By Tim Tanton
When God spoke to Bishop Benjamin Boni, the leader of the Côte d’Ivoire’s United Methodists responded.
It was October 2000, and violence had convulsed the country following public anger over a presidential election that was perceived to have been rigged by the military ruler. Boni heard God telling him to rally the country to prayer.
“One day, a voice clearly said to me, ‘Call on the churches, not only the Methodists, but other churches, to join in prayer, and we did that,” Boni says. “And for (a while)…we had peace.”
Boni’s ability to work with the other religious leaders of his country and mount a national call to prayer reflects his stature as the top Methodist leader in Côte d’Ivoire, and it shows the standing of the denomination, now part of the United Methodist Church, in the life of the country.
The incident also underscores the importance of prayer to the 57-year-old bishop.
Praying for the hopeless
It is about 6 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, and the Boni household is getting ready for the day. For the parents, there is work. For the young people, work or school.
First, the family has worship. Bishop and Madame Boni gather with their five daughters and son, ranging from 20 to 32, plus two nieces. They read from the Bible, sing songs, hear a message, and pray.
This morning, the bishop and his wife, N’Gbesso Berthe Boni, have gathered their five daughters and son, along with other household members, on the patio of their home. Today’s Scripture is Job 28. Bishop Boni talks about wisdom, noting that we can find wisdom only near God. In Christ, we have all the treasures, he says, so if we need wisdom, we must go to Christ.
The bishop cites the proverb that says fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom should bring a person to know and serve his or her Creator, he says.
When the time comes to share prayer concerns, Madame Boni lifts up the country and people who are sick.
“Family worship is important because without prayer we cannot do anything, as stated by the Apostle Paul,” she says later, in a follow-up interview. “That is why we put Jesus in the beginning of everything. In the morning, we, the parents, lead the family worship. At night, the children will lead. Each has his turn. Everyone has his day. We pray for all subjects.”
Bishop Boni is writing a family prayer book in which he emphasizes the importance of worship time together.
“To be able to fight with victory in this world, we need God every time,” he says. Children must be educated and shown the way of God, so they will be close to him when they grow up, he says.
That close relationship is central in his life, as well. “Being bishop is not easy because you are responsible for a big congregation, so you have to be with God to learn from God,” he says. In times of trouble, he adds, God speaks to him.
A book for the soul
As at home, prayer and worship come first at work. Stepping out of his car, the bishop enters the annual conference office, wearing a dark suit despite the heat and carrying a brown leather briefcase with an elephant sculpted into the side. He proceeds to a room where the staff is seated in a circle for worship. Surrounded by his top clergy aides, the bishop leads the service, and during the sermon elaborates on his message from earlier in the morning about Job 28.
Prayer is the constant in a schedule that changes from day to day. One morning, for example, he participates in the dedication ceremony of a new Bible commentary at the Palace of Culture.
The bishop views the commentary as an important resource for the faith life of the country. Commentaire Biblique Contemporain is the first French-language Bible commentary written by African francophone scholars—Methodist, Anglican, Baptist, evangelical—and has been five years in production.
Being written in an African context makes it particularly important, says the bishop, who wrote the foreword.
His role in the dedication ceremony is to give the final prayer or benediction. Speaking in French, he thanks God for the commentary, which he says “will do good things for our souls.”
In the early evening hours, the bishop will gather again with his family. They will close the day as they began it, in prayer.
Tim Tanton is director of the Media Group at United Methodist Communications. Thanks to Isaac Broune, Cote d’Ivoire Conference communicator, for his help in obtaining the quote from Madame Boni.