NEWSLETTER AFRICA (MARCH 2018)
Dear Friends in the Lord,
Just back from 3 weeks’ preaching & teaching in West Africa (Benin & Togo). The outbound journey went well, apart from having to cram 40 kg of books in my suitcases, a process which had to be completed at check-in as Air France’s rules have been tightened up of late.
The schedule for this visit was full and intense, with very little free time. ButI felt seeing the Word of God mould the lives of people and Churches is a great blessing one never gets tired of. Although life in Christ is firmly rooted in the basis of the Word of God, it is never just a question of an intellectual knowledge about God.
The heat was a little tiring, so that one had to pace oneself to last the whole 3 weeks, but it was better than the cold spell back home!
2018 Grace Conference for West Africa
Once again, the conference was held in a nice and functional hotel just outside the market town of Glazoué in central Benin. This year, we topped the 100 participants mark, coming from 4 countries in West Africa. My colleague Julien had to do a little running around as the hotel did not have enough rooms for everybody. But we were in Africa, and everything got sorted out in the end! Numbers may not be the whole story, but it is encouraging to see so many come to hear about the Gospel of Free Grace.
Several brethren from the Ivory Coast were able to make it this year, in particular Rémi Konan, who is the preacher in the young Grace Church in Yopougon, near Abidjan. This young brother was so thankful to be with us as he often feels lonely and inexperienced (would to God that all preachers felt the same!).
This year again, I was given 3 sessions (“The Gospel in 3 words”), plus the sermon on Sunday morning with the Grace church in Glazoué, Paul NGoran (pastor of the Church in Gagnoa, Ivory Coast) and Julien Naka (pastor of the Church in Bohicon, Benin) had both each gave one message, and Vincent Dua (Europresse-Afrique Ivory Coast) preached twice. Two preachers from Benin took the evening sessions (Cyriaque Aholou from Porto Novo, and Charles Agbossaga from Parakou). We also had a Q&A session and a “Biblical workshop” which proved to be very useful (looking at a subject just with reference to what the Bible says). Each day also starts at 7 with a short meditation and a time of prayer, both led by local brethren.
The conference leaves plenty of time for people to have fellowship and to get to know each other, and many took advantage of that, even late in the night as it was so hot in the rooms.
thThle conference was originally for the benefit of the students on the Échos de la Vérité Preachers’ Course. This was one of the parts of their studies. A few years ago, in view of the interest generated by this occasion, and the potential to teach the Word, we changed the name to “Grace Conference”. This has enabled us to invite many more friends who can benefit from the teaching. Once again, this year, we had a good contingent of ladies, often (but not always) the wives of parti-cipants. Students on the Course are invited too, and those who are active in their studies have their transport costs paid for.
Visit of churches & friends
Porto Novo – After several years of confusion and alienation among the factions of those who claimed to believe in the Gospel of grace, the situation has drastically changed in the past few months. Last year, I was led to challenge these friends to follow the Lord rather than men, and to look to the future rather than always hark back to the past. Because of this past and the many conflicts generated over the years, no one from Porto Novo could start to preach or teach without meeting objections and rejection from every quarter. We desperately needed the Lord to call someone from outside the situation.
The Lord has graciously worked. Cyriaque Aholou, one of the preachers in Bohicon, has been called to become the pastor of one of the groups. Since then, people in the other group have alsostarted to come and sit also under the preaching of the Word. And I was told that last week, everybody met in the same place.
Cyriaque is a faithful man and has been granted much wisdom. The Lord has given a good measure of authority to his preaching. Several years ago, this brother had come with me to speak at several week-end retreats in Porto Novo. On these occasions, I had been able to see that he had been given all the gifts necessary for the situation. What has been happening in the past few months is a very positive development, far beyond any expectations, and this is the subject for praising the Lord, who restores the most desperate situation. No doubt, hurdles and difficulties will come and the enemy of the Church will not rest. We need to support this brother and this Church in prayer.
I was asked to preach twice each evening I was there. One morning, we got into a small boat to go to a small village built on the lake, where about 30 people were meeting to hear the Word. The rest of my time was spent with Cyriaque who feels acutely the need for advice. It is such a joy to be able to walk alongside this dear brother. Pray for him and his family as they are separated at the moment because of his new ministry.
Parakou – The church in this large town is growing. As Parakou is a university town, quite a number of students attend the services. Therefore, the Church plays a vital role, teaching the Word to these young people who then go all over the place once their studies completed.
Since my last visit a year ago, the Church has set one of its preachers aside (Kouété Adho) to spend 2 days a week in study and sermon preparation (I was told that he spends more than this doing that!). Kouété is originally from the Mono province, south-west of the country, and was trained by pastor Simon Dodo (see below). He came to Parakou for his studies and is one of those who did not leave afterwards. He is a great asset to the Church, following brother Anselme Sossou, the pastor.
We preached several times during the week-end, and spent a lot of time talking with the leaders. One thing to bear in mind is that most of them, if not all, are first generation Christians and leaders, and they have no model in Benin to lead them. Hence their avid desire for time together and their many questions.
Sinendé - Soudé – From Parakou, we traveled 100 miles north, half of which was on dirt track, to the small bush town of Sinendé. Just outside town, in Soudé, a settlement, there is a Bible school of the major evangelical denomination in Benin. The scene is totally different, with just 2 hours’ electricity each day, when they operate the generator, and virtually no signal for our cell phones. We spent just over a day there and were able to preach & teach many times.
This contact came several years back when I got in touch with André, a Frenchman who teaches there and who opened the door to us. We have been there 3 times already. It is clear that the message of sovereign grace is new to many of the students, but we had a cordial reception, and the question times were animated. We pray that the seed soawn will bear much fruit, especially when these men go back to their own places.
Bohicon – This is the town where Julien is pastor and where is the Europresse-Afrique office. We had decided to spend a couple of days reviewing the various parts of the work in order to face the challenges in front ofbefore us in an ever-changing world. The operations in Benin & Togo (and my coming to Africa) date back 20 years now, Ten years ago, we had already set some time apart to review the whole work, and this had been very beneficial to all of us. This new opportunity was a good time to encourage each other. We often forget that, despite the modern means of communications, we are really lonely in this work, and it is good to share our experiences.
We decided that the time is right for us to look for someone to come alongside Julien to assist him and then eventually to succeed him. Age is creeping up, and this development would allow our brother to devote more time to the care of the Church, local and further afield. He has 2 other elders with him now that Cyriaque has gone to Porto Novo, but much rests on his shoulders.
The situation in Ivory Coast is really positive. Vincent is younger and has a lot of contacts in the various religious groups with whom he gains in authority in the Word, quite an unnatural situation in Africa (the young kid on the block does not have any authority). For a good part of the morning, this younger brother shared with us the fire that burns in his heart for the spreading of the Gospel. I just wish I had had the presence of mind to record this time! May the message carried by the books be used to set people free in Christ! Vincent has also has a very important input in discussions with all sorts of people present at various conventions.
We need to support him in his activity as his health is not all that strong. His zeal pushes him to spend himself without regard to his limited strength. It is time to find someone whom he can train and whom we can use to offload a little our brother.
He also needs to find a better place to live. The present apartment is not very convenient (the bathroom is in an adjacent yard!), and he does not have any room to retire to when he wants to study. The children are often sick, which increases the load on our friend’s mind and finances. I think we can find some alternative for a reasonable cost (about $65/85 USD per month).
Mono province – Again, on our way to Togo, we visited the little bush village of Agbédranfo and the neighbouring market town of Klouékanmé. These 2 places are situated near the town of Dogbo, which is basically the birthplace of voodoo. Under the leadership of pastor Simon Dodo, the men from Agbédranfo are trying to plant a work in the Klouékanmé, where there is a little group of believers, in particular a few young men. Vincent & I preached there one evening, and Paul preached in Agbédranfo. Then, we switched over. We also had a good time of fellowship with the people in both placestherein both places.
Lomé, Togo – I had not been there for a couple of years. We were able to preach in the little Grace Church where Jacob Kondi is the leader. Jacob is beginning to feel the passing of time, and I wanted to encourage him. I had a lovely time of communion with him when he came to visit me on my last day. The friends meet under a little hut in a place far away from the city centre. With all the activities linked with life in a large city, it is often hard to be at all the meetings, though a good number of the believers there are very committed.
Over the years, we have also been in touch with a Baptist church in another area of Lomé. The pastor had opened a wide open door to us, but he left a few months ago in unhappy circumstances, and that has unsettled the people. We were able to hold a week-end retreat and to preach the Gospel once again, which is all the comfort a believer needs, and all the challenge a sinner can benefit from. May the Word bear fruit at a time when people find it difficult to face the future! I was also able to spend an evening with the young adults, and their questions were really insightful.
We also went to see our brother Florent K, near the sea front. This blind man was converted a few years ago listening to one of our radio programmes on a local station. Since then, Julien visits him regularly when he is in town. We preached a couple of times in the little yard in front of the house to people from the area. Two years ago, we had already come, and Philip Hynes, from Chalon-sur-Saône, had preached to about 30 people assembled for the occasion. Several of these friends came to the conference, and they rejoice to hear the Gospel.
I had an unusual experience when I went to Florent’s the second time. A few years ago, my wife & I had met a lady from Togo who resided then in northern California, and I had preached in the Church she attended. She’s been back since in Togo, I invited her to come to the meeting in Lomé. It turned out that she was a childhood friend of Florent’s wife’s. The two had been like twins till my friend left for the US when she was 15! Some will speak of chance, or could it be providence?
Paul & Vincent left on the Sunday afternoon with Julien as their flight was scheduled for the Monday morning very early. The generosity of a dear friend had enabled them to travel by plane from Ivory Coast, which was much less tiring after a full 3 weeks on the go. I stayed on in Lomé till the Wednesday evening, and was able to preach each evening and meet a number of friends. I quite enjoyed this quiet end of a blessed visit.
After a full 3 weeks, I got my plane and braced myself for the cold spell holding Europe in its grip (Lomé 88°F/31°C – France 10,5°F/-12°C). I felt quite tired but so full of thankfulness for the many blessings.
Thank you to all those of you who have prayed over the years for the door to open into many hearts.