, a pastry and coffee shop I've used ever since I started coming here, and when Man was behind rebel lines. The situation has obviously improved now, the shop has been repainted, the tables and chairs updated and the equipment inside spruced up as well. In fact there is no name on the shop now, so I don’t know if it’s even called la brioche
any more. But it’s the same fellow running it.
Ibrahim dropped us and drove off to have the leak in the AC line fixed. He told us in Abidjan the repair would take about an hour, but it might be a little longer here.
We took a corner table on the terrace and ordered pain au raisin
and café au lait
. And we watched with interest the colorful opera of street life in Man: overloaded trucks and van trundling by, 4WDs marked with the names of businesses and charities: Radio-Television Ivoire, Électricité de Côte d’Ivoire, Red Cross Geneva, UN vehicles with men manning heavy machine guns on top and more. Men were pushing Nescafe carts, carrying boards full of sunglasses, and hawking cheap knockoffs of music CDs and videos. A group of female street sweepers walked by with their long brooms and rearranged the dust on the street, sending plenty our way.
Other women with baskets of bread on their heads and babies on their backs walked back and forth. Two or three men whose spirits had broken wandered around in filthy tattered clothes, their matted hair an obvious sign of their mental condition, one was working the stub of a cigarette, blowing clouds of white smoke.
Other expats came in for breakfast, some with African counterparts, some among themselves. We ate and sipped our coffee and waited. And waited…. 08:00 came and went. We called for an update: they were welding the line break. 08:30. I asked Paul to tell Ibrahim if it’s not fixed by 09:00 we’ll just do without AC until we get back to Abidjan. 09:00, 09:30, 10:00. It’s always almost ready, just another minute… We decide to rent another taxi to take us out to Blolé, our first scheduled stop for the day. We had decided that best use of the day we had was to make the rounds and visit the little fledgling groups around Man which would encourage the new people striving to learn and apply what the Bible teaches. Sometimes villagers refuse to believe that there is anyone else in the world that observes the 7th
day Sabbath and believes what we do, so our appearance is encouraging to some and startling to others.
We negotiated 6000 francs for the trip out and back with whatever wait time on site we would need. This accepted, we entered the old green-colored taxi and started out east toward Blolé, about half an hour distant. The road had been graded and was actually quite good for a dirt road. We made good time, arrived in the village, turned in toward the center and found a group of interested people waiting. A few of them attend our meetings regularly, most were curious and wanted to meet us and hear what we had to say. After the formal greetings and introductions I was asked to say a few words.
I said were happy to meet them; that we were always encouraged to hear that there were people who sincerely sought the truth of the Bible and wanted to live the way of life the Book described. We weren’t worried about having crowds of people participate in our work, I continued, the church of God has always been small and always will be until the return of Christ. Jesus called it a "little flock" in Luke 12:32. I mentioned the fruit of Jesus’ earthly ministry: He, the Son of God taught and preached for 3 ½ years. He performed amazing miracles, changing water into wine, feeding thousands with a few loaves and fish; He gave sight to the blind, and even resurrected the dead. Yet on the day of Pentecost the Church started with only 120 people, and by the end of the day only 3000 (Acts 2). How to understand that after the earthly ministry of the Son of God, the results seemed so meager? Couldn’t God in the flesh do better than that?
The reason of course was that not everyone can come to Christ and His Church in this time, only those whom the Father calls (John 6:44). And so our mission is to serve those God draws to us. We can’t yet save the world; that time is reserved for the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.
This message is encouraging for members of small groups like the one in Blolé and crucial for new people to understand. It goes to the heart of the divine plan playing out today. They asked me to introduce myself and Daniel, so I took a minute to do so. I explained my education at Ambassador College and my pastoral work in France and my current service in our French Department. I explained how I met a charming young French-speaking woman in college who said she could never be interested in anyone who didn’t speak French very well, and how my grades improved in French after that. When I finally said that she had agreed to marry me and that we were still very happy together after nearly 30 years, they broke into spontaneous applause and cheering. All the world does indeed love a lover… especially, in this part of the world, one who speaks French! I then introduced Daniel and he said a few words of greeting as well, which were very well received.
There were a few questions and some other pleasant conversation. As we prepared to leave, an assistant to the local chief, there in his official capacity, explained that their rules of hospitality would have them offer us a meal. Since there was no time for that on this day, they would send a rooster with us to eat later when we had time. A plump rooster was brought, his claws tied for easy transport and he was presented to Séussié who put him in the trunk of the taxi. We shook hands and thanked everyone for their welcome.
We drove back to the hotel where Ibrahim still was not ready with the truck. He didn’t finally get back until about 12:30 at which time we drove off to make our late round of visits. We didn’t make it far outside of Man when the truck overheated. Those who had worked on welding the leaking pipes hadn’t retightened everything well. We stopped, waited for the engine to cool, Ibrahim tightened some clamps and refilled the radiator and after half an hour we were on the road again. I hoped the repairs would hold since we were going pretty far off the beaten track….
We drove down the road toward Duékoué, stopping first at a little village called Duélé. We entered a little dirt floored room where several people meet on the Sabbath. We were offered our first of several orange Fantas here. The village chief arrived on his motorcycle in a leather jacket, wearing mirror-like sunglasses. He welcomed us and listened as we talked. I gave another brief talk similar to one in Blolé. The Chief listened carefully and commented on how happy he was that we would visit and that there were members of his village who were trying to follow this way of life.
We talked for a while and took a photo of the group Several people told Daniel they hoped he would come again too and often. He made a quip about needing to be adopted, and someone suggested he needed an African name. The Chief christened Daniel “Geu” a reference to a local tree, tall (Daniel stands at least a head taller than almost everyone around), strong, and resilient. It was a very complimentary name; and everyone smiled and laughed approvingly. I decided not to ask for an African name in case there was a short, wide tree in the area….
We then drove back on the blacktopped road for few minutes before turning west into the interior. After just a few minutes in we stopped at Sébapleu where I stopped for the first time last year. We met in the same little meeting hall, and after greetings, including some from village authorities, I answered a few questions. They asked for monetary help to fix up their little shelter against the rains soon to begin. It’s part of the culture here that worship must be supported from abroad. Show yourself interested, and some foreign church will come in and set you up with everything you need. I encouraged them to be as self-reliant as they could; they manage after all to make do in their own houses. By working together they could do the same for their little hall.
We took photos once again and then started for a longer drive, about an hour to the village of Yapleu, where we have most of our baptized members. The group that had gathered met us with dancing, singing and ululating. We greeted them all warmly, sat down with them, and talked for several minutes. I encouraged them to continue setting the good example they had been, and Daniel introduced himself to their great joy. He’s only the second foreigner they’ve ever had visit them, so they were excited and very appreciative!
After our too-short visit here, we regained the dirt road and drove to Glolé, a commune composed of three villages including Yadouleu and Gouvêpleu which I had visited last year. The Cantonal Chief welcomed us under the roof of the reception terrace. He was seated with the village elders around him. Through a spokesman he welcomed us, and had bananas and bottles of Fanta placed before us to welcome us with hospitality.
I made my comments and one of the elders responded with a request that we build a church hall right near the Chief’s house; he would give us a plot of land. I responded by thanking the Chief for his kind offer and stating that we monitored the needs of our members and if and when there were enough attending in Yadouleu that they needed a separate place to meet, we would consider those needs then. This was a satisfactory response.
We finished our Fantas and bananas and thanked the Chief for his warm welcome. We asked for them to pose for a photo and were all excited to see the little picture on the screen of my camera which I showed around afterwards. As run-of-the-mill as digital cameras are now in much of the world, they’re still a fascinating and unusual phenomenon here.
We loaded back into the truck and started out for our last visit of the day: Gouvêpleu, about 15 minutes away. There was quite a crowd in this village, probably 80 people, including the chief and his elders, which included some very colorful and iconic old men in beards and traditional garb. Séussié spoke for us and we were welcomed by the Chief. Fanta and Coke were spread out on the table in front of us. I made my comments once again which were considered with careful attention. This time there were questions from the crowd.
- Why was the name of our church, the Church of God? (It’s the New Testament name used for the Church.)
- How was our church different from other Christian churches? (I gave three examples: 1) we expect the imminent return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish the Kingdom of God 2) we observe the 10 commandments including the 4th, and 3) we continue to observe the annual holy days observed by the early New Testament Church.
These were new to them and different enough that the questioner was satisfied that there was something different about us. He suddenly announced to the group that he had decided to commit to accepting the Bible. There was some applause and buzz, but it felt very staged to me. When the fellow came to me later and asked for my contact information because he wanted to work with our local members to develop the church, I knew his “conversion” had been for show. Old habits die hard. Time will sort these things out, and I didn’t give him my contact information. We’ll follow our normal procedures. A few more questions were asked and the Chief got bored and walked away as did several other people. But they came back for one more event.
As the sun dropped toward the horizon, the meeting was ending, and as a special honor, Daniel was to be “dressed”; he was to be suited out in a robe of honor. He stood and stepped forward and was presented with a large size robe which is worn over other clothing. The garb comes with a hat and represents a certain expense to the village, so they are not given our lightly. The assembly was excited to see a foreigner, especially a tall foreigner decked out in the ceremonial outfit; there was excitement and rejoicing. Daniel conducted himself with appropriate gravity and decorum and thanked everyone for the honor.
This was a signal day for Daniel: to be adopted by a village, named and enrobed all in one day. Any future trips to Africa will probably seem anticlimactic!
As the meeting finally broke up, we walked a short way to a terrace behind us where a meal had been prepared for us: rice and chicken in a peanut sauce. Chicken tasting vaguely of peanut butter might seem somewhat strange but it is a common meal here and is usually quite tasty. We ate quickly and finished our Fanta, which I decided, would be my last one for at least a month.
It was about 6:00 pm when we left and started the drive back to Man. We’re far enough north now that it doesn’t get really dark until shortly after 7:00 pm, and we left the dirt road to the pavement at about that time. So the last 10 or 15 miles were in the dark, lit only by the alarmingly dim and strangely focused headlights of West African vehicles. There is no painted center line or white lines to mark the edge of the pavement so facing the high-beams of oncoming vehicles was not only blinding it was highly disorienting and made our travel a white-knuckle experience. I breathed a sigh of relieve when we finally arrived back in Man.
Since we had just eaten we didn’t need to go back to the White House. The President would have to get along without us. We said goodnight to everyone and Daniel and I walked the short distance to the paved road from the hotel, sat at a maquis
and enjoyed a cold beer. It was a welcome reward after the events of the day.