Benin school celebrates 30 years
Benin Bible Institute, which Mennonites played a role in starting, recently celebrated 30 years of equipping more than 1,000 church leaders in 70 denominations.
The theme for the Oct. 16-19 weekend, “Church and the Development of African Nations: A Benin Case Study,” was addressed by BBI supporters and alumni who now hold influential positions in churches and secular institutions.
The 200 attendees came from Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Nigeria, Togo and the U.S. A delegation from Sierra Leone was not able to travel due to restrictions to prevent the spread of Ebola.
BBI students and supporters shared their joy by marching through the streets in procession, accompanied by a brass band playing hymns.
Léontine Kassa is training to be a teacher and uses her skills to lead Sunday school classes in an Assemblies of God church.
“I like the rigor and the discipline at BBI. Every time I come, I learn something,” she said. “BBI is more than academic; I’ve learned that we need to put our faith into practice.”
Starting with seminars
Although Mennonites had been studying the Bible with Beninese Christians since the early 1970s, the school calculates its start from 1983, when Bible seminars became a yearly occurrence.
Upon the request of Benin’s council of Protestant churches to Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, David Shank began leading annual one-week seminars for the leaders of 30 denominations. Shank was a mission worker in Belgium from 1950 to 1973 before he began ministry in the Ivory Coast from 1976 to 1989.
The celebration included a visit to BBI’s farm in Oumako, about an hour east of the school’s location in Cotonou. The dream of an agricultural project was one of the three areas of collaboration — biblical training, health and agriculture — that Beninese churches requested of Mennonites at the beginning of their partnership. While this resulted in BBI, Bethesda Hospital and a community health program, the agricultural program did not materialize until now.
The project is part of a vision of leadership where those who attend the institute will be given agricultural expertise along with courses in theology, biblical studies and administration. This vocational training will help pastors feed their families, as well as help them train parishioners in innovative and sustainable methods of food production.
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