Visit to Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso
Marie Carmen Jímenez
Spain and in 30 nations
When we arrived in the Ivory Coast we found a country which appeared to be very peaceful although our visit to the lady Minister of Environment Madam Angéle Gnonsoa left us a little perplexed. The elected president comes to the end of his four-year mandate any day now but the country is unable to hold new elections because of national disunity and because of population movements caused by the civil war, all of which have made it impossible to hold a census as a first step in the electoral process.
So the whole question of government is up in the air although numbers of national leaders from the countries around have flown in to try and find solutions. It is said that France is ready to support a Muslim government although the current one is Roman Catholic. France has many economic interests in the Ivory Coast and is maintaining a strong military presence both in the north and the west where there has been considerable civil unrest in the last month with numbers of deaths.
People say that there are a good number of rebels in the capital itself and in fact on the last day of October they were expecting a revolt to take place. The rebels see themselves as a strong, confident and threatening movement. We saw a lot of French soldiers and even more United Nations troops with hundreds of new vehicles and tankers lined up in the harbour.
One major hotel and all of its grounds is occupied by a European white army which endeavours to govern the world with its right-hand in the guise of being peacemakers, and then with the left-hand brings in new laws that allow abortions and promotes the mixing up of religions which inevitably results in the disempowering and the control of all of them especially the one that is most bothersome to its conscience, Christianity.
On the other hand the Remar volunteers keep struggling to move forward against the wind and the waves to practically demonstrate the love of God, overcoming evil with the good that they do, showing yet again that to work for the good of the poor is to swim against the current in having to overcome enormous difficulties and almost constant opposition from the powers that work evil in the world.
Just as one example, you just would not believe what enormous difficulties we have had to get our containers full of humanitarian aid released from the port. These containers are intended to bring help and materials to the poorest people of the country. You would not believe how many officials decided to make things difficult for us in order to get a bribe and in so doing managed to paralyse many opportunities to do good.
Even though we had papers to prove that we were exempt from paying taxes to both the government and to the French import agents, somehow these documents were always lost in the customs offices. Both Miguel and Fernando went from office to office refusing to leave until the papers were stamped and the container which had already been delayed for two months was released. The answer was always the same, that the documents had been lost.
There was just a moment when the Commandant left Miguel and Fernando and one of their colleagues alone in his office, as they looked around at all the disorder that that was there, Fernando's eyes fell upon the so-called missing documents, so just as soon as the official came back in he really had no choice but to sign them and release the container.
God always gives the victory when people see and trust in His name especially when people love him with all their hearts and renounce the ways of this world and its deceitful way of doing things. People like this are ready to give their lives for the sake of the coming of God's kingdom and righteousness. This is the way it is with our colleagues who work in Africa, not that the battle is any less fierce in other places because the struggle is the same for all of us wherever we are, but here in Africa it soon becomes clear who has died to their own passions and desires and who is ready to take his own Cross every day and follow Jesus, and who is not. In this context only those who truly love the Lord and the people more than they love themselves and more than they love to have possessions in this world are going to stand firm.
It is very hard for people who only have humanistic motivations and feelings to continually overcome the many difficulties that are here, and to go without the many things which perhaps they were used to having. On the other hand the sheer joy of life that we could see so clearly in our young believers is absolutely incomparable and is a continual testimony and challenge for all those who know them. Their work grows day by day and we are seeing them prosper both in quality and quantity with every year that goes by.
For example the farm that we use as a reception centre is giving a tremendous testimony to the people around. The locals have given them the fields that they were not using and our workers have had an enormous harvest of manioc, beans and tomatoes, as well as seeing the produce from the farm animals increase, all of which helps to provide food for the many houses that Remar has in the Ivory Coast.
At the moment we have around 550 people living in various homes in this country and there are many others who receive help with food. The work in the prison continues unceasingly although in the very worst moments of the recent war we were not able to get our containers through. Nevertheless God has been faithful and never allowed our regular gifts of a hundred bowls of rice to the prisoners to fail, not even once.
In spite of all the natural riches that this country has, it is nevertheless in a very grave situation with several millions of extra people in Abidjan because of the war. There is a shortage of water and of course there is not work for everybody. The numbers of street sellers has vastly increased and one wonders how anyone can survive on the sale of just a handful of bananas every day? Even for our workers life is hard and they lean very heavily on the help that comes in from Europe, but thanks to be in to God the provision does come one way or another.
Very curiously, one German charitable organisation asked the government to introduce to them all the local organisations who are working with children because they wanted to support their projects. So 52 different associations were presented to the leader of the German mission, an very intelligent lady, who promptly discovered that only nine of those projects were actually genuine and of those only one is truly working with children. Somehow our own work did not even make it onto the list but just as it happens, as God brings about these things, the lady heard about our work from someone else, and came to see what was happening. She was absolutely astonished to see the huge number of children that Remar is taking care of, so many more than all the other associations. She was also very impressed with the quality of the attention being given and she offered to support one particular project.
Nevertheless, despite the development of our workshops and retail shops, our work in Ivory Coast is finding it very hard to make ends meet especially when they have to take care of so many children which includes getting them into school and into medical care where necessary. Of course the children cannot bring in any contributions of their own whilst occupying the time of a lot of adults who are taking care of them. However we do know that this kind of work pleases the Lord and when it is done properly it produces a lot of benefits for the people and the blessings begin to flow in ways that you can never explain, just as somehow the necessary provision to keep going continues to arrive.
One particular very beautiful project which came together in Abidjan in the last two years was the organising of a football competition between the children in the different Remar centres from all over West Africa. This year more than 300 children came from the neighbouring nations and every day they got through more than 600 meals. Children from Remar in Togo were the winners and for every one that came it was probably the best and only holiday they had ever had. They look forward to this competition from the beginning of the year to the end and it helps the different countries to understand each other as well as they learn from each other even if some do speak French and others speak English. In the end they all speak a mixture of both languages! It is such a beautiful thing to see how God gives both spiritual, intellectual and material prosperity in his Kingdom of love and righteousness, as a blessing to all those that seek his Kingdom and work to establish it on the earth.
The only way we will ever be able to overcome the power of Islam and all the backwardness, misery and ignorance amongst these peoples will be as the kingdom of God comes. Some Islamic countries are very powerful and they have an abundance of finances but sadly they do not send money to feed andeducate the poor countries because hunger and ignorance are seen to be very powerful motivations for the poor to invade the richer countries. If God were to allow it, there are plans to put the whole world at the feet of Allah within very few generations.
We moved on to Burkina Faso where we felt very comfortable in this hot country with its red soil. Our people here are working as hard as ever to demonstrate the practical love of God for the people, especially for the children and the prisoners in the different jails. On the day that I was writing this we took food in to one particular jail and over 400 men came out with their plates, bowls and even plastic bags to take the serving of rice which is all that many of them have to sustain themselves. The prison is a long narrow building which is high and windowless with just a few gaps in the walls to allow the air in but not the light. This is home to more than 900 people. From seven o'clock in the morning the prisoners queue in the dark passageways so as not to lose the opportunity of getting a plate of food.
Some of the prisoners are in very poor health, and we even saw some Muslims who chose to forget all about Ramadan and came out to eat in the middle of the day. These people seem to be the poorest and most malnourished of all. Miguel shared the Word of God with them group after group after group as they came out to eat, the teenagers, the sick and then the most dangerous and so on. He preached to every group and prayed for every single one of them in the name of Jesus. All five groups joined with him in prayer and with only one or two exceptions all raised their hands to ask God to forgive them and show them mercy.
Our translator who turned our Spanish into Moré was himself a regular guest in the same prison some five years ago and used to enjoy the same food that we brought in. The young man from Liberia who was helping us to give out the food was also being fed in the Abidjan prison by our colleagues there but now he works and serves the Lord of all Lord's, Jesus, and his neighbours in the prisons with whom he has so much in common.
Our houses in Burkina Faso are full to capacity and often we having to open new ones. Every single day at least one new child arrives, in fact this very morning the police brought a young girl who had been abandoned for over a year and a half. This is the everyday situation and so it goes on.
The spread of AIDS in Burkina Faso is very alarming, for example last year we did not have one single case in our homes but today we have several children and many women. We are thankful to God that there is an Italian Association which is giving us a gift of medicines and only occasionally does Remar have to buy them from the government, and even then they come at a reduced price. Our leader in Burkina, Laborda, has really understood how important it is that we own our properties and move on from renting the land and houses that we have used so far. The next few years are going to be demand a huge effort but they will bring an enormous benefit to the quality of life and the cost effectiveness of our work in Burkina. We are particularly enthusiastic about a beautiful farm property that we have acquired which will become home to many families.
Twenty-five pastors from the rural areas have formed a group of churches which work together with our own church in Burkina Faso and they have asked us for help to build small church buildings which they are trying to raise all over the country. Our local colleague Idrisa travels continually and wherever he goes hundreds of people choose to follow Christ, including village chiefs. Even the Muslim elders respect him because he is very well-known for his testimony of having saved thousands of children from certain death since his conversion from Islam to Christianity more than 35 years ago.
We are continuing to help him with the provision of transport and some finances, food and medicines that he needs to develop the enormous work that he has taken on all over the country. This year we are fairly confident that we will be able to start a radio broadcast and maybe even television to support the work of the Gospel in Burkina Faso.
We have reinforcements coming for our travelling ruralhospital service with a visit from a team of Spanish evangelical doctors in December, whose joint goal will be to help the start a hospital in the interior of the country.
Paul Tabsova who is our pastor in Níger, is seeing important doors open in his country and has gained the gratitude of the local governors for the work that he is doing, even the most dedicated Moslems are supporting him and help him to move forward. We are about to see a team come together for Mali where yet another door has opened for work to start and this will mean that we have representatives in every one of the West African nations.
The work with children demands a lot of sacrifice and requires a considerable amount of resources, but how can one not love them? Our conferences this year have all had the common theme of, "Let the children come to me." At the end of the Burkina Faso conference Miguel read from Psalm 8, verses 1-3, which is even stronger in the French version than in the English because it gives the idea that through the songs of children God builds a stairway for his strength and He comes downto disarm even his most vengeful enemies. So when we see hundreds of children singing praise to the Lord it encourages us not just to sustain what has already been done but to reach out to very many more children, knowing that this will bring victory over both our natural and spiritual enemies, and cause the evil powers of darkness to back off.
There is so much still to be done and so much that we can be doing and we know that this is what God wants. All we need are more people to work with us who are free from the love of this world and who have childlike hearts that will serve and love God with all their strength. It is we ourselves who are so obsessed with material things and have but little burden for extending the reign of God and seeing his righteousness in the earth. Because of this we block the flow of His blessing and the abundance of the riches that Christ wishes to give. We long for an overflowing supply and we are always asking according to our own desires, but because our hearts are still not right God resists us and puts the brakes on his wonders and miracles.
We have such struggles with our own selfishness and love for personal wealth and such fears of going without. We so easily fail to trust that the Lord will provide and our own greed makes us hold back more than is just or necessary. All of this makes it hard to live that life of abundant faith that enjoys a continual pouring out of God's riches. Miguel was talking about the need to redeem the time, because time is short. It will not be long before every one of us goes to the grave where we will not be able to do any more works.
When we see such need in the world a fire begins to burn inside and we feel the heat of the urgency to establish the kingdom of God and his righteousness in the world. The word redeem really means to buy back and perhaps time is one of very few things that we can redeem, that we can buy back, and then use it to turn darkness into light, bitterness into joy, human misery into a manifestation of divine riches. And when you see that all this is possible nothing becomes more desirable, and you find yourself in need of nothing except to see the love of God released into the lives of men and women, and to see his transforming grace at work in the middle of us.
"Who have I in heaven except you? And what in all the earth could I possibly desire other than you?" Psalm 73, 25.
The Lord does not look at our clumsiness nor our failures, he does not tell us off for our mistakes knowing full well that we are and forever will be weak creatures, full of mistakes and deficiencies. There is no reproof, no accusation and no rejection. Only one question is important and in our answer to that one question all of our spiritual reality be comes clear for all to see. Our answer marks the place that we will occupy in history, whether we work well or make mistakes, and reveals whether we will bring about real and lasting changes in the earth through our lives by the power of his Spirit.
Again the Lord asks us the same question that he asked Peter, "Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? And how shall we answer ? What will this mean to our lives?
From Burkina Faso, no more than the donkeys that carry Jesus,
Miguel and Mari Carmen.
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