Ark. church explores partnering with Ivorian believers

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ivory Coast was the country of focus for the 2014 International Mission Study by Woman's Missionary Union. Find resources to support the study at and

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ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (BP) -- Rain hits the metal church roof as a visiting team of volunteers watches and learns. "I would like to tell you a story," begins Mike McAfee, an International Mission Board urban church planter in Abidjan. Next to him, Bakary Bamba, a former Muslim, translates sentence-by-sentence into the rich tones of West African French.

"The story is true," McAfee says. "We know this story is true because it comes from God's Word. The story starts with God. In the beginning, there was nothing but God."

He and Bamba are modeling the "storying" process of sharing the Gospel in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. They are seated on plastic chairs in the middle of Treichville Baptist Church's concrete-floored sanctuary. Around them cluster members of a team from Valley Baptist Church in Searcy, Ark. The team of six is here to explore partnering with Abidjan's Treichville Baptist to plant a church in another part of the city.

The rain becomes louder and harder on the rooftop, the roar almost overpowering their voices, but McAfee and Bamba press on, unwilling to let the forces of nature have the last word. Team members lean in to listen. Outside the open front doors, the street is now a muddy river.

"When God spoke, He created the heavens and the earth. And He created the heavens and the earth with the power of His words," McAfee says.

For 15 minutes, McAfee tells the story of creation and God's plan for His people, while Bamba repeats each sentence or two in French. McAfee uses the Creation to Christ format, which allows core truths of God's plan of salvation to be told in about 15-20 minutes. McAfee and his wife Heather rely on storying to share the Gospel in Abidjan. He says people here, even Muslims, are almost always interested in hearing a story.

The downpour continues and by the time McAfee gets to the story of Jesus calming the sea in the storm, he is nearly yelling to be heard over the noise of the rain.

As he concludes the demonstration, McAfee explains, "The lesson that we're going for is that we are made to be in relationship with God." He says it's important to emphasize the power of God and the power Jesus has as well. "With the power of His words, He calmed the storm. With the power of His words, He raised the dead."

Before the team sets out, team member Paul Yingling prays, asking God to open the minds and soften the hearts of those they are about to share with. Later that morning, Yingling and his wife Jan get a chance to share their hearts -- for the first time ever -- with Muslims.

Grass-roots church planting

The rain finally drizzles to a stop, almost as quickly as it started. Team members and translators climb into cars and taxis to venture out to Attécoubé, a community to the northwest of Abidjan's central Plateau business district. The drive takes them along the Bay of Banco, past docks stacked high with shipping containers. Then it skirts the edge of Banco National Park with its tall rainforest vegetation of iroko and African mahogany trees and tangles of vines twining up into the forest canopy. Along the road, they pass a small river, where fanicos, laundry men, wash clothing in the water. Just when it looks as if the urban sprawl is giving way to some open land, the densely populated area of Attécoubé opens up. McAfee estimates that 150,000 live in the area.

At a corner mosque, they turn off the paved road to climb a rutted and gullied dirt road. The rain has turned much of it into red mud that the vehicles lurch and spin through. At some of the doorways they pass, sandbags line doorsteps to keep water from flowing in. The cars and taxis finally slow to a stop for the team members and translators to emerge.

Their first stop is to visit with a Treichville Baptist member who lives here. Church members call her Mama Tra. She's a small, energetic and outspoken woman dressed in a richly patterned red, gold and blue dress and cloth head wrap that smooths back her graying hair. To get to her home, the group walks over a rickety plank bridge without handrails over a stream flowing beneath. Garbage spills down the banks.

Mama Tra lived in the Treichville community for 30 years, but she moved out to Attécoubé about three years ago and purchased land with space for some of her married children to live nearby. She desperately wants a church here. What's more, she is offering a place for it.

Standing in a courtyard of sorts -- a rough-walled area with banana trees growing on the edge and open to the sky above and the earth below -- she tells the group how she came to live here and acquire this land. She also explains why she wants to have a church here. She speaks French, but McAfee translates.

"She says she came here, she saw it, and she wanted to buy the place," he says. "She prayed about it. However, there were thieves here. She prayed and prayed and God said He was going to give this to her. So she went and talked to the mayor about how she could buy it -- it was expensive -- but she told the mayor that God was giving it to her." She says God "made it possible" for her to purchase the land and build on it, but she still had a problem with the thieves and other people who were using the land for themselves.

Mama Tra continues her story: "God told me He would chase the thieves away, so I came and started praying. I prayed, 'Take them out of my field. You are almighty!' And the thieves left! God is living! God chased them all away! So I said, "In this field, we have to praise and glorify the Lord!'"

No churches here

After meeting with Mama Tra, the team fans out into the neighborhood.

Some team members visit homes. At one home, three of the women step into a small front room to meet a mother who tells them her young son is ill. There they pray over the feverish little boy. As they pray in English, McAfee translates the prayer into French for the boy's mother to understand. She quietly thanks the visitors before they step outside, where rain begins to fall again.

Other team members talk to individuals they meet on the dirt roads winding along a hillside. There are no churches in this neighborhood, but the minaret of a mosque rises nearby. It is easy to recognize the Muslim residents by their Islamic dress and head coverings.

The Yinglings meet with one young man working among rows of cinder blocks. He is a mason helping to build his brother's home. Later Jan Yingling recounts the meeting and how she and her husband were able to talk about Christ with this Muslim man.

"He was a real young guy," she says. "Paul went through the story and told the parable of the demon-possessed man. The Muslim man agreed … that the story was true. But then he said that 'we are the same,' that we all have the same God."

McAfee says this is a common response from Muslims. It usually takes more stories about Jesus and His power to show He is not just a prophet but God incarnate.

The Yinglings have served on missions trips to other parts of the world, including Israel and Brazil. And even though Jan Yingling says they had a great experience in Brazil, "we know that's not where we're supposed to be." They have a sense God is leading them toward working with Muslims. "We need to be around Muslims to know if that is where we're supposed to be."

After spending time in the neighborhood, the team talks with McAfee about the feasibility of planting a church there. He is encouraged by the open door Mama Tra is providing into the community, as well as the provision of an actual place where worshippers could meet. With Treichville Baptist leading the way and Valley Baptist supporting the work by praying and sending teams to encourage and help with outreach, a church plant there looks very "doable," McAfee says.

Later back at Treichville Baptist, where members have prepared lunch for the team, Jan Yingling prays for the people team members met: "I know that when we follow Your Word and are obedient to You and share Your Word that You will give the increase to that. I thank You for Mama Tra and for the vision You've given her and that You've given her strength and courage to have that small area in the neighborhood. I thank You for her convictions -- she's a strong woman of faith, Lord."


Vision trip begins with answered prayer

By Elaine Gaston

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (BP) -- The volunteer team from Valley Baptist Church in Searcy, Ark., had flown all night with a stop in Belgium before landing in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

The travel-weary team members pulled into the Baptist compound.

International Mission Board missionary Heather McAfee had dinner waiting for them, but most were too tired to visit for long. Instead they retired to the simple accommodations of the guesthouse to finally stretch out their economy-class cramped bodies.

But something nagged at team leader Cecily Norman. While in the McAfees' home, the team had heard that Kasocri, one of the guards who keeps tabs on the compound throughout the night, was worried about his family. The day before, his wife and three children were to have arrived after the long bus trip from Burkina Faso, their home country. He had waited for them patiently, but they didn't arrive. He had tried to call their cell phone, but they didn't answer. Late that night, he had asked others to pray for them. All the long hours of the following day, he had waited. He reported for duty at his regular time on this particular evening, but still he had no idea what had happened to his family.

Heather McAfee was concerned. She had heard on the news that a bus was attacked in the north. But she hoped that Kasocri's wife had come down through Ghana, a safer route. As McAfee shared dinner with the team, she shared her concerns.

After the team members retired to the guesthouse and were preparing for their rest, Norman spoke with them. She suggested they pray for Kasocri's family. So the six went outside, where Kasocri was keeping watch in the small gatehouse, to pray. Even though Kasocri speaks French and very little English, he understood why they were there. And there, in the dark of the night, before they rested, they prayed.

While they were still standing there, circled up, his phone rang. The voice on the other end was his wife's. She and the children had arrived safely. She explained to him that the bus had broken down and she couldn't contact him because her phone battery had died during the long trip.

The team had been in Abidjan just a couple of hours, and already God was answering prayers. It was a good start.


Missions team takes crash course in Ivorian cultural cues

By Elaine Gaston

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (BP)-- A team of six volunteers is seated in Heather and Mike McAfee's living room. Ceiling fans whir overhead, and the windows are open wide to the warm, moist air outside. It's mid-morning in Abidjan but 4:30 a.m. in Searcy, Ark., where the volunteers from Valley Baptist Church traveled from the previous day. Despite some jetlag, the team members are managing to stay more or less alert while Heather McAfee orients them to their new surroundings and explains cultural "things to know" before they start their work.

The five women and one man are in Abidjan for a vision trip to explore joining with the McAfees, International Mission Board urban church planters and a local congregation to assist in planting a church. But it's first things first as Heather McAfee gives a brief introduction to the city, the background and worldview of the people they will meet, spiritual understandings and some basic cultural rules. All these details are important in interacting with Ivorians. She also reminds them that this is the holy month of Ramadan and explains how during this time when Muslims are not eating or drinking during daylight hours, it can affect their frame of mind.

Here are some cultural practices that are important to observe when visiting Ivory Coast:

1. Use your right hand. This is a right-handed culture, so it's important to use the right hand when greeting people, handing something to someone or accepting something from someone.

2. Greet first and then take care of business. It's considered impolite to conduct business or discuss matters without first greeting and inquiring about a person's family, health or work.

3. Shake hands. Part of the greeting process includes shaking hands with everyone in a room, office, etc., upon entering and usually before leaving. Handshaking is an important ritual, not only upon first acquaintance but also with each subsequent meeting. When the team members visited a church service Sunday morning in Treichville, each person in the church shook their hands at the end of the service, in a long line that reached completely around the interior of the church.

4. Be modest. For women, appropriately covering the lower part of the body is important, so they should wear long skirts that fall well below the knee. For tops, short sleeves are acceptable, but not sleeveless blouses. As in many countries outside of the United States, men should never wear shorts on the street.

5. Show respect. There remains a deep sense of hierarchy in the areas of age, gender, social position and rank within a company or an organization, more so than in Europe or North America. Titles and family names are used more frequently than first names to show respect.

6. Ask for the road when you leave. Before departing, especially when visiting someone's home, the McAfees formally ask to leave by "asking for the road." The customary response from the host is to give "half the road" to someone he hopes will return. It is also customary for the host to walk for a distance with someone who is departing. This shows the host is happy the guest visited.

Ivorians are overwhelmingly warm and gracious and usually understanding when foreigners make mistakes. Heather McAfee says one of the biggest blunders a foreign visitor can make, however, is not eating or drinking enough of what is offered in an Ivorian's home.

"Our national friends are always watching to see that we accept them and their way of life. … So often they give us the very best they can afford and beyond, and they want us to not only accept what they give us but show our appreciation by eating heartily. When we refuse to do so, they feel rejected. They gave to us the best of who they are, and we showed them that it was not good enough."

Writer Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in restricted-access countries. She is now based in the U.S.
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