From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Anabaptist emerges in Ivory Coast

From George Conklin <>
Date 24 May 1996 19:21:31

May 23, 1996
Mennonite Board of Missions
Contact: Tom Price, director of information
Phone: (219) 294-7523

New Anabaptist church emerges in Ivory Coast

 ABIDJAN, Cote d'Ivoire (MBM) s A former Baptist leader, who has embraced   
the ideals of the 16th-century Anabaptist movement, has formed the   
Protestant Anabaptist Church of Ivory Coast, which is seeking recognition   
from the world's Mennonites.
 Raymond Affouka Eba, former second vice president for teaching of the   
Baptist Works and Mission, the leading independent Baptist group in the   
Ivory Coast, has founded the Protestant Anabaptist Church of Ivory Coast,   
while serving as pastor of the Yopougon congregation here.
 Already three autonomous congregations with a nearly 200 combined   
members officially have become part of the church. But because of Eba's   
connections and reputation within the country, the emerging denomination   
quickly could become a church of more than 60 congregations and 23,000   
members in cell groups spanning four African nations: Cote d'Ivoire   
(Ivory Coast), Cameroon, Chad and Togo.
 Journalists have announced the church's beginning, and leaders of many   
congregations are calling Eba to inquire about joining the group. Eba,   
meanwhile, has written three booklets about his experiences as well as a   
seven-page treatise on where his former church doctrinally departed from   
orthodox Christian belief.
 "He came to Anabaptism, and actually started a denomination and nine   
churches without ever meeting a Western missionary," said James Krabill,   
Mennonite Board of Missions' outgoing West Africa director. "This is   
truly someone who is attracted to an idea without an institutional face   
on it at all. He didn't even know there were Mennonites in the country."
 For three decades, Mennonite work in West Africa primarily has taken   
place with the African Independent Churches, hundreds of indigenous   
evangelical and Pentecostal groups that have no connections to Western   
denominations or missions agencies. Although Mennonite Board of Missions   
relates to Mennonite churches in Ghana and Nigeria, MBM has primarily   
supported existing African Christian communities, rather than insisting   
on creating institutions that perpetuate the Western divisions of   
 Eba's congregation in Yopougon, a suburb of Abidjan, was formed Nov. 30,   
1994, when 16 members were baptized the first Sunday. The congregation   
doubled before Christmas 1994, and today includes about 100 members. In   
addition to the Protestant Anabaptist Church in Yopougon, the emerging   
denomination now has congregations of 35 members in Angr as well as   
another church of 52 members in Gadauan.
 Eba has begun 11 new cell groups since starting the new church. In   
addition, 47 of his former cell groups have told Eba they want to join   
the Protestant Anabaptist Church. But Eba is moving cautiously, telling   
them he wants any congregations that join the emerging movement to have a   
good sense of what they're getting into.
 "He has a network all in place for a very rapidly growing movement   
because of the respect in the group he has already been a part of,"   
Krabill said. "He is not starting from scratch to plant churches. He is   
starting with a network of churches in place."
 "This is growing so rapidly, I hardly know what to do with it. The thing   
I feel the most now is a need to further train myself," said Eba, who has   
asked the worldwide Anabaptist community through Mennonite Board of   
Missions for assistance.
 Last fall, a student at the Evangelical Center for Formation in   
Communication for Africa, where Krabill is a professor of history, saw a   
sign for the Protestant Anabaptist church. Exchanges of correspondence   
led to a meeting between Krabill and Eba in September.
 "I was reaching out to find any Mennonite I could," Eba said.
 Since then, Eba has devoured all the French-language editions of   
Anabaptist writings given him by Krabill, including J.C. Wenger's "Who   
are the Mennonites?"
 Although Krabill's two decades of work in West Africa come to an end in   
June, he hopes to continue to nurture Eba through evangelical professors   
at CEFCA sympathetic to the Anabaptist movement. MBM also may consider   
providing additional training for Eba at the Foyer Grebel Mennonite Study   
Centre in Paris or through a visit to Mennonite World Conference in 1997   
in India.
 "This is going to be an Anabaptist church no matter what we either say   
or do," Krabill said. "He is committed to this new direction, and I don't   
think we have any other choice. The question now is 'How can we help the   
 Eba is the only son of a well-connected village leader who had 32 girls.   
In fact, his middle name, Affouka, literally is translated "this year,"   
because he was the only boy born that year. After dabbling in mystical   
spiritual powers and becoming heavily involved in secret societies, Eba   
converted to Christianity in 1984 at age 33 s a story he told widely in   
radio addresses and published accounts. Already, he was a successful   
small businessman, who approached the study of Christianity with the same   
vigor he previously devoted to secret societies. It was in his study of   
church history that he first encountered the Anabaptists as he tried to   
find the origins of his Baptist denomination.
 As one of the leading planters of cell churches in the Baptist Works and   
Mission, Eba had oversight of 268 cell groups, many of which still look   
to him for guidance. "They sense in me a more biblical understanding of   
faith," he said.
 In planting churches, Eba has supported himself financially with profits   
from his own business. In addition, he also has committed himself to   
providing seven months of financial support for each new cell group and   
cell group leader to allow it to sprout roots and flourish.
 "I'm looking at going back into professional life to have the money to   
pay rent and pastors," he said.
 Three characteristics of Anabaptists attracted Eba to explore the   
Anabaptists' understanding of and approach to the Bible.
"The spirit of peace" that is prevalent among Anabaptist groups.
Anabaptists' understanding of holy communion, in which Jesus is believed   
present in the gathered community rather than in consecrated bread and   
wine. In West Africa, where people see spiritual forces behind much of   
daily life, this reduces the perception that Christians merely are using   
another form of witchcraft.
 "I felt like I was called to new life, to a new beginning," said Eba,   
who rejected offers from the Assemblies of God and a Pentecostal group to   
become the pastor of large congregations. "The more I study the   
Anabaptists the more I realize that being converted means being born   
anew, so one's whole life is changed. The quality of life in Christ is   
the proof of conversion."
 After praying and fasting over his concerns, Eba decided to create a   
West African version of the churches formed by the early Anabaptists. "I   
felt God called me to start this Anabaptist church," he said.
 At the same time, Eba was leery of perpetuating the schisms that seem to   
afflict Christianity. While this transpires, the Ivoirian government is   
looking at tightening regulations for church groups, according to Eba. At   
the request of the Catholic Church in Cote d'Ivoire, the government will   
require all church founders to have at least a master's degree in   
theology, and mandate that all pastors be licensed.
 "That's the challenge I will have to face: I will partly contribute to   
dividing a church and starting a new one," Eba said. "My concern is to   
show Anabaptism was at the source of these Baptist churches and to show I   
was not creating a new sect, but that Anabaptism has a long history and   
is a part of the Christian family."
* * *
Tom Price     Photo available


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