Sunday, 21 July 2013

This little piggy

If you look hard, you can just make her out: a pink plastic piggy, cheerfully centred on a crocheted doily in the middle of the table which serves as pulpit and liturgical centre. She stood there waiting as the worshippers arrived for the inaugural service this morning at the chapel of Vovokame, waving a silent but cheerful welcome with her pink plastic piggy ears. Someone, probably Fidèle, the fourteen year-old worship leader standing to the left of the table, had placed her there. I imagine this pink plastic piggy proudly displayed on a shelf in the bedroom Fidèle shares with her brothers and sisters, a prized possession in a life devoid of toys or ornaments or any other luxury. And then early this morning, as Fidèle left home to sweep the chapel’s newly laid concrete floor, being taken along as a special gift for this special occasion; wrapped in the doily which can only have arrived a consignment of the discarded European clothing which is sold for a poor man’s price on the market at nearby Dogbo. This little piggy didn’t stay home, this little piggy went to church. Glory to God!
Glory to God for the opening of the new chapel. Total cost of construction €277.40, far beyond the means of the small group of young Christians who have been meeting each Sunday morning since the end of last year for worship, and each Sunday afternoon for Bible study and instruction in the Reformed faith. Grégoire, who is originally from this village, a few kilometres outside of Dogbo, donated the plot of land on which it was built. (Back in November, the 25th to be exact,  I told you something about his love for the Lord and for the young people of his home village, see my blog entitled Miracle.) Things had gotten complicated since then. Some of the original participants had proved to be less than genuine. But a core group of about 6 teenagers, one adult male, and several women had continued to meet together in the shelter of a palm frond hut. Then Jurrien got involved, Jurrien is Marijke’s brother, and with two visits to Benin under his belt, by now a very good friend of Grégoire’s. Within his church at Groningen-Zuid and among his acquaintances it had been embarrassingly easy to find the money required. Gifts, large and small, poured in. For the purchase of corrugated roofing, nails, cement and the wages of a carpenter.
The members of the congregation contributed their man- and woman power. Levelling the terrain, harvesting and stripping the teak poles, making split-palm panels for the walls, cooking meals and bringing water for the labourers. Two weeks ago, the construction was completed; with Jurrien’s third visit imminent, the inauguration was held off until today.

We drove into the turn-off to Vovokame. There stood the sign which had been made by another friend of Jurrien’s in Groningen. The churches of Vovokame welcome you. And, with reference to the artesian well which marks the centre of the village, “Jesus said…"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37) We went past the ever-streaming water in front of the Pentecostal church where Rigobert is elder and on to the small courtyard where we usually park our vehicle. We saw the fetish poles and the horned legba which continue to mark the pagan presence in Vovokame. We heard the sound of drumming from the chapel around the corner. And then there it was, at the foot of a tall palm tree, the Salle de l’Enseignement Reformée, not yet a church (because a church is more than just a gathering of disciples or a building in which they come together), but definitely a place of worship. There were flags, there were streamers of linked paper rings, there were balloons, and there was this little piggy.
African time is relative, as by now all of you are probably aware. We spent the first half hour of it greeting and being greeted, admiring the labour of love which had gone into the construction and the decoration, discussing with the young dirigeant Charles who would be doing what and when during the service, and waiting for the arrival of others who had been invited.
When we finally began it was Charles who took the lead and Romain who translated into Adja. Our help is in the name of the Lord who created heaven and earth, Charles began. And the people said Amen. The order of things was what we had come to expect. All the elements of a Reformed worship service were there. And Charles (barely eighteen, if that) never opened his liturgy booklet once. He spoke, he improvised, he recited, fully by heart. And by heart means, in this case, from the heart as well as from memory. That was obvious: as he spoke the covenant law of ten commandments, for instance, he never faltered. Now and then he didn’t used the exact words of the book, but his substitutes were equivalent in meaning. He knew what he was saying, it was not by rote. Fidèle led the singing, with a voice strong and pure. Rigobert, present with several elders from the other church, prayed for God’s blessing on the preaching of the Word. Romain preached and Bertin, elder from the ERCB in Dogbo, translated. It was from Romans 12.1,2. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Someone, a village elder had I think he must have been, spoke words of appreciation. He started graciously, thanking the leaders of this little group for their kind welcome, but then his tone turned serious. A sign has been erected at the junction, he said. And I thought, judging by his tone, that he might have some problem with that. When we heard about it, that caused us some preoccupations. We thought that it would show the name of the Reformed church, a newcomer to our village. But when we saw it, there no church was named at all. Just this: the churches of Vovokame welcome you. And then we understood. The whites have come, not in competition with the church which is already here, but simply to help bring people to Jesus. Thank you for the sign, the first which marks the direction to our village. And thank you for being here! Bertin spoke. He couldn’t resist promoting his CD. He also testified to the power of Jesus in his own life. Of course I took my turn as well. The whites came, I heard my brother say, I began. And yes, here we are. We are white. And you are black. There is no denying it. But think of it: that is God’s wisdom. Without the whites, the blacks are nothing…  I paused. Marijke looked shocked. And without the blacks the whites are nothing. Everybody started breathing again at once, it seemed. Look at this page in the Bible. What colours do you see? Julien, front row, was quick to respond: white and black! There was agreement all around. What if the page was completely black, would it transmit God’s Word to us? I asked. The smiles started coming as everybody shook their heads. And if the page was completely white, what would it say? There was no doubt in anybody’s mind. Black and white, both are indispensable in God’s plan. And here I have, in black and white, the story of your salvation. Twelve texts, printed as large as would fit on one page at a time, laminated in clear plastic to preserve them for as long as possible. Starting with In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and ending with and surely I am with you, to the very end of the age.
One by one I gave a short explanation and someone hung them up along the walls of the chapel, the Old testament story to the left, New Testament to the right. Then, finally, Solomon’s prayer in I Kings 8.29: may your eyes be open towards this house night and day, to be hung over the entrance.

There was more, much more. By the time the service was over, we were three hours on. And it seemed that half the village had crowded into the chapel or stood just outside the doors.
Jurrien later said that he stopped counting at 50. And it was a loud Amen which sounded in response to the blessing: “Que la grâce du Seigneur Jésus-Christ, l’amour de Dieu, et la communion du Saint-Esprit, soient avec vous tous !” And all the while, Fidèle’s pink plastic piggy had pride of place.

(Photos by Jurrien Jongman)


  1. Don't quite know what to say. God works in wonderful ways through his wonderfully created people. And yep they're black an white, rich and poor, old and young.....and after reading this story the differences are both unimportant and more important than we could ever imagine.

  2. Wow! That's all I can say! Co

  3. This is so beautiful! My God continue to bless your efforts as you go forward from here. Praise Him for all that He has done through you! Elaine Harsevoort (nee Bosscher)