Once again, we held the Grace Conference in a nice and functional hotel just outside the market town of Glazoué in central Benin. This year, we topped the 100 participants mark, coming from 4 countries in West Africa. Numbers may not be the whole story, but it is encouraging to see so many come to hear about the Gospel of Free Grace.
This year again, I had been given 3 sessions (“The Gospel in 3 words”), plus the sermon on Sunday morning with the Grace church in Glazoué, Paul NGoran (Ivory Coast) and Julien Naka (Benin) each gave one message, and Vincent Dua (Ivory Coast) preached twice. Two preachers from Benin took the other sessions (Cyriaque Aholou from Porto Novo, and Charles Agbossaga from Parakou). We also had a Q&A session and a “Biblical workshop” which proved to be very useful (looking at a subject just with reference to what the Bible says).
The conference leaves plenty of time for people to have fellowship and get to know each other, and many took advantage of that, even late in the night as it was so hot in the rooms.
In the past, the conference was for the benefit of the students on the Échos de la Vérité Preachers’ Course, but a few years ago, we changed the name to “Grace Conference” and have been able to invite many more friends who can benefit from the teaching. Once again, this year, we had a good contingent of ladies, often but not always the wives of participants. Students on the Course are invited too, and those who are active have their transport costs paid for.
Visit of churches & friends
Before the conference, I went to Porto Novo for a few days. After several years of confusion among the factions of those who claimed to believe in the Gospel of grace, the situation has drastically changed. Last year, I was led to challenge these friends to follow the Lord rather than men, and to look to the future rather than always hark back to the past.
The Lord has graciously worked. Cyriaque Aholou, one of the preachers in Bohicon, has been called to become the pastor of one of the groups. Since then, people in the other group have also come to sit under the preaching of the Word.
Cyriaque is a faithful man and has much wisdom. The Lord has given a good measure of authority to his preaching. This is a very positive development. No doubt, hurdles will come and the enemy of the church will not rest. We need to support this brother in prayer.
Parakou – The church in this large town is growing. Since my last visit, it has set one of its preachers aside (Kouété Adho) to spend 2 days a week in study and sermon preparation. We preached several times there, and spent a lot of time talking with the leaders. One thing to bear in mind is that most of them, if not all, are first generation Christians and leaders, and they have no model to lead them. Hence their avid desire for time together and their many questions.
Sinendé – Soudé – From Parakou, we traveled 100 miles north, half of which was on dirt track, to the small bush town of Sinendé. Just outside town, in Soudé, a settlement, there is a Bible school of the major evangelical denomination in Benin. We spent just over a day there and were able to preach & teach many times.
This contact came several years back when I got in touch with a Frenchman who teaches there and who opened the door to us. We have been there 3 times already. It was clear that the message of sovereign grace was new to many of the students, but we had a cordial reception, and the question times were animated. We pray that the seed sown will bear much fruit, especially when these men go back to their own places.
With Cyriaque in Porto Novo Kouété Adho and family Paul & Julien – two great & precious colleagues Vincent Dua Book table in Soudé
Bohicon – Just after the conference, we went back to the town where Julien is pastor and where the Europresse-Afrique office is. We had decided to spend a couple of days reviewing the various parts of the work in order to face the challenges before us in this changing world. This was a good time to encourage each other. We often forget that we are really lonely in this work, and it is good to share our experiences.
We decided that the time is right for us to look for someone to come alongside Julien to assist him and then eventually to succeed him. This would allow our brother to devote more time to the care of the church. He has 3 other elders with him now that Cyriaque has gone to Porto Novo, but much rests on his shoulders.
The situation in Ivory Coast is really positive, with Vincent having a lot of contacts in the various religious groups. May the message carried by the books be used to set people free in Christ! Vincent also has a very important input in discussions with all sorts of people present at various conventions. Yet, we need to support him as he is not all that strong in his health.
Mono province – Again, on our way to Togo, we visited the little bush village of Agbédranfo and the neighbouring market town of Klouékanmé. Under the leadership of pastor Simon Dodo, the men from Agbédranfo are trying to plant a work in the town as there is a little group of believers, in particular a few young men. We alternated in preaching in both places and had a good time of fellowship with the people there.
Lomé, Togo – I had not been here for a couple of years. We were able to preach in the little Grace Church where Jacob Kondi is the leader. Jacob is beginning to feel the passing of time, and I wanted to encourage him. We had a lovely time of communion on my last day there, for which I am so thankful.
Over the years, we have also been in touch with a Baptist church in another area of Lomé. The pastor left a few months ago in unhappy circumstances, and that has unsettled the people. We were able to hold a weekend retreat and to preach the Gospel once again. May the Word bear fruit at a time when people find it difficult to face the future! I was also able to spend an evening with the young adults, and their questions were really insightful.
We also went to see our brother Florent K, near the sea front. This blind man was converted a few years ago listening to one of our radio programmes on a local station. Since then, we have visited him regularly, preaching in his little yard to people from the area. Several of these friends came to the conference, and they rejoice to hear the Gospel.
After a full 3 weeks, I got my plane in Lomé and braced myself for the cold spell holding Europe in its grip (Lomé 88°F/31°C – France 10,5°F/-12°C). I felt quite tired but so full of thankfulness for the many blessings.
Books and other things
We continue to make all our books available. Many had gone out of print, and we had even lost the original files. The work to recover the text is enormous, but the Lord is helping. We also have been able to secure the services of a very good graphic artist and many people comment on the quality of the new covers. So far, we have been able to make many reprints available in both Canada & Africa. Some people always want something new, and make negative comments about reprints, but these are still valuable and are new books to many people who have not known the previous edition.
We have several new projects in preparation at the moment. The scarcity of available translators is a major problem. I am working at the moment on a classic book on Redemption by one of the leading theologians of last century. It has been a joy to work on this title. After that, I will work on a defense of the Gospel of grace written by a Frenchman and set in the form of a conversation. Please pray that we may be able to bring these projects to light.
Thank you to all those of you who have prayed over the years for the door to open into many hearts.