[an error occurred while processing this directive] This article is from the EMU News Archive. The approximate date of publication was in April 2006. Current EMU news is available at www.emu.edu/news

Crossroads:
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Spreading the Word Through Dance

Traveling to the West African country of Benin this year? Switch on your television and flip to the music-video channel. Eventually, you'll see Mathieu Assogba singing about the power of God to intervene in issues confronting Benin.

In the video, he may be wearing a suit like a preacher or sweating in the fields like a farmer, but he'll be singing in the traditional style, backed by an expert dance crew, and - chances are - two dozen students from Eastern Mennonite University.

Last fall, the France/Benin cross-cultural group, led by James and Jeanette Neff Krabill, with assistance from their son, Matthew, performed in Assogba's latest set of videos.

That's not the only media resulting from the students' experience overseas: Mennonite Mission Network's latest booklet in the Missio Dei series relates their impressions of the African church.

In 1990, Krabill taught a course, Music in the Life of the Church, at Benin Bible Institute. Assogba, a student in the class, formed a musical group and went on to record four CDs, produce two music videos and win third place in a country-wide talent competition.

"His concern is to share faith by using traditional music categories in Benin and his own words to communicate his faith in Jesus," said Krabill.

Assogba treated the EMU students to three nights of dance classes and an afternoon filming on the beach with producers from the national TV station. "He made it fun," said EMU senior Valerie Showalter, who found Assogba to be patient, outgoing and forgiving as he taught the group traditional dances. In "SIDA Zon," a song about AIDS, the camera cuts from a line of EMU students gamely attempting new moves to a five-year-old child dancing, her shoulders and hips moving in perfect synch with her flashing legs.

EMU sophomore Sara Ramer expects that people in Benin will watch the videos and say, "Ha, ha! That's so funny; these white people can't dance!" . . . But it's nice because my host family gets to see me."

Krabill enlisted the group's help to write a booklet about the African church for the Missio Dei series, essays about mission published quarterly by the Mission Network. He said that responses fell into several categories: a growing awareness of the dynamic nature of the church in Africa; the vital personal faith expressed by the host families "one student was in a home that had almost twenty hours of worship each week" charismatic worship styles and the church's response to Benin's traditional voodoo culture.

Ramer's family took her to an all-night prayer meeting where much of the night was spent rebuking the devil and praying for protection:"I find it hard to believe in evil spirits," she said, "but seeing my family's prayer life was a wake-up call for me . . . I need to pray more and trust God more. You can learn from people without becoming just like them."

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Showalter preached a sermon at her host family's church, but first met with the pastor's council to go over the biblical passages. The group of nine spent an hour-and-a-half poring over the Scripture: "I was amazed by their depth of exploration." The EMU group started their travels in Montpellier, France, with three weeks of language study. They spent a weekend in the Taiz' community, toured hotspots of Anabaptist history in Alsace and Switzerland, visited Paris, and did some free travel before spending almost six weeks with host families in Cotonou, Benin. Their studies of French colonial history and experiences spanning Africa and Europe gave them a deeper perspective on the riots that broke out in the multicultural Parisian suburbs the day after they left the city.

Go to www.mennonitemission.net/Resources/Publications for more information on the Missio Dei series, or call Mennonite Media at 1-800-999-3534. Read student journals and view photos from the trip at www.emu.edu/crosscultural/francebenin05

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Kirsten Beachy, a 2002 EMU philosophy and theology/theater graduate, earned her MFA in creative writing from West Virginia University in 2005. She does freelance writing and editing from her home in Harrisonburg.