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In war-weary Ivory Coast, churches were a haven
William Haun, Baptist Press
August 10, 2011
6 MIN READ TIME

In war-weary Ivory Coast, churches were a haven

In war-weary Ivory Coast, churches were a haven
William Haun, Baptist Press
August 10, 2011

BROBO, Ivory Coast

— It is the day of Pentecost, and pastor Dabilla Kambou stands smiling in front

of an armed soldier at a military checkpoint outside Brobo, the village Kambou

wants to enter. The pastor is known for his wide grin that can defuse the most

tense situations.

The guard can’t help but smile back as he shakes Kambou’s hand and asks, “Where

are you going?”

“To church,” Kambou replies, “for the big celebration.”

A minute later he’s back on his motorcycle and on his way again, still smiling.

“That’s nothing,” he says of the easy encounter.

During Ivory Coast’s

nearly nine-year-long civil war, most encounters at military checkpoints were

intimidating. Soldiers would all but strip search civilians and rummage through

their bags for weapons and anything of value. Individuals found suspect often

were beaten, jailed and sometimes executed.

Photo by William Haun

Believers in Brobo, Ivory Coast, sing and dance at a multi-ethnic celebration of God’s provision during their country’s divisive civil war. “We have been studying the Book of Acts and we wanted to eat together, fellowship and worship in agape love like the disciples used to,” deacon Arnaud Kouassi Brou says.

Kambou would make the nearly 20-mile journey from Bouaké to Brobo every month

by bicycle. Otherwise, traveling in a personal motor vehicle almost guaranteed

he would be accosted and have the vehicle commandeered by soldiers.

“It was hard,” Kambou says, shaking his head. “The war didn’t do any good for

our country, but good things did happen during the war.”

Those good things are the reason for the celebration he is attending at Brobo

Baptist Church.

Throughout the war, the congregation not only preserved, but thrived.

Deacon Arnaud Kouassi Brou explains his congregation’s decision to set aside a

day of jubilation: “We wanted to stop everything and give thanks. We need to

recognize all that God has done.”

In 2003, Brobo was flooded with refugees from nearby Bouaké,

Ivory Coast’s

second-largest city. International peacekeepers had established Brobo as a

demilitarized zone, and it became a safe haven for people fleeing the fighting

between government and rebel troops.

Brobo Baptist

Church had over a dozen new

believers who wanted to be baptized, but they had no pastor. So they called on

Kambou, who pastors a Baptist church in Bouaké.

That long bicycle ride to baptize 15 men and women was the first of many as he

became their “honorary pastor.” Kambou returned once a month to preach, often

baptizing new believers after the Sunday services.

“I baptized the majority of the members of their church,” he says. “They were

people who fled the war zones. They had no idea they would encounter Jesus

here.”

Photo by William Haun

“The war didn’t do any good for our country, but good things did happen during the war,” says Ivory Coast pastor Dabilla Kambou, who made monthly bicycle trips to Brobo Baptist Church to nurture its ministry in the community.

Kambou soon began holding leadership training workshops with the church’s

deacons and elders. He was impressed by their wisdom and passion for their

church.

“They’re such smart people. I just needed to help them develop a vision [for

the church] and then they ran with it,” he recounts.

The group focused on keeping the church unified during the ongoing, bloody

strife. They met with the village chief and the mayor to establish that they

had no political interest. “We supported neither one side nor the other; we

were there for our community,” Brou says.

One community project the church spearheaded was the construction of a mill for

the village to process rice and corn. “People often say that Christians don’t

do anything but pray,” Brou laughs. “We want to show them that in addition to

prayer, we attend to the social needs of the community.”

Kambou was amazed by their initiative. “It wasn’t an idea I gave them. They

came up with it on their own through the wisdom they received from God,” he

said. “He opened their eyes to ways the church can reach out.”

In early 2011, Ivory Coast

erupted with violence once again, and it had a profound effect on Brobo.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the commercial capital of Abidjan

and headed into the country’s interior. Villages like Brobo saw their

populations double, even triple, as residents of the city sought refuge in their

ancestral villages.

“The months were a time we will never forget. It was such a difficult time,”

Brou recalls.

Despite the difficulties, the church remained strong and members took care of

each other.

“If someone had two kilos of rice, he’d give one kilo to

another. If someone had some yams, they would share them. We spent the two

months unified as a church,” Brou says.

He points to scripture as the inspiration for their thanksgiving celebration on

Pentecost. “We have been studying the Book of Acts and we wanted to eat

together, fellowship and worship in agape love like the disciples used to.”

Christians around the world remember Pentecost as a day the unifying power of

the Holy Spirit was made evident. On this Pentecost in Brobo, the Spirit moved

again, bringing believers from different denominations, ethnic groups and

political parties together for the unified purpose of glorifying God.

Brobo Baptist

Church invited representatives from

all the other evangelical churches in the area to praise the Lord and share a

meal.

“We didn’t buy this food here,” Brou says as he proudly points to the dozens of

covered pots in the church. “Each church member prepared food and brought it to

share with everyone.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Haun is a long-term volunteer who works alongside the

International Mission Board’s global communication team. To see more photos and

video from Ivory Coast, visit www.africastories.org.)

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