A mission field called home
The sacrifices of those who go and stay
By Kirk Noonan
After a word of prayer, the top was put on the coffin and
the nails hammered in. You can imagine the pain that shot through my heart at
each pound of the hammer.
(From Obedient Unto Death, an article appering in the January 2, 1926, Pentecostal Evangel written by Lucille Booth-Clibborn, widow of Eric Booth-Clibborn, shortly after her husband's death in Burkina Faso.)
The trail is flanked by golden, waist-high grass that could
burn in seconds if introduced to a lighted match. The area seems an
inhospitable place for a garden until the pathway bends and then suddenly
descends into a small verdant valley brimming with tomato and onion plants that
lend a fantastic aroma to the warm air.
Under the balmy glow of the setting sun, workers tend the
delicate plants. Jules Zoungrana drops a pail into a shallow well. Seconds
later, he hoists it out, then carefully makes his way to a row of onions.
“Several people have come to Christ because of the gardening
project,” Zoungrana, pastor of nearby Mangorotou Assembly of God, says as he
waters the plants.
Zoungrana’s pants are rolled up and baggy like his shirt. He
has stubble on his chin, a quiet countenance and chiseled arms — no
doubt from working the earth with his oxen-pulled plow.
“Our garden is a means of communication,” he adds, noting
that villagers frequently stop to chat and seek his counsel. “Though our church
has grown slowly, the community is beginning to understand that we’ve not only
brought better food and health to the village, but we’ve also brought Christ.”
Zoungrana, of the Mossi people, says he was called by God
eight years ago to minister in this village of mostly Bolon people. He is one
of more than 150 missionaries sent to various locations and supported by the
Burkina Faso AG.
Since coming to Mangorotou, Zoungrana has learned a new
language and culture, built a church, planted gardens, evangelized the
community, discipled new believers and raised his family. He is emblematic of
the Fellowship’s desire to spread the gospel throughout West Africa.
“Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world,”
admits Jean Pawentaoré Ouédraogo, general superintendent of the Burkina Faso
AG. “But we make do with what we have. Because of that, we have missionaries
throughout our country and in other countries.”
A pioneering spirit to do missions pervades the Burkina Faso
church. Ouédraogo and others say the resolve can be traced back to missionaries
from the United States who came to Burkina Faso nearly a century ago.
“The heart of God is missions,” Moise Oubida, missions
coordinator for the AG in the Bobo Dioulasso region, says. “When we think of
the missionaries who came before us, we know we must go too.”
Several graves are silent testimonies of Assemblies of God
missionaries and their children who died here. In 1924 Eric Booth-Clibborn was
not quite 29 years old when he died of dysentery and malaria — only one
month after arriving in Burkina Faso. Florence Chastagner, infant daughter of
missionaries Emile and Minnie Chastagner, died in 1931. Billy Hall, 6-month-old
son of missionaries John and Cuba Hall, died of dysentery in 1937. The
following year, 6-year-old Paul Weidman Jr., son of missionaries Paul and
Virginia Weidman, died of malaria. In 1941, 2-year-old Lita Ann Kitch, daughter
of missionaries Paul and Bernadine Kitch, died of malaria, and less than a year
later Bernadine died of typhus at age 31. An infant daughter to missionaries
Raymond and Lucille Sanders died in 1946. Three decades later, missionary Paul
Chastagner, Emile and Minnie’s son, died in a car accident in 1976 while
traveling between Burkina Faso and Ghana.
“How can we forget the sacrifices?” Jean-Baptiste Sawadogo,
missions director for the national church, asks. “We cannot. We will not.”
Ouédraogo says the first missionaries from the United States
gave the Burkinabé [Burkina Faso-born residents] a passionate desire for
But believing in and doing missions are two different
things. Decades would pass following the death of Booth-Clibborn before the
national church was fully engaged in missions.
The main reason?
Burkina Faso has long been among the poorest countries in
the world. If anyone needed help, many Burkinabé believers reasoned, they did.
“When God put it in my heart to organize a missions program,
I was skeptical. I didn’t think there was any way an African church could be a
sending church,” Sawadogo admits. “But God convinced me otherwise. As I taught
the value of missions and giving, every church that gave saw its income
Today, nearly a
quarter of Burkina Faso’s 4,000 AG churches participate in missions — an
amazing statistic considering many churches are located in remote villages
where most residents are subsistence farmers.
In 1985 the annual missions budget was only 10,000 francs
($24 U.S.). Today, the budget has ballooned to nearly 50 million francs
($120,000). Each year the goal is to send 50 national missionaries to remote
areas of Burkina Faso as well as other countries such as Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire,
Mali, Senegal, Chad, Togo and Benin.
“We send only our best people to the field,” Sawadogo says.
To ensure that happens, each missionary in training must
attend one of the seven AG Bible colleges to become thoroughly knowledgeable in
the Bible and well-versed in Pentecostal doctrine. They must also learn the
language and culture of the people they are trying to evangelize. Like many
American missionaries, they must uproot their families, move to an unfamiliar
place and embrace peoples not their own. The primary key to doing so with
grace, compassion and steadfastness — according to leaders — is by
becoming lifelong learners, servants and friends dedicated to sharing the hope
of Christ with the unreached in Africa.
“When our missionaries are taught the language and culture
by the local people,” Sawadogo says, “there is no way they will be rejected.”
Though Christians are free to share their faith in Burkina
Faso and large segments of the population are open to the gospel, national
missionaries have other issues with which to contend when they are on the
field. Besides mastering a new language and culture, the missionaries must find
a way to make money to supplement the $18 a month the national church provides.
Some missionaries plant gardens or raise chickens. Others work as public school
teachers. Despite the challenges, a focused passion to share the gospel
continues to drive many believers to the field.
This is how
most of the unreached will be reached in Africa — through the missionary
efforts of national churches that were established to be truly indigenous. Not
only are they self-sustaining, they multiply as they mature, strengthen and
replicate among cultures other than their own.
“Young people in Burkina Faso have a desire to be
missionaries,” says Bazie Fulbert, a pastor from Bobo Dioulosso who is studying
to be a missionary. “Some wonder how they will feed themselves and their
families. But many still decide to go and struggle.”
The reason they go is clear. “Many people haven’t heard the
good news,” Gilbert Ouédraogo, a missionary-to-be, says. “It’s our desire to
share it out of simple obedience to the Great Commission. I want to start new
churches, build up Christians and then move on to other villages and do it
Francois Bakiémé has similar goals. But as he talks he
cannot help but weep. He knows what is required of African missionaries. While
he and his family were serving as missionaries in Mali, his wife had a heart
attack. On her deathbed she said something that has spurred Bakiémé back to the
mission field after his two years of mourning.
“Your mission is not done.” she told him. “You must continue
in the work today, for tomorrow we’ll see each other in heaven.”
It’s a dry, dusty day in Kamti, a village about four hours’
driving time from Ouagadougou, the nation’s capital. Randy Tarr, AGWM West
Africa area director, stoops low to enter the small, straw-thatched church
where local worshippers have gathered with missionaries from surrounding
villages. Though more than 40 worshippers are crammed inside, the tiny church
provides a pleasant respite from the blazing sun.
At the front of the church a boy and a man sit on djembes
— small wooden drums — while tapping them rhythmically with their
hands. The beat cues the people to begin singing and playing tambourines. Soon
their voices flood the church.
On the benches are well-used Bibles. According to Tarr,
discipleship, prayer and reading the Word are promoted heavily among the 45
distinct ethnic groups among which the AG now has a presence.
“God is bringing salvation to many people,” says Daniel
Kiemde, pastor of a church in Zepo, after the service. “Many people were idol
worshippers, but as they’ve come to know Jesus they’ve left their idols.”
Animism and other religions have a stranglehold in many villages.
It’s not uncommon to encounter altars where sacrifices are performed or meet
people who will resort to using scare tactics to get others to convert to their
“Many people believe there is great power associated with
fetishes,” Tarr says. “It’s a demonic power that keeps people in fear and
Pascal Dibloni, a village pastor, says for nearly a decade
he and his wife could not have children.
“In the Lobi culture, not having children is shameful,” he
explains. “But after accepting Christ as our Savior, my wife became pregnant.
We now have four children.”
Seeing Christ’s healing power firsthand, Dibloni now eagerly
tells others about the hope Jesus offers. Because of that hope, he says, his
church has grown to more than 50 people.
Dibloni’s excitement over 50 new believers sticks with me
for several hours. Fifty is a small number by some people’s standards when
considering a person’s lifetime of ministry. But where some might see just a
few people, Dibloni and others like him see 50 people who can multiply a
missionary’s efforts by serving as missionaries themselves in their own
villages or to other people groups, either within the country or even beyond
For Burkinabé believers, that’s one of the many exciting
things about leading people to a relationship with the Lord — each person
has the potential to be a missionary in the field to where God calls him or
her. Because of this, the Burkina Faso AG is growing, thriving and increasingly
During the two-hour drive from Bobo Dioulasso to the village
of Toussiana, Randy and I get a glimpse of life on the savanna. A woman sells
watermelons from her cart on the dusty roadside. To escape the heat of the day,
a couple of men in their work clothes sit in the shade of a sprawling tree,
while children laze in a courtyard. Women huddle together and grind millet.
Several believers filter into the AG church for an afternoon
service. Inside, chalkboards filled with alphabet letters and phonetic sounds
cover the walls. In villages throughout the country, churches have become
literacy centers where Burkinabé are learning to read and write.
Offering an education is helping missionaries gain a
foothold, build relationships and also improve the quality of life of the residents.
“By God’s grace and the missionary movement, we’ve seen
progress here,” says missionary Paul Yampa, pastor of the church. “More than a
thousand Toussuins have come to Christ in this region.” Church growth does not
always happen as quickly or in the quantity that it has in Toussiana. This is
especially true among people who are severely persecuted for accepting Christ.
Five hours in the opposite direction of Toussiana are camps
of Fulani. Missionaries have worked diligently to share the gospel with this
resistant group. When a Fulani accepts Christ, he or she is stripped of all his
or her possessions and disowned by family and friends. As a result,
evangelizing the Fulani has proven to be very difficult.
Michael Sonde is a missionary who oversees a farm that he
hopes will become a refuge for Fulani believers. Here, he says, ostracized
Fulani can find a place to live and work as they transition into their new
faith and life. On this hot, windy afternoon, a quick inspection of the farm reveals
that none of the huts are occupied. In fact, none have yet to be used by
“Even if I don’t see many Fulani come to Christ during my
lifetime,” Sonde says, “I know my children will carry on this ministry and
reach them for Christ.”
Such determination and dedication would bring joy to Lucille
Booth-Clibborn. In her Evangel article in 1926, she wrote:
What we need is a host of Christian young men and women who
will come as never before to lift up the standard of salvation and Pentecost,
who will be reckless of their own interests in following the Lord’s bidding.
Little did Lucille know that her vision would be fulfilled
in the 21st century, in part, through young Burkinabés who have followed the
sacrificial example of American AG missionaries and are now preaching the
gospel to unreached peoples of their nation and beyond.
Kirk Noonan is managing editor of Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel and blogs at Simple Plan (knoonan.agblogger.org).
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