Burkina Faso flood stirs believers to action

Baptist Press
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Posted: Dec 17, 2009 5:00 PM
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (BP)--When a catastrophic flood inundated half of Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, in early September, Baptist congregations in the city seized the opportunity to live out the love of Christ with their neighbors.

Using disaster relief funds provided by Southern Baptists, field workers Jay Shafto and Scott Bradford with the International Mission Board crafted a plan to help families in Ouagadougou whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the water.

Shafto, who served as the project director, said major aid organizations like the Red Cross, World Food Program and Compassion International had stepped in to help so he and Bradford looked for ways they could complement those efforts by partnering with Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.

"Our main strategy was to fill in the gaps left by larger aid organizations who were taking a blanket approach to relief, such as food distribution or health care," Shafto said. "We had already seen that the needs for resources differ from site to site. Also, the emphasis had so far been on bringing relief to those displaced from their homes.... We wanted to find a way to help the people who were falling through the cracks."

Relief efforts involved providing food and health care, as well as helping people rebuild their homes, starting with members of local Baptist churches. The initiative also provided grain for pastors to distribute in their neighborhoods.

The team also cooperated with the local government and other organizations to help one particularly hard-hit neighborhood, for which Shafto and local leaders rallied the resources of the Baptist churches.

More than 100 Baptist young adults from across the city joined forces to help 20 families in the neighborhood who had lost their homes. Before dividing into seven teams, the youth met for a time of prayer and worship at a local Baptist church. Then they spent the day building foundations, a task that involved digging trenches and laying cement bricks under an "unforgiving sun," Shafto said.

"Several pastors came to encourage their members, joining a refreshment team delivering drinks, food and words of encouragement from site to site. The planning committee was also in action, arranging the delivery of rocks, sand and gravel as needed. One team, while waiting for a delivery, struck up a conversation with passersby, which led to a conversation about spiritual matters. One of them even stayed to join the team!"

Shafto also told of a team of 20 college-age girls, initially overlooked because they were not as strong as the young men, who ended up making 600 bricks at one site and 200 at another. Their efforts motivated the guys to keep working into the night to finish the foundation they were building.

"By the time the exhausted but tireless Baptist youth sang their way back to their respective homes, 15 foundations had been laid, 1,000 mud bricks had been made and a whole neighborhood was inspired," Shafto said.

Yaya, a young volunteer, summed up the event: "Since I have been a Christian I have never participated in anything like this. We came from different churches, but everyone came together as one. When we got tired, someone would start singing and our spirits would be revived. People stopped to ask what we were doing and why, so we told them about the love of Christ. I never dreamed of being part of something this fantastic."

The relief effort had three immediate effects, Shafto said. For one thing, the community recognizes the work and receives Baptists more readily.

"Four or five of those who talked with us about Jesus have become regular at the church. Others are stopping by to ask questions," Shafto said. "In addition, Muslim men who have been preventing their wives from attending church have relented and now allow them to attend worship services. Several observers told us, 'You are different from the other religious groups. You did not make a distinction between Muslim and Christian when you offered help.'"

The project also strengthened the relationship between the churches and the local government and increased the optimism and determination of the Baptists involved, Shafto said.

"Two four-acre lots of land have been made available to local churches in the past two weeks. We also have been invited to sit down with community leaders to discuss the possibility of future partnerships, particularly in education and health," Shafto said. "The Minister of Youth and Employment also has asked the leader of our planning committee to organize a conference to promote volunteerism and increased capacities.

"Over the course of the project, the naysayers became supporters and promoters. This project has helped Baptist youth to see themselves as capable, in their own eyes and in the eyes of others," Shafto added. "Pastors are treating the youth with greater respect, encouraging their ideas and activities. This positive change in self-image and community may be the greatest fruit of all."

Only time will tell the multiple ripple effects this initiative has had, Shafto noted.

"One thing is certain: We will never be the same," Shafto said. "God is changing the way we see ourselves and the way we are seen by others."

June Lucas is a collegiate correspondent for Baptist Global Response, on the Internet at gobgr.org.

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