Upcountry in Côte d'Ivoire
By Elizabeth Hodges
Camp for Women of the Good News, Bingerville, Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa—Leaving behind snow and cold in Paris, France, I arrived in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, about 8:00 p.m., to find it hot and humid. All seven of my suitcases were pulled aside by customs agents. They were filled with gifts for African women, but the officials had to be convinced. They couldn’t believe we were giving so much away!
After finally clearing customs, we were greeted by the leadership team of the Ivorian National Association of Free Will Baptist Churches. What a privilege to finally see those for whom I
had prayed. Our first African meal was rice with chicken in peanut sauce—spicy but so delicious. My first glimpse into cultural protocol was the sharing of news from both countries.
A trip upcountry allowed me to visit many of our churches, interact with pastoral families, and experience the famous African road system. Having known most of the pioneer missionaries to Africa personally, it was humbling to stand in church buildings that now serve thriving congregations.
The roads were most difficult between Bouna and Doropo, the last leg of our journey, made under the cover of darkness. During the return trip to Abidjan, we experienced car trouble, and I rode
the “22 places” (van taxi) about an hour to get to Bondoukou for a ceremony. We arrived late and waited for a ride on to Tanda, where we would spend the night.
The next day we had another bumpy, dusty, hot “22 places” ride into Abidjan to obtain repair parts for the car and to make final preparations for the retreat. Every picture you have ever seen of
African public transportation is reality—people crowded into limited spaces, animals and cargo tied to the top, luggage stuffed under seats, and open air rides. At every stop, vendors swarmed
the vehicle trying to make sales to those riding inside.
Meeting two Cleo Pursell Scholarship recipients (one pictured above) was a reminder that WNAC’s original gift continues to train leadership for the Ivorian church. Both are Ivorian pastors and hold leadership positions in the Bible institute and seminary.
Our Ivorian sisters meet biannually for a national retreat. The women had always met in one of our churches, prepared their own meals with all the cleanup, sleeping on benches, on the floor, or outside under the trees. This year, WNAC raised funds to underwrite the rental of a meeting facility, reduce the cost of registration, and provide gifts for attendees.
More than 500 ladies traveled from all over the country to Bingerville, near Abidjan. The Catholic retreat center staff prepared meals and provided cleanup. Ladies slept in dormitory-styled rooms. They renewed friendships, shared laughter and tears, ate meals with friends, and enjoyed the break from their normal routines.
As a young child, I remember missionaries asking us to pray for believers, leaders, and for tribal groups to worship and serve in unity. This retreat was planned and orchestrated by Ivorian women from various parts of the country. Each tribe had opportunities to lead the praise and worship sessions as ladies from all tribes, along with their children, worshiped together. I whispered to Lynette Morgan,“I am witnessing poignant answers to prayer.”
The retreat theme, “The World Is Changing; How Should the Christian Woman Respond?” was explored through worship services, seminars, and discussion groups. The ladies participated in acts of evangelism on Sunday, visiting a maternity ward at the local hospital, and ministering to girls
from a nearby orphanage. Television and radio reporters interviewed President Madame Solange Kambire along with me, and the report aired on the Monday evening following the retreat.
Our Ivorian sisters are building a Feminine Center in Bondoukou to provide a teaching/training ministry. Along with Madame Solange Kambire and Lynette Morgan, I participated in the cornerstone ceremony witnessed by the attendees. The cornerstone was moved to the construction site after the retreat.
For many, the highlight of the retreat was a trip to the beach (pictured above). Many of the women are landlocked, and it was their first time to see the ocean. The retreat came at the end of dry season; it was a
clear sunny day, and the whitecaps were gorgeous. What a display by Creator God. Several of the ladies mentioned “Moses and the Red Sea” as they visualized walls of water for the first time.
God’s hand of protection was clearly demonstrated on Sunday when Al-Qaeda attacked the nearby hotel in Grand Bassam. The hotel was very near the beach we had been on the day before with more than 500 women. We had been ministering to the orphan girls when their director
received a call about the terrorist attack. The retreat center was only 30 minutes away in Bingerville. Yet all three missions teams traveled safely back to the Abidjan guesthouse without complications. Families were contacted and reassured. Calm prevailed, and retreat attendees traveled safely home on Monday.
This experience was a childhood dream come true, along with a taste of Heaven, when those from every tribe and nation will be represented. I will never be the same.
About the Writer: Elizabeth Hodges is director of Women Nationally Active for Christ. Learn more: www.WNAC.org.