Church Prays for Peace and Hopes for End of Turmoil

Date Posted: 1/4/2011

Following a dispute over the November 28 election that meant to end an eight year crisis, the Western African country, Côte d’Ivoire is paralyzed by a three-week long curfew and violence in some cities. For the United Methodist Church in Cote d’Ivoire, this has become an opportunity to reinforce its ministries, though it is threatening the continuation of its spiritual enlightenment activities.

 

In the southern government area and the northern rebel’s areas, the situation is not alike. What is a threat in the South does not necessarily affect the North. “We had to cancel all our night programs (choir practices, meetings, spiritual enlightenment programs, night vigils…) because of the constant curfew,” said M. Simon Nathan Koffi, an executive council member of Angré United Methodist Church in Eastern Abidjan.

 

For him, the conditions are not safe to ask people to attend those activities, especially since all of them do not live around the church. However, he notes an increase in the Sunday  attendance service. “For the past two Sundays, the weekly attendance shifted from an average of 800 to 1,500 people,” he said, noting that “many of the new comers lived in the vicinity and they don’t want to travel long distances to attend their ordinary service. In addition, many people felt the need to come and pray, particularly in situations like these.”

 

In Abidjan, people live in fear not knowing what can happen the next day. In Ferkessedougou (600 kilometers North from Abidjan), a rebel held area, however, the situation is completely different.

 

According to a trustworthy source, the average church service attendance decreased from 60 to 20 for the past two Sundays. “Most of the members are civil servants from the South who were transferred to this part of the country,” he said. “So they went back to their native towns to perform their civic duty of voting and did not return because of the sociopolitical situation and the lack of public transport vehicles between the South and North... the only thing we can do is to pray.”

 

Tension Closes Schools

The uncertainty following the round-off has also disrupted the functioning of Methodists Schools. All the schools were closed from November 28 to December 8. Though it was not a government decision, parents were afraid to send their children to school because of the uncertainty. In Cours Secondaire Méthodiste of Dabou and Pensionnat Méthodiste des Filles d’Anyama, parents withdrew their children from the boarding.

 

The administration noticed a shy resumption after December 8. According to Chief Paul Ohanson, General Manager of the Methodist Schools, so as not to penalize the students, he and the various schools board have decided to readjust the schedule and reduce the winter break to make up time lost.

 

“Our students should not suffer from this situation,” Ohanson said. “We need to make any possible sacrifice to stick to our value of academic excellence.” In the week-end of December 4-5, 2010, following the announcement of the results of the second round of presidential elections, there were clashes between indigenous Adjoukrou and nonnative Malinke in Dabou (59 kilometers West of Abidjan). Six people were reported killed and several others wounded by bullets and machetes. The Dabou Methodist Hospital was much sought for by the injured. “We treated 23 injured people and hosted 2 deaths at our morgue,” M. Alfred Degny, the hospital’s director confirmed. His institution was under high pressure: “Since the hospital does not have an emergency service, we had to over-exploit the capabilities of the operating room where we treated all the major cases besides our traditional patients,” Degny said. “The last time we saw this type of patients was during the November 2004 events.”

 

In November 2004, tensions reached their peak between Cote d’Ivoire and its former French colonial power. In an attempt to regain lost territories, a bombing of the Ivorian Air Force killed nine French soldiers in Bouaké. More than 50 demonstrators had fallen under the bullets of French soldiers who retaliated. To meet this high demand that week-end, “All key personnel who were at rest had to be recalled to assist. Those who had planned to rest cancelled them,” Degny said. “Our mission is to strive for the wellbeing of our patients

at the image of Christ’s ministry.”

 

The Church Speaks Peace

In a recent statement, The United Methodist Church Cote d’Ivoire recalled key historical events that led to this uncertainty. The statement also emphasized its long term role in advocacy for peace and reconciliation along with several religious organizations and calling for national fasting and prayer.

 

Last week, the Conference called for three days of fasting. People gathered between 1-3 p.m. in their local church to pray for the country. In Plateau United Methodist Church, Rev. Michel Lobo, Conference Administrative assistant secretary and senior pastor, noticed an “incredible attendance” between working hours. His church is located in the downtown administrative district of Abidjan.

 

For this Church, there is still “hope that trustworthy mediation initiatives by good will organizations would lead Cote d’Ivoire on new pathways of dialogue, peace and genuine reconciliation. Humility is the most important quality required for a true good leader.”

 

The dispute is between both candidates, Laurent Gbagbo (recognized the Constitutional Council with 51.45% against 48.55% for his opponent) and Alassane Ouattara (proclaimed by the Electoral Commission with 54.1% against 45.9% for his opponent) and supported by the International Community. Both are claiming the presidency and have set up their own administration. Speaking to the press after a meeting of religious leaders for peace and reconciliation, United Methodist Bishop Benjamin Boni recognized that “greatest battles are won on knees.” By this, he is inviting Christians to kneel on the ground and ask God to help.

 

He also stressed that “we don’t have any human enemies. Our enemies are Satan and the demons. We must, therefore, reach out to each other in our neighborhoods and show them love and peace.” Boni also recalled that people, in this country, have always lived with smiles on their faces: “This is our hallmark. We must keep moving in that direction in love, faith in Jesus-Christ and hope in a new Cote d’Ivoire; the one that the Lord is forging with the power of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Though, this situation makes him sad, he feels confident in the United Methodist Radio. “Fortunately, we have La Voix de l’Espérance.” The station programs have be rescheduled to focus on God’s words for His people during these specific times.

 

*Broune is a United Methodist communicator based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.