Wess Stafford with Burkinabe child
"We have nothing that anybody would want to fight for. No diamonds, gold, oil - nothing. All we have are people."
This was the response from a senior government official to Dr. Wess Stafford's question about why the country is peaceful while most neighboring countries are in turmoil, a question posed barely half an hour after he arrived for the opening of Compassion's work in Burkina Faso. The country may not be embroiled in wars, but its people are hard hit with the bullets of despairing poverty.
According to the United Nation's Human Development Index, Burkina Faso ranks 159th out of 162 countries in the world for quality of life.
More than 90 percent of its 12 million people rely on subsistence farming, and more than 60 percent exist on less than $1 (US) a day. The mortality rate for children under five is 206 per 1,000 - the worst in the West African region. Severe malnutrition accounts for 37 percent of deaths of children under five, and the female illiteracy rate is 86 percent.
While one would expect that with such desolate poverty, the people of Burkina would walk with stooping shoulders and downcast faces, but nothing could be further from reality. The Burkinabe walk with dignity. Indeed, the name Burkina Faso means "Land of the Upright," or "Land of Integrity."
Compassion's Supportive Role
In this predominantly Islamic and animistic society, the evangelical church in Burkina Faso is not only flourishing, but has embraced Compassion with open arms. Compassion's entry into the country was the culmination of a relationship with the evangelical community that originated in 2001.
At the opening celebration, Mulatu Belachew, former Director of Compassion's Africa Area ministry, thanked the church leaders for the support they had demonstrated.
"Without the advice, support and prayers that you have shown us at Compassion International, and especially George Gitau, Burkina Faso's Country Director, as he started putting together the country office, we would not be here this evening thanking God for making this partnership possible," he said, adding, "It will truly be a blessed and humbling moment for us all to witness the birth of this ministry in this country. A birth that would not have been possible without you and the input of many other people."
The President of Assemblies of God Church in Burkina Faso Pastor Ouedraogo Jean Pawentaore captured the reason for the gathering, stating, "Let us do right by children. Let us love them as Jesus Himself loves them. And as He asked us, let us not hinder them. God takes care of these children. His angels take care of them too. We are therefore under obligation to demonstrate the same love to them. Our children must remember us for our love and not for the hardness and anger we show towards them when they are young."
Love Overcomes Poverty
Dr. Wess Stafford also discussed the theme of love, recalling how he used to tell God every night during his childhood in Cote d'Ivoire, "If you love me, let me wake up with a black skin like all my friends." To his constant disappointment, he would wake up with the same white skin. "But I am an African through and through, despite what your eyes are telling you," he protested to the laughter as he expressed his joy at finally witnessing an answered prayer.
"In the fullness of time, today is the day I have waited for 28 years!" he said, recalling how being raised in and by an African village gave him his life's mission - to fight against the unfairness of poverty. "Many nights I would listen to the drums sending messages to other villages of yet another death. I would cry myself to sleep," recalling why he determined to fight poverty among children and restore their dignity - one child at a time.
The Church's Calling
Dr. Stafford reminded his listeners that the church is called to return the sparkle to the eyes of children beaten down by poverty "by letting them know that they are loved by their Heavenly Father and that what they think and speak matters to Him." He also emphasized that, by the time children reach adolescence, they will be confident enough to identify things that need changing in their families, churches and communities. "More importantly, they will be able to say, 'I am going to change that!'" said Dr. Stafford.
"God willing, I will come back to Burkina Faso in 10 years. By then, you will have seen the changes that have taken place in the families, churches and communities across this nation. You can hold me to my words!" he concluded, saying it is Compassion's privilege to join the church of Burkina Faso in fighting poverty among children.
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