Yawa Village Project, Inc.
Annual Pan African Festival
Pan African Collective
Rev. Jonathan Weaver Contributes:
My involvement with Africa actually dates to the summer of 1971 when I served as a volunteer with Operation Crossroads Africa, a cultural exchange program headquartered in New York, which for over a half century has sent ten thousand persons, to Africa, largely to participate in rural development projects. The founder of Crossroads was the late Dr. James H. Robinson, a visionary pastor of a church in Harlem who while perhaps never used the word reconciliation to describe the mission and work of the organization, nonetheless recognized the need to build bridges of understanding between people of diverse races and cultures. That summer, working alongside white and other black students from across America, and Nigerian counterparts, afforded me a unique, unforgettable opportunity that certainly sparked an interest in me to contribute in some way to further the ideals of Dr. Robinson.
After graduating from the Harvard Business School in 1975, I led a group for Crossroads to Nigeria during the summer, and in 1977, became their Director of Development for three years, spending considerable time in remote villages throughout Africa. I subsequently worked for two other organizations that kept me intimately involved in reconciliation (while at the time never using that word to describe what I was engaged in) and human development, the African-American Institute and the Service and Development Agency (SADA), the latter being the global development arm of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
I assumed the pastorate of Greater Mt. Nebo A.M.E. Church, located in Bowie, Md. in 1988, and building upon my previous experiences in Africa, led two mission trips to West Africa in the early 1990s. However, upon meeting Jack Gaines, along with Brian Johnson, a long-term missionary to Africa, in 1998, my engagement with the concept of reconciliation became more focused. I attended an historic conference on reconciliation and community development sponsored by the Government of Benin in 1999, which led me to explore other ways for me and our church to pursue this vision of bringing people together for the sake of global health and development.
Jack and Brian introduced the Adopt-A-Village program to our church and the congregation embraced it enthusiastically. Since 2002, we have developed a vibrant relationship with the people of Yawa, a village in Benin, approximately three hours (by road) from the capital of Cotonou. Over forty members of our church have visited Yawa through four separate trips, including a group comprised of health professionals who held workshops with the villagers to empower them to promote better health care among themselves. We also provided financial support for the construction of the first school in the village, and we continue to help underwrite teacher salaries and the tuition cost for many of the students where parents cannot afford the expense.
For us, this relationship is hardly one-sided. We are blessed by knowing that the people of Yawa are praying for us, individually as well as for the church collectively. Moreover, for those who have visited Yawa, they now have a global sensitivity beyond anything they could have imagined prior to this exposure.
Two years ago our church created the Yawa Village Project, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization, whose purpose is to promote the ideals of reconciliation and development, using our partnership with Yawa as the impetus and stimulus for this effort. Additionally, since 2001, Greater Mt. Nebo has sponsored an annual Pan African Festival on the grounds of the church, drawing thousands each year from the Washington metropolitan area, to promote better understanding amongst people, especially with those representing the African Diaspora. Finally, in 2008, we established the Pan African Collective, an organization comprised of churches in the Washington area, and members of the African and Caribbean Diplomatic Corps, to foster relationships between these groups, again around the themes of reconciliation and development.
Much of what we are doing as a church as it relates to this reconciliation movement, is directly attributable to the people who have influenced me in this regard, most notably Dr. James Robinson, Jack Gaines, and Brian Johnson, all of whom I mentioned earlier, the former President of Benin, Mathieu Kerekou, and the current Ambassador of Benin to the United States, Cyrille Oguin. It certainly is our hope that many more churches across this nation will become involved in this life-changing endeavor.
Rev. Jonathan Weaver
Pastor at Greater Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church
Brian Johnson contributes:
From the start of the COMINAD network, our goal has been to create a vehicle that will reconcile Christians with one another, and to help people around the world reconcile with God and each other. We believe that the absence of reconciliation between man and God is the one cause for man not being reconciled to one another.
We have traveled to countries with the purpose of embracing people groups who were experiencing problems relating with people of other groups. Our focus was to facilitate reconciliation among these groups. An example of this type of reconciliation intervention occurred when we went to the small West African country of Benin.
We heard that there was a major problem between tribes that had the capability of flaring up into great violence if not attended to. The problem derived from animosity between the descendants of the people whose forefathers had captured men, women and children from other tribes. Their forefathers sold these people to white slave traders who in turn transported them to the Americas. It was our privilege to sit with the people from tribal groups whose ancestors had sold people into slavery, and those whose ancestors were sold. We experienced first hand, the anger that began hundreds of years ago, yet remained fresh in the hearts of the people. We heard people cry out with great intensity, the extent in which they hated each other. The amazing thing for us was seeing the close proximity in which these antagonists lived. In some cases they lived in the same villages, as was the case with our first mediation encounter.
We found out rather quickly that we as African-Americans had a role to play in reconciling some of the people of Africa who had been having major problems amongst themselves concerning the slave trade. We pleaded with both groups in the name of Christ Jesus, to forgive one another’s ancestors, and to overcome the hatred that was in their hearts stemming for the slave trade. We were amazed that the people did forgive one another. Through our intervention, communities are now working together in a new reconciled paradigm, creating prosperity and happiness among the people in parts of that small country. We are also working in other countries and in the United States connecting people to God and each other for the purpose of salvation and prosperity.
Mr. Brian Johnson
The Adopt-a-Village Initiative is a direct result of reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships from the Benin Conference.
Pastor Ivan Harris contributes:
Since an initial visit to Benin, Africa, in July 2001, and seeing first hand that many villages lacked many basic needs, God moved me to adopt two villages for First Baptist Church Denbigh. Adoption of these villages meant that we would be committed to helping the villagers to have a better quality of life. During conversations with leaders of the villages, I learned that their most pressing needs were schools to educate their people and clean drinking water. Returning to my church congregation with the results of my visit and what I had committed to do, they readily agreed to helping the people of the villages.
To date, we have provided the villagers with books written in French, English, and Fong (in partnership with Hampton University), established a micro banking system; constructed and dedicated a well, a school, and a medical facility; provided motorcycles for the missionaries; and will be dedicating a 300-seat worship facility in May. While most of the funds for these projects have been provided by the First Baptist Church Denbigh family, we have had some assistance from Pastor David Spratley (Rising Sun Baptist Church, Lackey, Virginia), Pastor Sammie Simmons (St. Marks Four Bridges and Bethesda Baptist Churches, Sumpter, South Carolina), Pastor Ray Brown (Resurrection Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas), and other individuals.
It is my prayer and hope that God will move upon the hearts of local pastors to catch the vision to adopt other villages, thereby helping to alleviate poverty, illiteracy, and disease for the villagers. With their adoption of other villages, local pastors will also be afforded the opportunity to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Reverend Jack Gaines is a personal friend of mine, who has accompanied me on several tours of Africa and has seen first hand, what has been accomplished in our adopted villages and what still is lacking in many other villages. We are looking forward to continuing our relationship and partnership with the country of Benin, Africa.
To God Be the Glory!
Pastor Ivan T. Harris
First Baptist Church Denbigh
Virgil Lee Amos contributes:
In 2002 I was exposed to the Reconciliation Ministry that was happening in the Republic of Benin. At he same time I heard about the Adopt-A-Village Program that was being initiated in that country also. In 2003 I recruited three small teams to go to Benin. One team went in June, another in August, and another in October. The June team was a general exposure group that specialized in prayer and intercession. The latter two teams were exposed to the Adopt-A-Village Program.
The team members were exposed to certain villages that were selected by the local missionaries. The team was able to interact with the villagers by giving their testimonies. The villagers also sang, danced, and gave their testimonies to the team. This interaction brought the teams and the villagers together in sort of a kindred, bonding spirit. There was a sense that the team members from the States were distant family members of those in the villages. Consequently the team's interaction with the villagers was like a family reunion with relatives that had never seen each other before.
The villagers prayed for the team members, their families, and their churches. The team members sought to discover what were the greatest challenges that the villagers were facing. Most of the challenges that the villagers expressed were in this order: clean water, health care, education, and funding for small business initiatives.
The team members from the West became burdened by one or more challenges that the villagers had and voluntarily connected themselves with a particular village. The team members took many pictures of the villagers to show to their congregations and friends in the United States.
When the team members returned home, they showed the pictures of the villagers to their respective churches and small ministry groups. This resulted in individuals in the churches developing an affinity with the individuals in the villages. From this cross-cultural communication, churches of team members began to officially adopt the village the team member displayed. Church members would begin to pray for their village regularly and to support the various projects they chose. As a result of the Adopt-A-Village Program, I have taken teams to Benin every year since 2003. The churches of the team members have purchased wells, school materials, given funds for small business loans, and have supplied many other needs.
Some individuals in the States who heard the report of the Adopt-A-Village Program from one who went to Benin committed themselves to adopt a village even before they visited a village. We are also finding that most of the individuals, who come to the villages in Benin from the States, return one or more times to the village they have adopted. Thus these individuals maintain an on-going relationship with their village, and keep their church members involved.
Virgil Lee Amos
Ambassadors Fellowship, a mission agency that ministers in Latin America, Europe, South, and East Asia, and Africa.