Gospel opportunities in Burkina Faso
Open your mind’s eye. Imagine the British Isles. I always think of Snowdonia, Mow Cop and Arsenal. That’s home for me. Oh yes, and rain.
Keeping your mind’s eye open, now imagine a country the exact opposite. No coastline, no rain most of the year, few mountains, over seventy different languages, average afternoon temperature hovering around 30°F at the moment, and warming up. Sand. Dust. One railway track, one service per week. An elected president since 1984. Open your eyes, this is Sub Sahara, West Africa. This is the former French colony, Burkina Faso. Welcome.
Now imagine a swarm of mopeds, buzzing around your Nissan Patrol, a green Mercedes-Benz taxi, overloaded with people and goats, and underpowered, grinding its way along the cratered tarmac in front of you. Stop at the lights. (You do; the mopeds carry on in a wincing real life game of Frogger.) Do you want a phone card, some chewing gum or some tissues? There, child merchants are at your window straight away. You are in the capital Ouagadougou. The Fada Road to be precise. A boy, Hannah’s age, arrives with an empty red tomato tin and an upturned hand and with a downturned smile. You know he’s practised the look. You know that thirty pence would give him his bed for the night. He’s a Garabou, sent from the country by his parents to live with a Muslim teacher in the city to learn the Koran. And to beg. There is a great outreach to these boys on a Saturday morning, and from this outreach a church service began last year.
The lights change, a business man in a suit and tie squeezes past your 4×4 on his moped. He looks slightly comic – he should be in a Mondeo. Or a Vectra. Then there’s the naked handicapped man, strolling along, seemingly with not a care in the world. As you turn off at Kamboise after ten kilometres, from the blacktop onto the red dust roads there’s another handicapped man waving again in his wheelchair. Everyday for a year he’s been there. There’s the deaf girl to greet you as you enter Yagma: ‘Don’t talk to her, she can’t hear you.’ Now you are surrounded by half built houses – it’s too expensive to put the roofs on. Pockets of men talk and play Ludo and Dames, while the real dames pump water. Ghostly children, faces white with dust, call out ‘White thing!’ and greet you with a hearty ‘Goodbye!’ This is Yagma. We’ve got a church in Yagma.
Reaching the unreached
You see, everywhere you look in Burkina Faso there are gospel opportunities. There are twelve million nine hundred and seventeen thousand and eighty seven of them. (Operation World, http://www.operationworld.org/burk). I work with UFM, seconded to SIM Burkina Faso. I live here in the capital with my wife Liz, and my children Joshua (eleven), Luke (ten) and Hannah, who is only six, and I’m happy to say has an upturned smile to go too often with the upturned hand.
All the above characters are not caricatures (if only) but they are real people associated with the work of Christian missions in one form or another. The country is wide open to missionaries, and the capital has its fair share of good, Bible-teaching churches, with their various flavours. The challenge is getting out to the villages and smaller towns.
One such town is Djibo in the North, working alongside the Fulani people. Up until thirty years ago, there was little work amongst this Muslim unreached people group, the largest nomadic people group in the world. Found mostly in the North of Burkina, this shepherd people has been reached by missionaries through various ministries, until in 2007 they had their first Fulani pastor.
Now the need is for a reliable translation of the Bible in Fulfude, their language, and training for prospective Fulani pastors. There is a mission involved with both these, opening a Bible School just outside of Ouagadougou for Fulani men to come and be equipped for the ministry, whilst working alongside locals here in Ouagadougou to complete a preliminary translation of the New Testament. There is also a missionary couple reaching the Fulani through innovative radio programmes out of Djibo.
Move down south and you find Mahadaga, a mission station with the aim of helping disabled people realise their place in God’s kingdom by teaching them, helping them, working alongside them with various projects, whilst enabling also the local community to help themselves in different ways.
Drive back up to Ouagadougou and back out along the Fada Road and back to Yagma, you will find a unique town of 10,000 refugees. Refugees from a flood which wrecked the lives of over 25,000 people living in Ouagadougou in 2009. Displaced, the government gave families cement and water and a plot of land. A Christian mission became involved early on in providing clothing, bedding and food. As this town has developed so has the mission’s involvement in drilling wells, providing food, and starting small businesses: a sewing group and a soap-making group. In May 2011 this same mission, working alongside a local denomination, helped to plant a church for this community. A much needed witness in the shadow of a mosque and one of the biggest Roman Catholic churches in Burkina Faso. This mission works alongside the local church as it continues its involvement in teaching and evangelism around Yagma.
Come back out of Yagma to Ouagadougou, but this time passing through Tampui, you’ll find a baker’s. There are five workers who have each received a Bible, a couple who seriously want to talk. It’s like that here. People want to talk. It’s largely Islamic, but they want to discuss, and talk. You may not convert them on the spot, but each conversation is an opportunity to give the gospel. Just showing these people the intimate nature of God’s love toward His people is a revelation to them in itself.
What about the man on the moped in his tie squeezing past your 1989 Nissan Patrol? He’s off to his English course in the centre of town. He’s saved his £15 for his twelve week course with complementary half hour Bible study, and comes to a mission’s Centre of Learning, where English is taught, relationships established, and the gospel proclaimed in its Islam-sensitive style. That’s a challenge. If there is one criticism levelled at African Christianity (if there is one African Christianity) it’s that it is a mile wide and an inch deep. This ministry has the opportunity to address this, and try through different courses to challenge unbelievers whilst encouraging believers to go deeper into God’s word through the medium of English.
Gospel opportunities in Burkina Faso? Which Burkina Faso? The gospel is flourishing, yet under attack in the capital. There are Mosques on many corners, and the call to prayer serves as a reminder to us to pray for them daily. It’s making small inroads into Islam in the North, and into the animism of the South. But they’re inroads all the same. At times there are real encouragements, at others incredible discouragements. But Jesus will have His church – here. And the gates of Hell will not prevail against it – here. And God will never leave us nor forsake us – here. And His word will not return void – here. We plod on.
Ben Griffin is a UFM missionary, currently working with SIM in Burkina Faso, Africa.