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
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.
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
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,
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.
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
Kambou soon began holding leadership training workshops with the church’s
deacons and elders. He was impressed by their wisdom and passion for their
“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
“The months were a time we will never forget. It was such a difficult time,”
Despite the difficulties, the church remained strong and members took care of
“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.
Church invited representatives from
all the other evangelical churches in the area to praise the Lord and share a
“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.)