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Congregations step out in faith, despite financial straits

Children account for nearly half of the 150 members at Nazareth United Methodist Church in Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Tim Tanton*
July 24, 2009 | YAMOUSSOUKRO, Côte d’Ivoire (UMNS)

About a dozen church members are siftting in a semicircle in the unfinished sanctuary of Nazareth United Methodist Church, discussing their ministries and diverting a few squirming children eager for attention.

Church members file into Nazareth
United Methodist Church. Construction began in 2004 and halted when the
church ran out of money.


Children account for more than a third of Nazareth’s 150 members. “We have a future full of hope because we are sure we are going to get people who will replace us,” says Otofa Hypolithe, lay leader.

Nazareth Church symbolizes two characteristics of The United Methodist Church in Côte d’Ivoire: It is vital and growing, yet financially strapped.

“We need 50 million cfa (central African francs) to finance the church,” Hypolithe says. That is about US$100,000.

Started in a living room

Sitting in their building, Nazareth members recall the church’s growing pains. The congregation’s first service was held in 1996 in someone’s living room, and that’s where the members worshipped until two years ago.

Students pray in their Sunday
school classroom at Nazareth.

Many of the members had originally attended Jerusalem United Methodist Church, several miles away. The distance and transportation costs prompted them to form a congregation closer to their part of town.

Construction began in 2004 and halted when the church ran out of money. As the heat begins to build on this Saturday morning, the only air conditioning is the breeze that wafts through the building’s frame.

Nazareth’s 12.4-acre site is a gift from the state, which drew up a development plan for the entire city and designated an area for a new Methodist church. The new church will have a capacity for at least 500 people.

That allows plenty of room for growth. Today, Sunday worship draws an average 120 people.

Thirty-one of the members are 16-35 years old, and 59 are age 15 or younger. The children’s service “is very animated,” notes Edith Bony, who directs the service.

Ministry during crisis

Since a 2002 rebellion plunged Côte d’Ivoire into its current national crisis, more people have been coming to church, says Jean Adjobi, a lay preacher and class leader at Jerusalem United Methodist Church, a 24-year-old congregation in Yamoussoukro. Peace has been maintained since mid-2007 through agreements between the government and the Forces Nouvelles rebels who hold the north.

Otofa Hypolithe is lay leader
of Nazareth United
Methodist Church.

“People are more interested in the gospel,” Adjobi says. “People think that they can have peace because in Africa people are living in poverty and miserable conditions, so they think they can have peace … if they come to church. So when we talk about the gospel, they are more attentive to that.”

The denomination is helping resolve the problems that affect the country, Hypolithe says. “Those who do not know God, hate each other; but as a member of this community, whenever we preach the word of God to these people, we help them have the spirit of love in their mind, and that is very crucial for the peace process in this country.”

Nazareth wants to reach out to its neighbors, says Fidèle Sako, who is in charge of evangelism for the congregation. The church needs a sound system with speakers and musical instruments to attract people. It has a small evangelism tent but needs resources.

The Nazareth members have organized special services to collect money for people in need and have other plans for raising money, such as cultivating chickens, pigs and sheep, but they lack startup funds.

In addition, the congregation wants to build a house for the pastor, a medical center, a skills-training center for women, and a center for boys.

A growing church

Nationwide, The United Methodist Church is in a good position for continued growth, Nazareth members say.

Georgette Assare (left) sings with
other Nazareth members.

The church is well organized and dynamic, and it has a good reputation, says Georgette Assare, lay preacher in charge of pastor-church relations.

Other members note that the services are not boring, and they like having opportunities to delve more deeply into Scriptures through classes held in members’ homes. Class members share their lives with one another, “so my problem is your problem in the Methodist Church,” one person notes.

Nazareth emphasizes hospitality and nurture. If someone’s relative passes away, church members will be with the bereaved family. The congregation encourages children and young people in their studies, giving prizes to them for academic achievement.

It prays for newcomers during worship and has fellowship time, with food and drink, afterward. A visitor is put under the supervision of a class leader who will visit him or her later.

Jerusalem Church

Across town, Jerusalem United Methodist Church is dealing with some of the same challenges and goals. It has an 86.5-acre site with a temporary sanctuary where 200-300 people worship each Sunday.

Corn plants stretch toward the
open sky within the unfinished
walls of the church.


The building is too small, says Jean Anoh Adjobi, a lay preacher and Methodist class leader at the church. The congregation, started 24 years ago, wants to build a sanctuary with enough room for more than 2,000 people.

Its construction plans also include a house for the clergy, a shelter for women and children, a center for youth and women, a school for students from kindergarten to university, a hospital and a United Methodist radio station.

Building the radio station will be important, he says. “Our purpose is to get many people to God, to Christ.” Radio can help draw more people into church, he says. It would also be a good way to provide messages on concerns such as AIDS, which is killing many people in the villages and towns, and letting women and youth know about training opportunities at the church center in the future, he says.

“We need a lot of money to make the radio station work,” he adds.

Jean Anoh Adjobi is a lay preacher
and class leader at Jerusalem United Methodist Church in Yamoussoukro.

To generate funds, the church started raising teak, a type of hardwood, on 12.4 acres in 2007. “People from the community come and work on the farm,” Adjobi says. “When they have the time, they just come and work. From time to time, we just employ two or three people to work weekly.”

The congregation plans to wait 10 or 20 years until the teak is grown, cut it, sell it and use the proceeds to build the new church, Adjobi says. As with many of the church’s dreams, money becomes the sticking point.

“We have to wait,” Adjobi says. “We have no (other) means.”

*Tanton is director of the Media Group at United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5473 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Otofa Hypolithe: “People are joining the church.”

Georgette Assare: “The church is well organized.”

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