Republic of Benin
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The Republic of Benin is a small West African country facing the Gulf of Guinea covering an area of nearly 113,000 sq km (43,000 sq miles). It is bordered by Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, Nigeria to the east and Togo to the west. Once known as the Kingdom of Benin, by the seventeenth century the country was known as Abomey later Dahomey. Slave trade was an endemic problem in area with the town of Ouidah being the shipping point for several million slaves out of Africa. By 1850 the area was under French control (and is thus French-speaking), becoming independent in 1960. Several subsequent coups meant frequent changes in governmental leadership in the late twentieth century, including a time as a Communist state. Today Benin is a republic with a single legislative body known as the National Assembly. The population of Benin is approximately 7.5 million from several major people groups, including the nomadic Fulani, Fon, Adja, Bariba and Yoruba.
Subsistence agriculture, cotton production and regional trade are fundamental to Benin’s economy. Some offshore oilfields began to develop in the late twentieth century. Two major wildlife parks are located to the north and are shared with Burkina Faso and Niger. Inefficient state enterprises and over-staffed civil service have, in the past, inhibited economic progress. Porto-Novo, founded by the Portuguese in 1752, is the Capital.
The religious life of Benin is dominated by Traditional-Animist beliefs with seventy percent of the country following these traditional practices. In fact, Benin has been considered the Voodoo capital of world. Both Islam and Christianity share the remaining portion of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“faithfulÃ¢â‚¬Â population. The superstitious beliefs of the people continue to challenge both evangelists and believers.
As far as can presently be determined the beginnings of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Benin are traced to the village of Se where Ghanaian Kwao Godfried Kabute began a Church of Christ in 1988, according to Mac Lynn in his Churches of Christ Around the World. In 1990 this was the only known congregation in Benin; it had a membership of ten. Another Ghanaian, George Akpabli is also known to have distributed Bibles and taught both individuals and small groups. In 1995 Akpabli opened a Bible Training Center in Cotonou and served as its director, under the sponsorship of the Benton Church of Christ in Benton, Kentucky.
Beginning in 1993 American missionaries of the a cappella Churches of Christ began entering Benin, including Andrew Gordon, Anthony and Maureen Parker and Tod Vogt. Doyle Kee and Bill McDonough led a medical mission to Benin in 1996. With the expansion of work in the country other American missionaries to go to Benin, included Richard Chowning, David Hicks, Andy Wilson and Randy and Kelly Vaughn.
In 2000 Brian Jennings, a Brit serving at Ghana Christian College, reported to the Global Leaders Forum at the Brisbane, Australia World Convention, about the state of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Benin, at that time. He reported that from 1992 to 2000 the Churches of Christ in Benin had grown from two small congregations to a total of 41 congregations with an aggregate membership of 1,250 members centered about three mission efforts. In Cotonou, George Akpabli was directing the Centre de Formation Biblique (Bible Training Center) which was sharing facilities with the Vedoko Church. In 2000 the Center marked its fifth anniversary and had seen the graduation of eighteen students from its three-year program from several Francophone countries. A team of five church planting missionaries, including Jana Treadway, Anthony and Maureen Parker, and Andrew and Pulcherie Gordon were working with the Fon people. At that time there were seven congregations with a total membership of 110, among the Fon. The third was a team consisting of Greg and Melanie Bailey, Richard and Cyndi Chowning, Murphy and Christian Crowson, Jim Kennell, David and Heather Hicks and Randy and Kelly Vaughn working with the Aja people. These families were living in the towns of Azove and Aplohoue. The work among the Aja numbered seventeen congregations with a total membership of about 550 Aja people (though the Jennings report says seventeen’ a 2007 report by Randy Vaughn says there are seven congregations).
In the April 2001 issue of the Christian Worker, a periodical of the church of Christ in Great Britain, editor Graham Fisher reported that the congregation in Northampton, England had begun financially supporting a small congregation in Cotonou, providing the latter group the funds to rent a facility and support an evangelist. At present it is unknown if this work was related to or is that of Brother Akpabli, mentioned above.
In 1992 Christian Missionary Fellowship (CMF), based in Indianapolis, Indiana opened a new work in Benin. Steven and Shawn Allen and David and Carol Gustin completed language study in France and moved in July of that year to Cotonou to initiate a church planting ministry among the Fon-speaking people. Later, (1999) CMF work was centered in Parakou where Derek Powell and Mike Rutledge served in many small ministries, including employing graphic art as a way of carrying the Gospel to a people group where visual images were not the norm that they are in western culture. CMF did provide the opportunity for some American students to intern in Benin, as well. One of those students is currently serving with CMF in the Ivory Coast. Sometime thereafter the CMF work in Benin was closed, prior to 2004. Despite the work being closed Christian congregations yet flourish among the Aja people.
In December of 2006 the Kaiteme Church of Christ, planted in 1998 and one of the oldest of the Churches of Christ among the Aja people of Benin, hosted the annual year-end convention of Churches of Christ. The three-day event, just prior to Christmas (December 22-24), was historic in that it was also a time of celebration of union of the Churches of Christ and Christian Churches of Benin. There are reported to be seven congregations of Churches of Christ and over a dozen congregations identified as Christian Churches. On Saturday, December 23, during the annual convention a delegation of about 100 people from the Christian Churches arrived by truck. The delegation entered the worship service in a parade, their hearts full of praise as they offered up a special song they had prepared for the occasion. Randy and Kelly Vaughn, are missionaries from the American Churches of Christ in Benin (in 2007 they will be ending their eight-year tenure in Benin). Randy said of the Christian Church delegation, “I appreciate so much our brothers from the Christian Church; their humility is evident and their dynamic relationship with Jesus is contagious.”
Later in the day, the leaders of the Christian Church delegation called together the leadership council of the seven Aja congregations, laid hands upon them and prayed over the leadership of the Churches of Christ. Union will provide both groups of first generation Christians important opportunities for fellowship and mutual encouragement in a land where believers are still a very small minority. Vaughn says that this kind of union is significant for these relatively new Christians who have no mentors in their families to guide them in their Christian walk, “for God to bring together these two groups under one umbrella will strengthen everyone in this combat for purity, holiness and the pursuit of righteousness.” The combined fellowship will fortify both groups for the purpose of evangelism, discipleship and the spiritual battle for maturation and sanctification.
While the Vaughns will be returning to the United States sometime in 2007 you can read more about their work among the Aja people of Benin at their blog found at http://rkvaughn.blogspot.com
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
Churches of Christ Around the World, Mac Lynn, 21st Century Christian Publications, Nashville, TN, 2003.
The Benin Bible Training Center is under the leadership of George Akpbli and is located at:
Eglise du Christ, Vedoko-Cotonou
01 B.P. 3268, Cotonou, Benin Benin
This mission work is under the oversight of the Benton Church of Christ, 3091 Main Street, Benton, KY 42025 (USA)
An annual year-end convention is held among the Churches of the Aja people.