Friday, May 24, 2019

Fwd: Benin - No orphans in God's family

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From: Mennonite Mission Network <>
Date: Fri, May 24, 2019 at 5:46 PM
Subject: Benin - No orphans in God's family
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God's people from four continents joined hands to help La Casa Grande reach out to their community through an English camp last summer. Photo by James R. Krabill.

Mission flows in many directions

"God is in the neighborhood! God will wipe every tear from our eyes. God's glory is the light by which nations will walk, and they'll bring the gifts from their cultures into God's dwelling place."
—Revelation 21:3-4 and 23-26, paraphrased

In a post-colonial world, Western Christians must be more conscious of what we have to learn from our fellow believers in other lands who have much to teach us.

Mennonite Mission Network has been promoting two-way mission for more than half a century, starting with Edwin and Irene Weaver, who took lessons learned in India to test a new mission stance in West Africa. The Weavers often wondered who was the learner and who was the teacher as they studied the Bible with African believers. About the same time, mission workers in South America were moving off mission compounds to seek more culturally appropriate ways of engaging with communities around the good news of Jesus Christ. Willis Horst co-authored Mission Without Conquest recounting this endeavor.
Mennonite Mission Network has been involved in multidirectional mission for more than a century, but the concept became more explicit when Edwin and Irene Weaver took lessons learned in India to test a new mission stance in West Africa in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Mennonite Church USA Archives.
In a ministry like La Casa Grande in Benin, West Africa, mission workers are coming from settings as diverse as secular Spain in Europe, urban Colombia in Latin America, and from various ethnic communities in the United States. They bring their unique cultural lessons to share with La Casa Grande's community. But, as Diana Cruz observes, mission workers learn much from Benin's culture and from the Beninese children they love so much.

With such a wide range of international "aunties and uncles" learning lessons in this context, the potential is not just for two-way mission, but for three- and four-way mission—many people around the world will learn from these children as the mission workers share their stories with their sending communities.

John F. Lapp
Senior Executive for Global Ministries
Acting Executive Director
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Diana Cruz (second from right) introduces the Youth Venture team to the La Casa Grande children. Photo by James R. Krabill.

God hears children's cries

When children cry, God pulls out all the stops and calls people from around the world to respond. La Casa Grande (The Big House) was born in 2000 as a partnership of churches in Benin with the Burgos Mennonite Church in Spain and Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. In 2018, South Americans joined God's people from Africa, Europe and North America in providing this home for children who have nowhere else to go.

Diana Cruz and Felipe Preciado, a married couple from the Mennonite Church in Colombia, became part of La Casa Grande's family last year. Diana teaches English and Spanish in the school that serves 32 children who live at the home, and more than 200 children from the broader community. This school permits God's love, so evident within the walls of the children's home, to have a wider reach. It also demonstrates the holistic nature of God's care, as does Felipe's work with agriculture and animal breeding projects.

No orphans in God's family

The founders of La Casa Grande did not create an "orphanage." They insist that there are no orphans in God's family. God's home is big enough for the whole extended family to find a place.

"We do everything on the basis of the love of Christ," said Paulin Bossou, one of La Casa Grande's former directors. "We are trying to make sure the children can grow up in a Christian environment so that one day they may also reflect the Lord's love to others. We have the firm conviction that the world can change with the love of God."

Though the Bossou family moved on to another ministry a few months ago, La Casa Grande remains in competent hands. Bienvenu and Chimรจne Kadja, who have worked at the children's home for years, have become co-directors. They have the dedicated support of people like Diana and Felipe, the West African house mothers, and a parade of volunteer "aunties and uncles" who come from around the globe to lend a hand.

Wiping away tears

Fiacre also left La Casa Grande a few months ago. He came as an infant, who was HIV-positive. The disease had taken both of his parents. He and his house mother, Tanti Jolie, were inseparable. Though Fiacre was never strong, through Tanti Jolie's love and care, he lived to celebrate his eighth birthday.

Diana and Felipe only knew Fiacre for three months, but that's all the time it took for his death to leave a gaping hole in their hearts. Fiacre was Felipe's shadow.

"Every day he came to the garden to help me take care of plants, to measure the land for the flower beds, to carry stuff. He was always asking questions about the animals," Felipe said.

Saying good-bye to Fiacre was a sad time for the La Casa Grande community. And yet, his brothers and sisters found joy in describing to each other all the delicious food he would be eating in heaven. And there was some debate about how long it would take him to make the journey to heaven since it was so far away!

"There was a point when I could not stop crying," Diana said. "The children comforted me by saying, 'Don't be sad; Fiacre is with Jesus now.' I should have been comforting them, but they were hugging me and reminding me of God's good plan for all of us. It still brings tears to my eyes. I hope to learn that kind of faith."

Fiacre and Tanti Jolie planted a mango tree in the middle of La Casa Grande's pineapple field, because Fiacre loved mangos.

"The tree is a reminder that life goes on, but each person leaves their legacy behind," Diana and Felipe wrote in a prayer letter. "Even though Fiacre was a child, we will always remember him. Therefore, we wish to keep on working so that many more kids and adults get to know that they are cared for. We follow the example of our brothers and sisters at La Casa Grande."
Fiacre helps Felipe measure a plot in the garden at La Casa Grande. Photo by James R. Krabill.
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