Friday, 1 June 2012

Deux Bidons

Monsieur, I would like to ask a favour. Would you be able to find me a Bible? I have never been to school, but my boys can read it to me. Great question to ask a missionary, of course. But consider who just asked it: the pastor of the Celeste parish this side of Majdre. Eglise Christianisme Celeste, a homegrown Beninese cult  5 years older than myself, said by some to be a syncretistic mix of Pentecostal prophetic claim and pagan belief. Here was one of their pastors asking me for a Bible, which he couldn’t read himself…

We were on the terrain to visit Rosa, who was there for treatment. Don’t ask me to explain the complicated situation which resulted in her being sedated by herbal remedies in an environment marginally Christian at best. Having arrived, we could not avoid presenting ourselves to the centre’s leader, clothed in a voluminous white robe and seated on a highbacked chair before two men humbly reclining on mats before him. In the intervening space, a single cream-white taper flickered hesitantly in the semi-darkness. No, you’re not disturbing us at all! These two are here for a vision. Please do come in, be seated. The supplicants waited good-naturedly as another chair was brought in for me and placed at the pastor’s right hand, with a bench for Marijke near the door. I was introduced as Rosa’s pastor by our guide, and we exchanged pleasantries. After what seemed an appropriate time, I asked permission and we took leave to go on to Rosa. She was actually doing very well, we found, and we arranged to come back in the afternoon with her husband and children.
It was as we were leaving that the request for the Bible came. The séance was over, apparently. Once again, great question for a missionary, so I immediately promised to take one along when I returned later in the day. I subsequently thought: while I’m at it, I can take along a few other items as well… Just as we were getting into the HiLux, however, a young man came running up. Our guide translated: they’re having trouble with the water supply here, and they’re wondering if perhaps we could take along some fresh water when we come back. Well, why not? If not for any other reason, to ensure Rosa would not get intestinal parasites on top of her psychiatric problems.

Driving back to Dogbo, we shook our heads at the impossibility of a pastor leading a church without being able to read the Bible. But we were also excited at the chance to share something of the authentic gospel  with those who had apparently had no access to it independently. I said to our guide: how much do those bidons cost that you use? And having heard that the cost would be no more than 75 eurocents apiece, I generously said: well, buy two for me, will you? We’ll fill them up and take them along this afternoon. By then, an inkling of an idea was beginning to form.
Right after lunch, we had another destination. Tchangba. Further away than Tchangba you cannot get in the Couffo, without falling into Togo. The track to Tchangba was passable this afternoon. But just. In 4-wheel drive. We arrived there after about three-quarters of an hour of severely being shaken about. Jonas, the elder, was not there. Agnes, the deacon, was. Only adult we could spot in the entire village. Children there were plenty of, as usual. Hugely intrigued to see a car, two pale-coloured people, and a watermelon. We had taken the latter along as a present, but we were glad to be gone before its having to be shared among so many… Agnes took us to the church and we talked about the affairs of the congregation. The children all tagged along. They understood more quickly than we did, perhaps, because Agnes speaks no French. Fortunately we did have an interpreter and he also assisted ably when we turned to the children and asked them if they could sing for us. Could they ever sing for us! And clap! And dance! Mon Papa est fidele... And his children can be loud, Tchangba proved.
At four o’clock we got home. In time for the bidons. Well in time. We had to wait a while. And we were on our way almost three-quarters of an hour later than we should have been. But we did have with us, by that time, not only the bidons, inscribed in indelible ink with two appropriate texts, a Bible,  and a New Testament, but also a book of questions and answers on the Christian faith, and a shorter evangelistic booklet written by elder Bertin of Dogbo. All were ceremoniously handed over to pastor Philomène. I had trouble recognizing him at first. For he had changed, in the meantime, into more conventional dress. The Bible you asked for, I said. And I thought perhaps you would also like these other books to help you in your preaching. He was immensely pleased, and handed the books over to his elder son, the one who reads to him. I was glad of that. Who knows what God will do when this son, who seemed intelligent and truly interested, starts reading reformed literature to his father? And who knows what God may do with those two bidons, with the texts inscribed on them for everyone to read when they come for a drink of water? Everyone who can read, that is. Or perhaps be read to.


  1. "but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life" John 4:14

    "And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10:42

    I love your blog papa. And this gives a whole deeper meaning to the texts on the "bidons".
    Thank you for that.

    Love you

  2. Beautiful. I am so thankful that you two work in Benin. God is good.

  3. What a great opportunity! Love the idea of "living water" being superimposed on the bidons of water! How apt! May God bless it and may he also move the pastor's young man to believe what he reads and to share that with his father and villagers. Coba