Missionaries hopeful to return to Ivory Coast with Gbagbo’s trial underway

By December 9, 2011

Ivory Coast (MNN) — A year after he lost the Ivorian presidential elections, ex-president Laurent Gbagbo is being tried before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

In November 2010, Gbagbo barely lost the presidential vote to current president Alassane Outtara but was convinced the election had been rigged. He refused to step down from his presidency, creating nationwide chaos and civil war.

Over the course of the next five months, over 3,000 people died in fighting between Outtara and Gbagbo supporters.

Gbagbo appeared in court earlier this week in front of a panel of international judges in The Hague in The Netherlands. But the New York Times reports that Gbagbo's trial could take about a year to begin. Speculations have been made about what violence could break out within Ivory Coast, especially since the nation was almost evenly divided in last year's elections. Gbagbo still has supporters.

And yet the last year's turmoil has in some ways been unifying for the nation as well as the church, says Verne Johnson, an expatriate missionary to Ivory Coast with New Tribes Mission.

"When [Gbagbo] refused to concede to the elective president, he actually made a pretty bad name for himself with some of these crimes he's being accused of," notes Johnson. "I think it actually helped to unify the country under the new president–which is a very good thing."

The church has also been strengthened. During the violence, believers were threatened and even killed. Dozens of missionaries, including Johnson, were pulled out of Ivory Coast for their safety. But what could have been a disheartening time for the church turned out to inspire growth, Johnson says, thanks to the foundation New Tribes missionaries left behind.

"For those of us who were actually trying to empower the believers to walk according to the Word of God, I think it could've actually been a very strengthening thing," confirms Johnson.

Even Bible translation work has been able to go on–a commitment that NTM considers vital to building the body of believers in Ivory Coast. Although most speak French in the nation, French is not the mother-tongue language of most people. Scripture will only speak to the people fully when they can hear it in their heart language, says Johnson. When translation is complete, the church will be able to better grasp the concepts of mission outreach and spreading the Gospel.

A better understanding of missions could not only save many, but could ultimately help put the country back together.

As the nation settles further into peace, NTM is hopeful to help in another way, too. "There is a large amount of hope that there will be renewed security in Ivory Coast, and that a lot of expatriate missionaries can return." Johnson hopes that he and other expatriate missionaries will soon be able to continue their work alongside the nationals to build the church and spread the Peace of Christ in a war-torn nation.

Continue to pray for the Christians of Ivory Coast, who have suffered much over the last year. Pray that the church would be used as a vehicle to make the Lord's name known.

Learn more about the work of NTM in Ivory Coast.

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