January 28, 2020

Growing West African interest in Anabaptism spurs three new churches

Written by  Micah Brickner
Less than one year after credentialing its first pastors, Mennonite Church West Africa has discerned a call to initiate several new congregations. New pastors of the church pose for a photo with Beryl Forrester (seated). Left to right: Adriano MBackeh, Daniel Djin-ale, Gibby Mane, and Sangpierre Mendy. Beryl Forrester/EMM Less than one year after credentialing its first pastors, Mennonite Church West Africa has discerned a call to initiate several new congregations. New pastors of the church pose for a photo with Beryl Forrester (seated). Left to right: Adriano MBackeh, Daniel Djin-ale, Gibby Mane, and Sangpierre Mendy. Beryl Forrester/EMM Beryl Forrester/EMM

CATEL, Guinea-Bissau — “Yahweh, Yahweh,” sung with jubilant exultation ricocheted off the stucco walls of the modest Bissau-Guinean Mennonite meetinghouse. Dressed in colorful, traditional West African attire, participants at the annual conference of Mennonite Church West Africa (MCWA) celebrated the growing interest of Christocentric theology throughout the region.

“We had a commissioning service for two men in the congregation who are going out as missionaries,” said Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) volunteer worker Beryl Forrester.

Following worship and teaching, bottles of cola were poured into cups and served with bread to celebrate the ordinance of communion. From December 26 to 30, 2019, less than one year after credentialing its first pastors, MCWA has discerned a call to initiate several new congregations.

Having received requests from people in Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, the church used this annual meeting to explore what expansion could look like for this young conference.

One of the four initial pastors of MCWA, Daniel Djin-ale was commissioned to plant a congregation in Guinea-Bissau’s capital city of Bissau. Djin-ale is currently studying business management and teaching at a university in Bissau. He plans to begin a Friday-night Bible study with a goal of developing into a Mennonite congregation.

Preparing to return to his home country of Guinea in January, Timothy Koiba was commissioned to Nzérékoré as a missionary to plant a church. Nzérékoré is the second-largest city in Guinea following the capital city of Conakry. Guinea is sometimes referred to as Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from its neighboring nation of Guinea-Bissau.

Koiba shared, “We need to take the example of Christ. Jesus needs to be the center of everything we do.” Committed to a Christocentric approach to church planting in Guinea, Koiba is eager to initiate a Mennonite congregation in this region.

Forrester has been living in West Africa since 2000. Having planted congregations in The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, Forrester has worked diligently to empower African leaders to take charge of the growing church. Part of Forrester’s strategy to develop pastors in this region is to teach a course he assembled called Biblical Studies in Anabaptist Perspectives.

Although, initially only being offered among members of MCWA, Forrester and another pastor from the church, Adriano MBackeh, have had the opportunity to begin sharing these courses in other locations. As a result, people are responding to the gospel through an Anabaptist lens in surprising ways.

Forrester noted, “Many youth are seeing [Anabaptist theology] as a viable alternative to a church that struggles with a goal of maintaining a Christendom inherited from the past … Many are looking for a fellowship of believers who are empowered by the transforming reality of the Holy Spirit focused on extending God’s Kingdom in the here and now and living after the model of Jesus Christ.”

MBackeh also shared, “Jesus is the center of the Bible.” He expressed that preaching, singing, and Bible studies should all have Jesus as the center.

In March 2019, Samuel Bobor, a pastor and Bible college administrator from Freetown, Sierra Leone, contacted EMM about the possibility of working together in Sierra Leone.

EMM administrative staff connected Bobor with MCWA and a relationship began to form. MBackeh and Forrester began sharing about Anabaptist theology with Bobor and his college. As a result of this growing relationship, two exciting new opportunities have opened up.

While still in the preliminary stages, Bobor’s articulation of Anabaptist theology, as learned from MBackeh and Forrester has inspired a third church planter. This church planter is in conversation with MCWA about the possibility of founding a Mennonite church in Freetown.

MCWA will collaborate with Bobor’s Spirit of Faith Bible Institute to begin offering Anabaptist curriculum to leaders in West Africa. Specifically, EMM is looking for visiting guest lecturers to teach intensive courses in Freetown.

If you’re interested in supporting the work of this growing Mennonite conference in West Africa, you’re invited to give financially to its ministry. Gifts can be given through EMM online at emm.org/give with a preference note for MCWA.