Baptisms and seminars

Trip Start Mar 26, 2012
Trip End Apr 29, 2012

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

I was up at 6:00 this morning since we planned to leave at 7:00 to start a full day. I had some breakfast since the way the day looked, I wasn't sure I’d be able to have lunch, which turned out to be a useful precaution.

Paul arrived at 7:30 with an Orange (Abidjan metropolitan area) taxi, an older (smaller) model Toyota Corolla hatchback, and a driver named Caesar. We had fun, in a positive way, with his name all day. We drove straight out to La Mé, arriving about an hour later. Philippe met me as I left the taxi and Bertine was already in the hall waiting. I had a counseling session with Philippe and was happy at the end to be able to tell him I would baptize him. I changed into shorts in the hall and, asked Felix Tia to lend me some plastic sandals to use in the water. Then we crowded in to the taxi, wedging six adults and a serious nine-year-old boy inside. Two more ladies were so excited about events they asked if they could ride in the trunk, but since the road had many deep ruts, Caesar was concerned we might get stuck if we took any more passengers.

We bumped and yawed and bottomed out as we drove through the oil palm plantations that are La Mé’s raison d’être, and after three or four miles arrived at a landing on the lagoon, brackish water separated from the sea by a ribbon of coastline. Contact with saltwater is much safer than freshwater in much of Africa, so this is a good place for baptisms, and I’d already used it before.

Paul Tia assisted as we baptized Bertine Ngoh Oulai and Gogbeu Philippe Tia (no relation to Paul and his family). They were somber at the seriousness of the occasion but radiant as well and so obviously overjoyed. I congratulated them, welcoming them to the family, and encouraged them to persevere after this wonderful start. I told them, as I often like to do at such times, that angels were inscribing new names in the book of life, and that the Bible says there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents. That’s a profound concept when we consider it in all it represents.

We bumped and bounced our way back to La Mé where we again congratulated our new family members and I said goodbye to those I wouldn’t see again until my next visit, half a year away at least.

Back on the blacktopped road we stopped just past the La Mé exit to pick up Houmarou Kindo, a member with a fascinating and sometimes difficult story. Born and raised a Muslim, but educated in a Catholic school, he converted to Christianity and came to the Church of God some seven or eight years ago. His family was outraged at his conversion and have caused him no end of misery since, breaking up his marriage, cutting off any help in a culture where family help is crucial to survival and even threatening members of our Church because they wouldn’t order Houmarou to abjure his faith and return to Islam, which of course they could not and would not do. The family elders have invoked black magic to cause illness and accident – which is frightening in this culture where such things seem sometimes to work, troubling to contemplate at times even to devout and convicted Christians. Houmarou’s road has not been easy but he was very excited at the thought of participating in the leadership training seminar we had organized.

As we drove back through Abidjan toward my hotel, I was struck again by the obvious damage to some of the high rise buildings that had been hit by gunfire and heavier ordinance during the final stages of the recent civil war. Several buildings show pockmarks and still have windows missing, six months after the end of the urban combat.

At the hotel I quickly showered and changed, just to be on the safe side, and gathered my laptop and projector gear. We then drove out past Kilomètre 17 to the Saint Bernard Parish Church and conference center, where Paul had rented a conference room for us. We got started a bit after 11:00. I projected a PowerPoint presentation on the wall, about the origins of our new church association, the reasons why we started and our structure based on lessons learned from our recent past. They were very interested and ask many questions.

About 1:00 we broke for lunch. Paul had ordered lunch at a neighboring restaurant and went to fetch it: rice and beef in a local sauce. I’m not always averse to local cuisine, and enjoy some of it, but after looking it over, I decided I wouldn’t take the risk. I wished them all bon appetite, and gave my portion to Caesar who was delighted with the gift.

Half an hour or so later, we started back on the seminar. The subject now was church instructions and customs for the organization of our church services both weekly and for annual festivals. It was very practically and detail oriented and they were thrilled with it. It is the kind of information that they really crave, since they are really eager to be fully integrated into an in harmony with our Worldwide Association. I explained organization concerns about services, things like duration, advance planning, and various roles to full. We discussed how the Passover and other Holy Days should be organized. These men are eager, but don’t have much if any formal background in the Church of God movement, so they desire precise detailed instruction. They had the change to ask their many questions and by 5:30 when we finally stopped, though the fatigue was evident, the joy and satisfaction was even more evident.

We discussed local needs and I distributed a little cash to allow three men to purchase CD players so they can listen to recorded sermons. I gave a little extra assistance for travel home; some have a full day or more to go on the road to reach their families. It’s sometimes a challenge to give what is necessary and helpful, which we very much want to do, but not so much that it causes problems in such subsistence-level societies. Everyone would always like more (wouldn’t we all?) but we have to wisely use what we have available since it it limited. And more is not always what’s best. I’ve personally witnessed misguided generosity do much harm in the developing world, so I try to take great care, being neither stingy nor profligate. I often have in mind the prayer in the Proverbs (30:8-9):

"Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the LORD?"
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.”

We ended with a prayer for divine guidance and blessing in our efforts in Côte d’Ivoire, and said our goodbyes. We shook hands all around and wished each other well, and looked forward to our next meeting, if all goes as planned in September.

Tomorrow if the flights go as scheduled (never to be taken for granted here) I’ll continue on to Togo.
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Tess Washington on

That's wonderful that Philippe and Bertine got baptized! Please extend our warm regards to all our brethrens! We are with you on this lifelong journey! Have a wonderful Sabbath!

Ken Treybig on

How wonderful about the baptisms--as well as to read about the keen interest in details of those involved in the leadership sessions. I love reading about our spiritual brothers and sisters around the world. Thanks for giving us the colorful glimpse into their lives.

Beverly Lofty on

how wonderful of you to take the time to write and elaborate on your journey across Africa:-) thank you for including all of us in the wonderful work you are doing:-) thank you also for the pictures:-) see you in May if you are in Cincinnati then:-)

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