Hope Amid Pain
As a Côte d’Ivoire Adventist church baptizes new members, freelance journalist Josephine Akarue explores a candidate’s testimony of overcoming his tragedy through song.
By Josephine Akarue
Excitement builds as the choir and other church members take their places. The event could have passed as any other. It is not the first baptism held at the church, which began years ago as a small group meeting in the chapel of the West-Central Africa Division (WAD), then known as the Africa-Indian Ocean Division. But these people are unique. They are the fruits from the first-ever Adventist-held evangelistic campaign on the campus of the University of Cocody in Abidjan, once a hotbed of social unrest during the country’s five-year civil conflict that displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
EVANGELIST: R. Danforth Francis, Ministerial director of the West-Central Africa Division and speaker for the evangelistic series in Côte d’Ivoire, stands with his wife, Verna.The decision of the Riviera church’s Women’s and Personal Ministries departments to target the campus as their mission field for the year 2007 has finally materialized. The campaign begins with a week of prayer. WAD Ministerial director R. Danforth Francis is the speaker. For three weeks, June 1 to 23, he speaks passionately of his message titled, “Steps to Better Life.” Yet the ground remains tough and unyielding. Other social and sporting events on campus compete for attention. Some nights, music from outside the gymnasium in which the meetings are being held resonates and bounces off the walls. Other nights, it is the chill and rain that dampen spirits.
“Ideally, the gymnasium [in which we held the meetings] can seat 1,000 persons,” Francis says, “but we had an average of only 35 guests each time.”
He adds, “If I were in a position to do it all over again, we would have a longer time for contact with the people before launching the campaign. The community didn’t know us well enough, so we did not attract more people to come to the meetings. Because my responsibilities at the office have been increased to include Adventist Mission, I will be promoting more sowing so we can reap more from where we have sown.”
But the church members persist—and that persistence pays off. Finally, 11 people indicate their desire to be baptized. Among these is one man whose story stands out. Though bound to a wheelchair, he radiates the joy and confidence that come from an intimate relationship with Christ.
“When I am depressed I sing and my spirit is lifted up,” says Ivorian-born Jacquelin Brou Kouaku, the tenth among 12 siblings, who jokingly refers to himself as a living tithe for God. His search for the truth has taken him through several challenging experiences.
Today, Kouaku is a composer of numerous songs awaiting production. During the 2006 Radio/Television Ivoirienne (RTI) musical contest, he emerged among the finalists, touching a chord in the hearts of his listeners. This singular event became a turning point in his life, an acceptance of what God could use him to accomplish. In spite of this new turn, Kouaku describes his journey for truth and success as long and tortuous, but he remains stoic: “I know music does not immediately translate into wealth in Africa,” Kouaku says, “but if it’s God’s will for me, He will provide the means.”
Indeed, Kouaku’s life has not been easy. Inadequate funds and his father’s initial reluctance to let him out of his presence delayed his early education. But during a visit to one of the mission hospitals in Divo, a town in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, a missionary doctor encouraged his father to send him to school, and he relented. On Kouaku’s first day of school, he recalled that his father had to carry him on his back because Kouaku could not use his legs. The missionaries later provided him with a wheelchair, easing the problem of transportation.
Kouaku’s high intelligence earned him a promotion in elementary school. He skipped second grade and advanced to third grade. But then a lingering ailment forced him to remain out of school for five years. By the time he reached the final year of high school, a bout of typhoid fever robbed him of the joy of successfully completing his final exams. That was in 2002. The next year his mother died. His father had predeceased her in 2000. The combined tragedy of the loss of his parents and his inability to take his school exams drove him to the edge of despair, and he contemplated suicide.
A SONG OF TRIUMPH: Wheelchair-bound songwriter Jacquelin Brou Kouaku (center) says he struggled to make the decision to fully commit his life to Christ, but finally determined that he would rather risk losing his financial support than lose his faith in Christ.Still, God’s grace kept him going. He spent 2004 trying to survive by cultivating and selling tomatoes. Then his older sister died in 2005, leaving him broken with grief.
Kouaku’s determination to overcome his pain and discouragement compelled him to continue composing songs and maintaining a small shop his sister had left behind. Then he learned about the musical contest, and this experience opened other doors. Not only did Kouaku receive invitations to sing for special occasions, he also had the privilege of signing up for musical training at RTI.
The church where he previously worshipped provided for his upkeep. Although he shared a room with another student on the university campus, the church met his other basic needs. Thus it was a struggle to make the decision for baptism following the evangelistic meeting on the campus where he lived. He faced a dilemma.
Kouaku did not want to let his previous church down; the issue of his financial support was also at stake. Still, he felt he had encountered the truth and needed to take a stand for what he believed. He felt conflicted until the last day of the meetings, but then he made up his mind to totally commit his life to Christ.
“I realized that my former church might cut off my stipend [because of] my new decision, and I realized I might face tough times,” Kouaku said. “But I would rather lose my stipend and privileges than lose my faith in Christ. After all, He is the real Provider.”
“This is a testimony of the power of the gospel,” Francis says. “Kouaku’s stand was very encouraging indeed.”
So on that bright, sunny day, Kouaku, like 10 others, sealed that faith in baptism.
The challenges and struggles are just as real today for Kouaku as they were in the past, but the assurance of God’s promises strengthens his faith. He acknowledges that beyond the glitz and frills the world offers lives a God who loves and cares for him. Indeed, He who has given the gift of music and the promise of eternal life had also given Kouaku hope amid pain.
Josephine Akarue is a freelance journalist based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.