From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Anabaptist emerges in Ivory Coast
George Conklin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
"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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