With only 10,000 Seventh-day Adventists in the entire country of Côte d’Ivoire, Adventist leadership in that country had been waiting for September 12, 2020 to arrive. Two new churches were dedicated on one Saturday (Sabbath), built by Maranatha’s volunteers and devoted crews.
The anticipation of this moment had been building for a long time. Even before Maranatha’s team in Côte d’Ivoire began pouring concrete, fabricating steel, or laying blocks, Adventist leaders were was referring to their church history as “Before Maranatha” and “After Maranatha.”
With the completion of the Anan and Abbebroukoi Seventh-day Adventist churches in the Abidjan area, the reality of this new chapter has now begun to sink in. Leaders know there is a long way to go to reach their goals for church growth, but seeing the start of their dreams being accomplished is a breath of fresh air, they said. This was true especially because, for a while, it seemed as though the buildings might never come to fruition.
Volunteer groups successfully served during the first couple of months of 2020 as Maranatha was ramping up activity in Côte d'Ivoire. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, canceling future volunteer projects and bringing Maranatha’s local team to a temporary standstill. Soon, with approval from local authorities, Maranatha's country director, Gilberto Araujo, implemented a plan for crews to resume the work at the construction sites.
“First, we reduced our team so that we’d give enough space for social distancing,” Araujo said. “Then, we gave them meals here. We provided them with some mattresses where they could sleep here. We gave them gloves. They used masks. They also use gel to clean their hands. And this was how we were able to work here for months.”
Steadily the work continued, and each week brought more progress and attention to the projects. By the time the buildings were completed in September, local news stations wanted to cover the ribbon-cutting ceremonies and learn about this organization providing new buildings in Côte d'Ivoire.
The day of dedications began at the Anan church, Maranatha’s first completed project in the country. Here, Araujo and Adventist leaders, including the president of the West-Central Africa Division (WAD) of the Adventist Church, thanked everyone involved in the project.
Later that day, a ceremony took place at the Abbebroukoi church, where members expressed their gratefulness to the Maranatha team for their tireless work, even though the pandemic. The transformation of the property there was so stunning that members now want to add “Eden” to the official church name.
It was a high Sabbath for all who participated in both of the joyous celebrations. Within weeks, there would also be happy squeals coming from new classrooms next to the Abbebroukoi church. In October, kindergartners flooded the school building that Maranatha also constructed there, starting a new Adventist primary school. Because of the strong reputation of Adventist education in Côte d'Ivoire, an Adventist school is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. The kindergarten class has 31 students enrolled so far, with plans to expand to more grades.
Charles Assandé, education director for the Adventist Church in Côte d’Ivoire, knows how important schools are in reaching more souls with God’s love. “School is a powerful factor of evangelism,” Assandé said. “Because education and redemption are one and the same. When you have a school with six classrooms, you have six churches. So the more classrooms we have, the more churches we have. And it will boost our missionary work. That’s why it is extremely important to have many schools here in Côte d’Ivoire.”
Since completing the structures at Anan and Abbebroukoi, Maranatha has turned its attention to constructing a new secondary school in Niangon. The local Adventist church has around 170 members, but they want to grow. Niangon is the largest and most populated suburb of the metropolis of Abidjan, with more than 1.5 million residents. “We have not grown as we should according to the population of this area,” local pastor Paul Baka said. “We think with a school, we will grow faster. People will know the church.”
Maranatha will be constructing five classrooms and two labs next to the Niangon church. (Land is very expensive in Côte d'Ivoire, so most of the school projects will be built on church property.) It will be the only secondary school in the neighborhood, fulfilling an urgent need while introducing the community to the Adventist Church.
These churches and schools are just the beginning of a new point in history for the Adventist Church in Côte d’Ivoire. Each completed structure will serve as a beacon for the gospel in every neighborhood and city where they are erected. The dedication ceremonies at Anan and Abbebroukoi celebrated two specific sites, but they also mark a new era for the church. Slowly but surely, the gospel will continue to advance in this “After Maranatha” Côte d’Ivoire.
The original version of this story appeared in issue no. 4, 2020, of The Volunteer magazine.