Crisis and Hope in Cote d'Ivoire
Wracked by civil war since 2002, Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) recently held its first elections in 10 years, something that many hoped would unify a country that has been hampered by violence, coups, countercoups, and overall political instability. But when the ballots were counted, two candidates were staking claim to the Presidency. The resulting political turmoil has turned violent, causing a mass exodus of over 450,000 people from the capital city and the collapse of the national banking system. With Cote d'Ivoire representing roughly 40% of West Africa's Gross Domestic Product, this is nothing short of catastrophic.
Against this backdrop Pastor Ouattara Koumbondohou, one the Chalmers Center's Global Fellowship of Trainers (GFT), is helping churches throughout Cote d'Ivoire to use savings and credit associations for community empowerment.
Profile: Ouattara Koumbondohou
The 400-year-old Kingdom of Bouna in northeastern Cote d'Ivoire is the largest and oldest of the six traditional kingdoms that remain as powerful institutions within this West African republic. The son of King Djarakoroni II of Bouna is Pastor Ouattara Koumbondohou. Ouattara has chosen to follow a much different path than that of his ancestors by working to share a holistic Christian message of poverty alleviation with churches throughout his country.
Ouattara honed his skills during two, week-long Christian Economic Development Institutes (CEDI) offered by the Chalmers Center in Ghana (2008) and Cote d'Ivoire (2009), which are part of the overall training process to become a member of the GFT, an international network of trainers established by the Chalmers Center. Reflecting on the GFT, Pastor Ouattara said, "The Chalmers Center has allowed me to improve my ministry by talking with other trainers throughout the world. It is very valuable to share new ideas and to receive encouragement from others who are involved in doing this kind of work in other countries."
Ouattara is one of the pastors at The Rock Church, a large and vibrant non-denominational congregation of about 500 in Abidjan, the commercial center of Cote d'Ivoire. The Rock Church has experienced explosive growth resulting in additional church plants since being founded seven years ago. Ouattara pursues a "tentmaker" ministry, earning income from outside the church to support his ministry activities and his family of five. Ouattara has worked for years as both a professional photographer and a partner in an animal husbandry business.
Ouattara's personal knowledge of business serves him well as he provides economic development training in conjunction with the Chalmers Center. A primary goal of his training is to equip churches to promote savings and credit associations (SCAs), especially in the poverty-stricken rural areas of his country, where banks and traditional microfinance initiatives are unable to reach even in the best of times.
During a conference in the community of Aboisso, Ouattara taught 300 people from a number of Assembly of God churches in the region. Through these types of training, Ouattara has helped churches to promote over 100 SCAs throughout the region. These economic development seminars are about more than just economic progress, they're seeking to address people's holistic needs through the reconciliation of their relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. These seminars are an integral part of the holistic message that Ouattara spreads, a message that resonates with the Chalmers Center's mission. "We need to take the gospel into all of the parts of people's lives. We need to show how the gospel can also have an effect on people's economic lives," says Ouattara.
A key part of Ouattara's ministry is creating partnerships with other trainers and organizations. He has worked especially closely in his training activities with Blesson Gnon and Gerard Kouassi, who are also GFT members. Blesson has worked as an educator for several decades and is currently affiliated with the Haggai Institute, an international Christian leadership training organization. Gerard is at a much earlier stage in his ministry and is affiliated with the church planting organization called New Generations International. The three friends work closely together, providing economic development training throughout the country.
Indeed, collaboration is a hallmark of Ouattara's approach to ministry both inside Cote d'Ivoire and around the world. He was responsible for preparing delegates from 23 African countries to participate in the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism, which was held in South Africa in the fall of 2010. That task also took him to Korea where he met with other global leaders who were preparing delegates for this historic congress.
The Catalyzing Effect
The vision that Ouattara has for his ministry is to transform his country by promoting economic development in a way that catalyzes spiritual, social and personal growth. "We need to measure success by transformation. Success isn't just about how many people show up for a training session. It's about how many people are transformed spiritually and economically by the things they learn at training sessions. The ten percent of the people who really are transformed provide the key to success." Ouattara believes following up with this critical ten percent is vital in providing an ongoing transformational ministry.
Ouattara has been a crucial participant in the development of the Chalmers Center's new initiative in West Africa. His development of the SCA movement in the Aboisso district in particular provides an excellent example of how churches can pursue life-changing ministries in the context of a national crisis, giving low-income people the dignity they need to have a hand in their own journey out of poverty.
When asked about his thoughts on the transforming power of church-centered SCA ministries, Ouattara's true passion shines through. "I work to help the church recover the holistic nature of the Gospel. Somehow we lost this along the way, thinking that some problems were only spiritual problems and others were social or physical ones. But in reality, all of these facets of ourselves are integrated and balanced in the Gospel message. And the people are very excited to hear this. They're excited and hopeful to see that their challenge of poverty is being addressed in concrete ways."
This post was written by David Hoffman.