Churches Respond as Cote d'Ivoire Conflict Spreads

Date Posted: 3/31/2011

Four United Methodist churches in Côte d’Ivoire were aiding displaced people Thursday in the country’s commercial capital as forces loyal to the president-elect took control of more of the city of Abidjan.


Bishop Benjamin Boni and other United Methodist leaders also moved to a safe location in the city. Boni told United Methodist News Service that he believed all of the church’s ministers were safe, but he wouldn’t know for certain until Friday, March 31.


“We hope the situation will be ended very soon,” he said by phone.


The Cocody area of Abidjan – where the head-of-state’s residence, other government buildings and key United Methodist facilities such as the church’s radio station are located – came under fire earlier today as the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire took over more of the city. The bishop’s residence, Côte d’Ivoire Conference offices and a large United Methodist church, Jubilee United Methodist Church, are in the area.


The Republican Forces are loyal to Allassane Ouattara, who has been recognized by the United Nations and the international community as the legitimately elected president of the country following last November’s election. Laurent Gbagbo, the sitting president, has refused to yield power.


Gen. Philippe Mangou, who had served as army chief of staff under Gbagbo, had reportedly sought asylum at the home of the South African ambassador, and troops loyal to him were not putting up a fight against the Republican Forces, sources said. Mangou is a United Methodist.


Four United Methodist churches in Abidjan are providing shelter and relief to people displaced by the fighting. The United Methodist Committee on Relief gave an emergency grant of $20,000 to support the effort.


UMCOR also contributed another emergency grant of $20,000 to help feed children.


A skeleton crew of five people was keeping the United Methodist radio station, “The Voice of Hope,” on the air. The crew was staying at the station around the clock.


United Methodist schools around the city closed this week but are expected to open early next week. The church’s hospital in nearby Dabou has been receiving people and providing aid and support.


The Côte d’Ivoire Conference lay leader, Emmanuel Auguste Ackah, was assisting Ivorian refugees in the neighboring country of Ghana, where he serves as his country’s ambassador. He was “doing more than any ambassador would do,” a church official said.


Bishop Boni expressed thanks for the prayers and other support from around the global church. “I would like to think everybody for their solidarity,” he said.


“Our prayers continue to be with the people of Côte d'Ivoire,” said the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, the director of UMCOR. “We are especially in prayer for our United Methodist Church leaders, especially Bishop Boni as he leads the church during this difficult and tense-filled time. UMCOR considers it a privilege to be able to respond to the humanitarian needs of displaced persons and to provide food support for children.” 


The Rev. Josue Affi, superintendent of the Abidjan North District and pastor of Jubilee United Methodist Church – next door to the radio station – expressed hope that by the weekend “everything will be quiet.” He said he plans to hold services in the church on Sunday.


Gunfire could be heard in the background during a phone interview, but an assistant to the bishop said no fighting was under way at the moment.


“I’m grateful that Bishop Boni and conference leaders are safe at this time, and ask for your continued prayers,” said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, leader of the Texas Annual Conference, which has a covenant relationship with Côte d’Ivoire.


Huie also spoke of the hope that Rev. Affi voiced.


“In Jeremiah, God promises the people a future with hope. The people of Cote d’Ivoire have endured a long season of poverty and oppression by others, and the Methodist Church has been faithful in its care and compassion for those in need,” she said. “In this new time of crisis, we pray that they continue to hold fast to God’s promises and that out of the crisis will emerge a new future with hope.”


Read “Call for Prayer” letter from Bishop Huie