John Piper, in his book entitled Let the nations be glad, writes, ‘The pain of our shattered plans is for the purpose of scattered grace.’
This has been the experience of many Christians in war-torn Ivory Coast. Below is a first-hand account of God at work earlier this year, transforming lives by his grace.
February 2013 saw the realisation of a project that had been in the ‘pipeline’ for more than 10 years. Back in January 2002, on a trip to the northern region of Ivory Coast with Pastor Koné, an Ivorian pastor, the enormous need for clean water became obvious.
In several villages, water was obtainable but from polluted sources. Later on that same trip, we met two men in a mission guest house in Yamoussoukro from ‘Friends in Action’ (FIA), an organisation which specialises in well digging to help advance the gospel. There the plan to drill wells in strategic villages, where the gospel was being presented, was born.
God at work
At times in the intervening years it seemed as if this vision would never be fulfilled, as the outbreak of civil war in Ivory Coast caused a mass evacuation of missionaries, including the FIA team. However, God’s plan was not thwarted.
During the intervening years, the Lord continued to transform lives by his grace. One notable conversion was a Muslim man (CB), who had accompanied his daughter to the Baptist Hospital in Ferkéssédougou, in January 2008.
While seated in the waiting area, he heard and responded to the gospel. He returned to his village, which had been previously closed to the gospel, and began to witness to his friends and neighbours, resulting in many trusting Christ.
In October 2009, 30 new believers were baptised and a further 20 in 2011. To date, there are eight village churches planted in that region. On numerous occasions while visiting these newly formed churches, we heard the same request, ‘Please can you help us with the problem of water?’
Earlier this year, the moment arrived to witness a vision becoming a reality. Seventeen men crossed the border from Burkina Faso into Ivory Coast in six vehicles, with the aim of drilling at least three wells in strategic villages. The team members came from USA, Canada, England and Northern Ireland.
The village ‘hotels’ had more stars than could be counted, as we slept outside under God’s amazing canopy, much to the amusement of the local people.
Drilling for water
Hard work and long hours characterised the following days, as the men persevered relentlessly in the pursuit of clean water. As the drilling took place at each location, evangelistic outreach was also carried out and we explained that, while we were bringing natural water, Jesus offers spiritual water!
There was great excitement when someone shouted, ‘We have found water!’ But even greater joy when CB’s brother, who was responsible for the Muslim call to prayer, came to faith in Christ.
The second village we visited was the home village of Pastor Koné, which had been notoriously resistant to the gospel. As he explained the history of the church to the team, tears ran down his face as he described how the first Christians were beaten and the local tribal chief pledged to turn a blind eye to mistreatment of Christians.
He explained he wasn’t crying because of what he had suffered, but because of how God had brought him through that difficult time.
Later that day, there was great rejoicing when water began to flow, but this did not compare with the joy we shared when Pastor Koné’s elder sister, for whom he had prayed for years, said she wanted to trust the Lord.
She immediately asked to burn her fetishes in front of her neighbours. Before the team left the village, the chief asked for forgiveness for the way in which the church had been persecuted in the past. In recent weeks, several others have come to faith in Christ.
In the words of FIA engineer, Mark Collier: ‘The drilling in this village was tough, and casing the collapsing, muddy soil horizons was difficult. Looking at the thick, clayey mud coming out of the hole as we drilled, it was hard to believe that anything good (clean, life-giving water) would ever flow from the hole’.
‘The team did not give up though, and a well was made. Sometimes we look at some people and think that they are such a mess, that nothing good could ever flow out of them, and that they are beyond redemption.
‘However, just as the team did not give up on the well that seemed like a lost cause, Christ does not give up on lost causes, but rather turns them around to be fountains flowing with living waters for his glory’.
The final village proved to be the most challenging. During a previous attempt to drill a well there 17 years ago, the local witch doctor had pronounced a curse saying that the Christians would never find water.
The first hole, near the original well, went to 320 feet through solid rock, and no water came. Would the witch doctor’s prediction prove true? The following day was Sunday and much prayer went up from the local church, and also from many around the world who were praying for the project.
The prayer that was repeated time and again was, ‘Lord, glorify your name!’ On Monday, a new hole was started. By the afternoon, the ground became damp and then the water began to flow from the hole, as a powerful testimony to all in the village of God’s power and compassion. It proved to be the best flowing well of the three!
Please pray for the ongoing work in the villages of northern Ivory Coast, that many more lives will be transformed by God’s grace and be able to say, ‘We have found living water!’