte d’Ivoire, that the first Ivorian Alliance missionary was sent out. The fruit is still not completely ripe, but the process is well on its way.

How is a church with a missionary vision brought into being? Alliance missionaries began working in Côte d’Ivoire in 1930. By 1960, the national church was independent, and by 1980 it was experiencing phenomenal growth. Today, the national church is one of the largest Alliance bodies in the world, with a membership of around 400,000 people.

For the Ivorian missionary program to begin, a critical mass had to be reached. Missionaries on the field took occasion, when offered, to preach and teach the Ivorians about the missionary responsibility of each and every Christian before God. In the 1980s and 1990s, the church-growth movement and the unreached peoples movements influenced missionary training, as well as field strategies. Efforts were made in the city of Abidjan to hold a missionary conference every year for all the churches in that great city. African missionaries, mainly from Nigeria, and North American Alliance missionaries taught courses on missions and evangelism at the Bible school in Yamoussoukro. Ivorian Alliance leaders were exposed to missions in their trips abroad and through such movements and organizations as AD 2000, the Alliance World Fellowship and the Association of African Evangelicals.

There were other influences as well, but none in themselves would have brought a missionary movement into being. The spark that lit the fire was the Holy Spirit, who moved not just among the Alliance churches but also across the spectrum of evangelicals in West Africa. All of a sudden, in the late 1990s and the early years of the twenty-first century, everyone was talking about missions and the responsibility of the African churches to reach out to those who were not yet part of the Kingdom of God.

In 2003, the Ivorian Alliance church invited a well-known Nigerian pastor, Dr. Obend, to speak at their national convention. Dr. Obend’s church is sending more than a hundred missionaries around the continent, and he challenged the Ivorian church to fulfill the mandate to take the gospel to every people group in Côte d’Ivoire. The national church, under the leadership of its president, Koffi Celestin, then made missions part of its statement of objectives.

The first five missionaries were trained at a Nigerian-run missionary center near Abidjan and were sent to unreached people groups within Côte d’Ivoire. Now, in addition to the 40 missionaries serving in 2011, six more couples are ready to go and are waiting for the necessary funds. Another eight are in the process of being trained. And so the Ivorian Alliance missionary movement was born.

Despite opposition, civil war and a lack of whole-hearted support at times, Ivorian Alliance missionaries are seeing good results. Among the Lobi ethnic group, centered on the city of Bouna, Pastor Boropo is experiencing good growth. He is backed by one district of the national Alliance church that prays for him and his family and supports him financially. Twelve people among this primarily Muslim group were baptized last February, and a building is being erected to house the growing congregation that meets to worship in the Lobi language.

In northern Côte d’Ivoire, Alliance missionaries working among the Senoufo people came under heavy persecution. They were constantly harassed, and the little church they built was burnt to the ground in 2008. The missionary, Konan, counseled his group of believers to not give up hope and to not lash out at their oppressors. Instead, he encouraged them to redouble their efforts to live out their faith in humility, peace and love.

God blessed their efforts; in 2010 the village elders gave them a plot of land where they could rebuild their church. A Senoufo convert has gone to Bible school for training and is back working among his people.

It is not easy to be an Ivorian Alliance missionary. They face loneliness, cultural adaptation among peoples who are historically their ethnic enemies and a lack of adequate support by those sending them out. They earn next to nothing, making it hard to raise a family. But they continue, because the Alliance vision of reaching the unreached for Christ has become an integral part of their lives.

The Christian and Missionary Alliance exists to proclaim Christ to the nations, to make disciples and to plant missionary-sending churches. In places such as Côte d’Ivoire, these objectives are being fulfilled, as the Ivorian Church carries on the task first begun there more than 80 years ago. Faithful men and women have been, and are being formed, to woo others into the Kingdom of God—and so the great task set for the Church by her Lord is being accomplished. The African church, blessed by God with tremendous potential, is taking its place as the center of Christianity for the coming century.

Who knows what the next 75 years will bring?

The Light in the Night

Months of violence surrounding Côte d’Ivoire’s failed 2010 presidential elections left hundreds dead; tens of thousands were traumatized, including many M’Pouto (Alliance) Church members who were beaten and harassed by government troops.

They fired on our bus when we were fleeing Abidjan. My seatmate, who was shot in the back, bled to death in my arms. After I returned to the city, I watched my neighbor sicken and slowly die because no one had money for her medical care. Until this seminar I was overwhelmed by these memories, but now I understand better what is happening to me and I am at peace.”

Powerful testimonies like this were shared toward the end of a trauma healing and reconciliation seminar at the M’Pouto Church in Abidjan last spring as we sang victory songs and committed emotional wounds to the cross. The event was sponsored by ECGAP (church—healing community/peacemaker), a project conceived by West Africa Alliance Seminary (FATEAC) staff to facilitate post-war emotional healing in partnership with Action Internationale de Développement Intégral (AIDI), an Ivorian nongovernmental organization.

ECGAP hosted eight seminars in three towns in 2011. Recently, I finished developing a standardized curriculum for these seminars, drawing from SIL International’s “Healing the Wounds of Trauma: How the Church Can Help.”

In July 2011 we provided trauma counseling training to church leaders in Duekoue—a town known as the “Crossroads of Hatred”—where the worst atrocities occurred. As a result, new opportunities for ministry opened. “We formed a committee in our small church to help the traumatized in the nearby Nihably Camp for war refugees,” a young pastor’s wife said.

“After every Sunday service, we pool our money to provide a meal—we can’t help them emotionally unless we help meet their basic physical needs—and then share what we’ve learned. On Christmas Day, we baptized 18 from the camp who accepted Christ through this ministry.”

During that first trip to Duekoue, the participants recognized the need to create a booklet for Nihably Camp residents who received counseling. _ God, You Are the Light in My Night,_ a collaborative effort between FATEAC and two missions organizations, helps the reader work through grief by interacting with David’s psalms of lament. The sheer numbers of traumatized people in this camp is daunting; pray that we will be used of God to aid continued healing and reconciliation.

—Laura Livingston, FATEAC scholarship administrator/Women’s Academy teacher

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