On March 22, 2020, the last Maranatha volunteers in the international mission field left the country of Côte d’Ivoire as the COVID-19 pandemic halted travel. In early December, a small group of volunteers landed in Côte d’Ivoire for Maranatha’s first international project in nearly nine months.
For Maranatha volunteer and board member Peter Thomas, who goes on multiple mission trips each year, the experience couldn’t have come soon enough. “I kept telling people that I had grass growing between my toes here at home,” Thomas said. “We had been staying at home, we’ve been locked down, and we finally went. The experience was really good — the airplanes are spotless now, everyone was socially distanced at the airports. The travel is very safe.”
The volunteers’ excitement was matched by the enthusiasm of the local crew and church members, who hadn’t seen any outside Maranatha volunteers or staff for more than eight months.
“We felt kind of isolated,” Maranatha country director Gilberto Araujo said. “So for the workers, as well as the church members and church leaders, this was a breakthrough. To understand that we are a world church, that Maranatha is a supporting ministry, and to see people coming, it re-energized them to know that there is a bigger picture behind us.”
Volunteers joined Maranatha’s local crew to help continue the construction of buildings at the new Niangon Adventist Secondary School, working on the school office and restrooms.
On Sabbath, the volunteers worshipped with local congregations at Anan and Abbebroukoi and saw Maranatha’s first water well in the country at the Anan church.
Most of the work took place at the Niangon school. Still, volunteers also had the opportunity to help construct a One-Day Church for the Avegou Seventh-day Adventist congregation, which had previously met in a bamboo structure. Almost immediately after construction of the frame was completed, church members began building up the walls.
Araujo noticed that the presence of volunteers provided an instant morale boost to the church in Côte d’Ivoire. “To see the faces of Maranatha, it was an encouragement. It was energizing,” Araujo said. “You could see that [the church members] immediately started working on the walls when they saw people coming from abroad. Even we, as Maranatha workers, are reminded that we are a family. We have been energized.”
“We know that COVID-19 has changed everything in the world,” Araujo said. “There is no more normal, but the mission is still there. It is still inspiring. It is still available.”
In 2019, Maranatha began working in Côte d’Ivoire (formerly Ivory Coast) to provide churches and schools in the country. The commitment was in response to a request from the West-Central Africa Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. To start, Maranatha has focused on projects in Abidjan, the country’s largest city and home of the headquarters for the Adventist Church in West-Central Africa. In November 2020, Maranatha launched a water program in Côte d’Ivoire, drilling wells at Adventist churches.