Katayinka, the Heart of Animism
Several years ago when the condition of the main road between Natitingou and Boukombé worsened, travelers began taking a detour, a small road that passes through Katayinka and several other Otammari villages. When Toussaint and I took that road for the first time in years, I was amazed by the beauty of the countryside and also by the evidence of strong Otammari tradition. Each family in that area still lives in a tata somba, the traditional castle-like dwelling of the Otammari people. Tata sombas are difficult to build and to maintain, which is why few families now live in them. We also saw small sacred forests everywhere. Later I learned that the greatest defenders of Otammari culture, the guardians of the tradition so to speak, come from the Katayinka area. There is not a single functioning church or other house of worship in this region. There is an abandoned mosque and an empty Catholic church, both closed for years.
I started praying that, in His time, God would open doors for the gospel in these villages. One day during our leadership training, our local evangelist Hyacinthe expressed the same thoughts. On his weekly trips through those villages he had sensed God’s call to go to these lost people. So we began making plans.
Our first step was to begin praying for Katayinka and the surrounding villages three times a day. We decided that Hyacinthe and his helper Charles would take the lead at first, and the white missionaries would stay in the background. We wanted to make sure that people would be attracted by Jesus alone and not the novelty of foreigners.
Early in 2014, Hyacinthe and Charles visited the villages for the first time, made the proper contacts with the village chiefs and asked for permission to present something to the people. This received, they held initial meetings in three villages. To introduce their message, they opened with a carefully researched and prayerfully chosen story that we use to develop spiritual hunger in Otammari people, a story about the great controversy and the curse under which the Otammari now suffer. A great number of people attended the meetings and showed strong interest. However, they were very clear that they did not intend to embrace any change. “If you came to tell us that we must knock down our fetishes and family altars and that we shouldn’t perform sacrifices and ceremonies anymore, you might as well leave right now,” they said. Hyacinthe assured them that he just wanted to tell them stories, not to tell them what they should or should not do. Some people predicted that their meetings wouldn’t last more than a few weeks before they gave up and left, just like all the other churches and religious groups that had failed there.
Our evangelists had a good start with strong attendance for a few weeks, but then they hit a brick wall. The story of the fall and the role the serpent plays brought everyone’s interest to an abrupt halt. In Otammari tradition, the serpent is the representative of God on earth. The serpent incubated the eggs from which the first human beings hatched, and thus played a vital role in the creation of the human race. He is the protector of humanity and the mediator between man and God. He is the greatest of all the spirits and considered a god himself. But in the biblical story of the fall he is portrayed as our enemy, and this is a great stumbling block for Otammari people. After the evangelists shared that story, only a few old ladies and children continued to attend the meetings.
The evangelists were discouraged, but they hadn’t been kicked out, so they continued day after day, telling their stories. However, we realized that having one or two public meetings per week was not enough. That’s when our third evangelist, Jean, decided to move to the village to live with the people.
Today, more than two years later, two groups are still gathering. Some of the men rejoined the meetings, and a number of people have made decisions for Christ. For several months, we have been negotiating for a piece of land to build a small chapel, but because of some political issues we have not yet been able to get an answer. The group recently started worshipping on Sabbaths and is eager to move from under the trees into some sort of building. We have only until May before the next rainy season starts.
Katayinka has been our field test of the lessons we outlined and developed during our weekly training program. We continue to learn new things and improve the lessons, but we praise God for the miracles He has done in Katayinka. The people there are so strongly rooted in animism that we really didn’t know if any of them would respond. But God has His children everywhere. It has been a long and slow process, but He has given our evangelists protection, wisdom and strength. Jean is still quite young, yet old people now come to him for advice. It is rewarding to finally see the results of years of labor, and we look forward to see how God will continue to work.
When Jean moved to Katayinka, Hyacinthe was freed to answer calls from other villages. Now we have new groups meeting on Sabbaths in four different villages. One group has already built a church on their own initiative. Two more villages have requested visits from the evangelists, and plans are being made to enter new areas.
We praise God for bringing us this far. And I thank Him for my brothers who are now doing this work mostly by themselves and are able to function well without me. This is God’s business, and He will bring to completion what He has started through us. What a mighty God we serve!