Filed Under (Beninese culture, General) by Rob on 05-09-2006

Yesterday, I preached at the ADC Church in Zogbohoue, a suburb in northern Cotonou, not far from the Stade de l’Amitie (Cotonou’s football stadium). Only a week earlier, we had taken the service at Ampthill Baptist Church and a week before that I’d preached at Park Road Baptist, Rushden. As my experience this week was quite contrasting from the previous two weeks’ services, I thought I’d describe it to you (while the differences are still noticeable to me!)

So, I met up with the pastor outside Radio Maranatha, the local Christian radio station, and followed him on his moped to the church, about 2km from there. The church is quite a large and well-equipped one by local standards, with walls of concrete bricks, which look a bit like breeze-blocks. The roof is made of corrugated iron, held up by a framework of tree branches which, in turn, are held up by half a dozen larger vertical branches (and – of course – the walls!) I say it is well-equipped as it also has strip lights on the ceiling and a few fans (some of which are turning). Like many churches of this kind, it is unfinished. There are six concrete pillars in the centre of the church, which stop a foot or two short of the tin roof, and out of these protrude metal rods. Eventually, these pillars will be extended to hold a concrete ceiling, above which a second storey is planned. Lack of money, as ever, is the reason the several years’ delay on this. The floor is the usual dirt floor – dusty in dry season and muddy in wet and there is a large concrete stage at the front, where I am ushered to sit. As is common in such churches, there is a group of women on the stage forming a ‘choir’ which leads the worship, then several men playing drums. It seems to be this way round almost without exception (although women do play shakers and bells, but never drums in my experience). The worship is lively and I shed a tear as I wend my way through the hundred or so rejoicing, dancing Fon Christians – it’s good to be back and the worship is mind-blowingly moving, especially after two months’ absence.

After the louange (praise songs) comes the adoration (worship songs), which are slower and with more subdued drumming. The collection is also ‘taken.’ In most Beninese churches, everyone processes up to the front of the church, dancing all the way, then they deposit their money into the offering box. This is a shoe-box shaped wooden box about 3 feet off the ground on a one-legged stand. It has two holes in it – one for the collection and one for the tithe (yes, here both are not the same!)

Finally, I am called up to preach and make my way to the lectern to the sound of rhythmic clapping and drumming, which continues way to long.

“Honton miton le, mi fon gangi à?” I say into the microphone (My friends, did you wake well?), which is greeted with applause! (On such occasions, it is common to hear folk say “Yovo se Fongbe”, which means ‘The white man can speak Fon.’) So I launch into the sermon (in French with a Fon interpreter – for now at least!) The PA system consists of a smallish black box on a table, with wires coming from it which are draped all around the walls of the church, and behind the stage. There are two black speakers on the floor near the front of the church and a large ‘loud haler’ hanging out of a hole in the back. About a third of the way through the sermon entitled entendre la voix de Dieu (hearing God’s voice) I felt like I was doing so, as the Heavens opened and some serious rain began beating down on the tin roof, making a huge din. I momentarily stop preaching and say (shout) to my interpreter: “Je peux continuer? Ils vont m’entendre?” (can I continue? Will they hear me?) His response is affermative, so I battle on, now literally shouting short phrases into the microphone. My mouth is so close to the mic that I can taste the metal and I briefly think of how many people’s mouths have also touched this mesh! On cue, the rain stops just five minutes before the end of the message, and I sit down.

At the end of the service, it’s time to sell the Fon New Testaments I brought, along with some small picture/story books (five different ones) and the Jesus the Messiah picture book. In this church, the sales were way above average and I take over £20 (which is impressive as I sell the Bibles for £1.20, and the other items for 10p and 60p respectively). In fact, I sell so many, I run out of some and arrange to return on Tuesday evening with more copies. I recall that this was the very church where, about 16 months ago, I had asked for a show of hands of who owned a Fon Bible. It was the pitifully low response to this question which had initially spurred me on to take Fon Christian literature with me to services and here, months later, these people finally have access to the Word of God in their mother tongue. Please pray for them, that the Lord will speak to them in a new way through this.

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