Daily life in Burkina Faso
Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night he is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:7-8
The sun sets at 6:30 pm in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Every night. Every single night of every single day. They do have seasons, but they divide dry and rainy, not springtime and autumn. The dry is very dry, and when the rain comes, it is torrential. If it’s too dry the crops fail; if the rain is too torrential, the crops are washed away.
I met A ten years ago when he was in his late twenties. A lived his life acknowledging God’s sovereignty in the devastation of the seasons. A believer since his teens, in his twenties A moved from the unpredictable life in the country to the aspirational life in the capital city, where he settled and sold vegetables while his wife sold cloth. They made an existence. They worshipped at the Assemblies of God church in sector 30 on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. Until that is, one day in 2009, they lost everything as did ten thousand others in a once in a lifetime flood.
A and his wife were relocated out of town, fifteen miles north, to start again. Those made homeless by the flood were given a few bags of cement, a little money, and a piece of land. A soon built his house, set up a general store in the newly formed town, kept pigs, and worked on building sites, when there was work.
The day that the missionaries arrived to help construct the soon-to-be-planted church building, A was the one on hand to fetch and bring, to lay bricks, and to pour concrete. The day the church building was finished, he went back to his old job of selling pasta, soap and toothpaste to people who couldn’t afford to buy it. A and his wife had two children when we first met them: a girl of six years and a boy of two years. A and his wife only got married shortly after we arrived — they hadn’t been able to afford it until then.
The weeks for A varied depending on if and where he could find work. A typical week began with the church, a concrete open-sided building. Church consisted of a Bible study from 8:30 am for an hour which A translated from French into the local language for the forty people gathered there. This was followed by a service with much dancing and singing to the rhythm of an excited drum. The sermon was a hit and miss affair; often weaving together disparate verses to achieve the preacher’s aim.
If not needed to translate the sermon A would sit under a tree and teach the twenty or thirty children in Sunday school from God’s Word. The same children from the village would run to A’s youth group on Thursday afternoon in the sandy central area of the local primary school. A would have upwards of forty children to play games, learn memory verses, sing songs, and listen to stories from the Bible. Teaching wasn’t A’s forte. Being willing and plodding was.
Meal times would be few for the adults. A ate once a day so his children could eat three times a day. Typically, a meal consisted of rice and sauce, or mashed maize and sauce. Mornings would be early affairs, up with the sunrise. Attempts to find work would often prove fruitless, the cost of fuel to the capital would outweigh any wages he would receive. Yet whenever I arrived, he was ready with an open Bible for study, both in French and the local language, Moore. He would then present a list of people who we needed to visit and pray for; who needed hospital treatment, or simply (and most importantly to him) who we could study the Bible with.
Riches in Christ
God, for A, was his rock despite the uncertainty of the weeks he spent in this world with their ups and the downs. The ups included the times when those he invited to church actually came; or the time when his friend and chief of a local tribe professed faith after A had studied with him for a year and a half. And among the downs, was the time when his four-year-old son was found drowned in a local sand mine, or when the local church building was finally finished, and he was once again unemployed.
God, for A, was sovereign in all things and A never ceased to worship. True, sometimes the grief was engraved on his brow, and sometimes the tears almost came to the surface with his wide smile closed to a resigned grin. Yet his God and mine were the same. Most precious to us was to hear him pray in genuine thankfulness for the riches he had. They had to be riches in Christ.
A would be the norm of any enthusiastic believer in the centre of Burkina. The Bible in French is readily available, as to a slightly lesser extent is the Bible in the local majority language of Moore. Churches abound of all size and flavours in Ouagadougou. However, Burkina Faso is separated along tribal lines, and if you move a couple of hundred miles north, you’ll find a nomadic tribe called the Fulani. To be Fulani is to be Muslim. To be a Fulani Christian is to face persecution, death threats from terrorists and separation from family, daily.
Come back into the capital, and you’ll find mosques on many principal streets. The challenge for Burkina Faso is much as it is in the United Kingdom: to teach the gospel to those determined to follow Islam.
D was a Muslim who attended an English language course in the capital where he was taught the truths of the Bible through Matthew’s gospel and after some searching professed faith. For D, life went from comfortable to almost unbearable. Cut off by his family he lost his accommodation, moved to an area of the city where there was no power nor lights, food was scarce and work scarcer. A week for D was spent scouring the city for employment, trying to make contact with his parents, attending English courses, and studying Scripture as often as he could; he loved Proverbs.
What is a week like for the believer in Burkina Faso? Which Burkina Faso? Which believer? What links all Christians in Burkina though seems to be joy in the hope they have. A life which is uncertain at the best of times is matched by a resolute trust in the unchangeable God and experience of his grace.
D escaped Burkina Faso and now studies and worships in the States.
A died two years ago, aged 37, of dengue fever, leaving a widow and three daughters.