Stand Still . . .
What God Has Done
The story of how ICA began
Write down for the coming generation
A Time for Prayer
March, 1961 — It was hot; it was late, and everyone was tired. The Conference members had gone over and over the same ground; vote after vote was indecisive, and now several people had to depart, leaving behind unalterable votes.
Would the dream be finished now, after so much had been accomplished?
ICA classroom, staff house and storage shed - c1962
One of the most painful decisions a missionary parent must make is to send a child off to boarding school. And this pain continues with each separation during each school year.
As early as mid-1951, when CBFMS (now CBInternational) missionaries had been
in Côte d'Ivoire for only four years, the issue arose that there
were problems in sending the children to the closest missionary kids'
(MK) school, Mamou in Guinea.
First dorm building - Bethany c1962
First staff house
The Deteriorating Situation
Naturally a group of missionaries isn't able to convince the Home Board that
it is necessary to establish a new missionary kids' school because it
would be nice, especially after thousands of dollars has been spent on
the existing one. For almost ten years CB and C&MA worked together
to provide education for many MKs, despite the costs and the travel problems.
But then a new situation began to develop.
The SearchOne of the problems that C&MA faced that didn't apply to CB missionaries was that they had personnel in both countries: Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. So while CB parents would only send their children to the new school, wherever it would be located, C&MA Guinea people would continue to use Mamou as long as the country remained open, but if that mission were not permitted to use both schools, due to the heavy investment that was still continuing into Mamou, parents in Côte d'Ivoire would have to continue sending their children to Guinea even though there was another option nearby. Their leaders and parents had to plead even more strenuously to be able to participate in the dream: an MK school in Côte d'Ivoire.
But where should it be located? Since CB now had the green light to sponsor this school (C&MA wished to participate but had to continue carrying on at Mamou), the natural idea was to locate it in an ea where CB was working. One consideration was that the school not be too close to the parents!
On August 1, 1960, three men (Ted Ailanjian, Merrill Skinner, and Ken Stafford) left on a whirlwind three-day trip to spy out all the sites thought possible outside of the one chosen in Korhogo. They evaluated local services, fresh produce available, and scenery. The trip would have been exhausting by today's standards: They left Niellé early Monday morning and checked out Badikaha (48 kilometers from Ferkessédougou), and spent the night in Katiola; Tuesday they checked out Katiola and drove to Bouaké; Wednesday they rechecked Katiola and went by Tafiré and Ferké. In all, they evaluated more than ten sites, including some in the towns of Ngolodougou, Niakaramandougou, Niagbo, Logbounlo, and Ndana. Their report concludes: "The committee was authorized to apply for land for our school if we found a site as good or better than the Korhogo site and away from missionary personnel. We made an honest effort to find such a site, but failed." But buried towards the end of the report are a few interesting sentences about a site in Bouaké: "The other possible site is about seven kilometers east of town on the Mbayakro [sic] road. This is also a hillside with a marigot [stream] nearby. There are few trees, but there is a nice open view and land flat enough for building...."
The report ends with the acknowledgment that the land in Korhogo was being applied for through the proper channels and asked the missionaries to keep praying for the Lord's guidance in the choice of the school's location.
Apparently God (or the Home Board) soon indicated another direction, for the same three men went to Odienné in October, 1960 to find a suitable site there for the construction of the new school. An interesting minute from that year's field conference states: "Motion prevailed that M[errill] Skinner and R[ay] Johnson be authorized to cancel the application for land for a school site near Korhogo, and that the chief of Korhogo and other officials involved be informed that our Home Board has instructed us to build at Odienné." Another motion accepts Odienné as the new site and instructs the Legal Representative to make application for the land marked out by the school committee.
The report of the trip to Odienné by the three-man committee on October 7 and 8 details what was meant by "marked out by the school committee." They began by talking to the French commander to explain in detail what the mission wished to do and why they had chosen Odienné. He cordially answered questions about the services and produce available locally, as well as giving them a tour of the available land in and around the town. The French surveyor suggested that the best land was along the Sudan (Mali) road, but that they would need to contact the African chief to see what was available. He, of course, was out of town — in Guinea.
That afternoon the three men found a site that they liked two kilometers out of town and measured off 200 meters along the road and 300 meters back into the bush. They counted more than two dozen mango trees on the property as well as dozens of huge native trees, some more than three feet in diameter and up to 100 feet tall. Would this piece of land be available?
Later that afternoon the committee found that the chief had returned and, after introductions, they explained the reason for their visit. He sent his brother with them to see the land they had in mind and upon his report of where the land was located, the chief assured them that the land was available and they could have all they wanted. The only disappointment seemed to be to the chief and his men when they found out that the new school would be a private one and that the village children couldn't attend to learn English. That was smoothed over by explaining that perhaps some classes could be worked out through the local French school.
The missionaries went to bed that night rejoicing in God's guidance and for the good receptions met with everywhere. The next morning they hired two men to help cut through the thick bush to put in the temporary markers. While they were working, the chief's brother and men from the village arrived to again assure the missionaries that they were welcome and could have all the land they needed. Later in the day the French commander came with the local French contractor. In his conversation, he mentioned that the chief had been by to see him that morning; his question had been, "Is this only talk or do they mean business?" The missionaries assured the commander that they were serious and as he looked at the back-breaking trail they had already cut in the bush, he knew they were not wasting any time. "When can you start building?" he asked them. The target date to begin was January 1961.
The actual building didn't begin that soon, but plans continued to be approved for the various buildings and equipment. In September 1960 a teacher had been appointed for the school — Miss Jan Daugherty. On January 3, 1961 a motion requested that the land be surveyed as soon as possible.
But on February 17, 1961 a telegram was sent to Odienné requesting that the surveyor delay surveying the concession until further notice....
Split down the MiddleThe night of February 16 Martin Eadelman and Rolf Parelius hand-delivered to Jim Halbert, the CB field chairman, a letter from Archie Powell, the C&MA field director with the following information: The political situation in Guinea had deteriorated rapidly in 1960 and by February 1961 the borders were closed and it would no longer be possible for missionaries from Côte d'Ivoire to send their children across the border. C&MA requested that they be allowed to cooperate in the planning of the new school from the formative stages and stated that they protested the location of any school in which they might participate being at Odienné. The letter closes with the following statements: "In view of the above we hereby extend to the Baptist Mission a formal invitation to build the above-mentioned school in Bouaké or its environs. This invitation is the unanimous expression of our Executive Committee and other parents whose children would be affected."
As field leadership tried and tried to contact the home office via radio and cable, and finally got through several times to a ham operator near Wheaton, the thoughts on the field towards the end of February were that the easier course would be to continue on at Odienné, "but it would seem only right to at least consider the Bouaké invitation.... Let us pray during these next few days that the Lord will give us unanimity and unity as we seek His will."
What difference did it make which site was chosen? Comity was a big issue; the missions had agreed on territories in which they would work, and purely and simply, Odienné was in CB territory and Bouaké was in C&MA. Naturally, CB would look first and most seriously in its own territory. C&MA was not making Bouaké an ultimatum for its cooperation, as was misunderstood by some, but stating that the school was welcome to locate there, which was their preference. C&MA parents would be so relieved to have their children out of the Guinea situation that they were willing to consider any reasonable location and rules about visitation. Possibly Odienné was considered just too far away and too close to the Guinea border for serious thought.
But Baptists have never been known to change direction easily. So a special conference was called for March 16, 1961 in Korhogo to make a final decision. Since the issue had been reopened, several of the old choices were reviewed. Tafiré, Korhogo, Odienné, and Bouaké were all reconsidered; straw votes were taken and the meeting, which hadn't started until 3:10 p.m. dragged on and on. Finally, the choice was clearly between Odienné and Bouaké. Jim Halbert recalls: "What I remember about that conference mainly is that as we were seeking the mind of the Lord and His will, we were really divided and I felt that we just couldn't make a decision of that magnitude if we were split down the middle. I really didn't know what the answer was except just to pray and to ask the Lord to somehow give us more of a unanimity of spirit."
Twenty-five people were present and several found that they had to leave early. As they left, they made it clear that their choice was for Odienné, and, of course, once they walked out the door, those votes could not be changed.
There's only a double spacing in the minutes between the motion offering four locations and the final vote choosing one, but that space represents a prayer time that led to the decisive vote.
"Help us, O Lord our God: for we rest on Thee..." God granted the needed wisdom and unity: "Motion prevailed that the school be relocated at Bouaké. Vote: 16 - yes; 5 - no [including those who had already left]; 2 abstentions."
The Final ChoiceSeveral locations in Bouaké had already been viewed by the original scouting team in August, 1960 and now the Executive Committee began looking for the final location in earnest. C&MA personnel had given available sites some thought since their invitation had been issued, and helpfully showed the committee around.
Two of the locations stick in Jim Halbert's mind: one because it was on the other side of a marigot where at that time no road went directly to the land. It was necessary for the Executive Committee to wade through the muddy marigot in order to walk around the land and inspect it closely.
It was during the dry season and the second spot was brown and bare with no trees and not promising-looking at all. Some were discouraged by this; others could remember planting trees and grass in other places and seeing eventual beautiful results. The distance from town (eight kilometers from Bouaké) wasn't seen as a problem since Torogo station was that far from Korhogo.
The Executive Committee decided that this second spot would become the first choice to work on; the others would then be considered if it fell through. The committee chose Jim Halbert to do all the week-to-week negotiations and paperwork since it didn't seem practical for all five to travel to Bouaké.
Negotiations and paperwork! The land under consideration fell under three jurisdictions: the African chief who actually owned the land, the mayor of the town of Bouaké, and the préfet (a French government official) of the whole Bouaké central province of Côte d'Ivoire.
If Jim had envisioned the number of trips down to Boauké he would be making or the number of different obstacles that would turn up over the next few months, he probably would have been overwhelmed from the beginning.
For a Chaise-Longue and a Radio . . .Jim Halbert usually came down to Bouaké on Mondays after doing weekend ministry in Korhogo, and always hoped he could finish up in a day or two and get some work done in Korhogo before the next trip. Over the next three months, Jim came down two or three times a month to attend to some detail in obtaining the land for the new school.
Jim was thankful for the help that the C&MA personnel were able to give him — especially Joe Ost, who had dealt with legal problems before — since he didn't know his way around the town. The first order of business was to visit the chief who owned the land, introduce himself and the mission, and hint at what was wanted without making the chief feel rushed. Since the mayor was anxious to beautify Bouaké and was confident that what Americans would build would do that, and since the préfet was a colonial administrator, who also seem encouraging, it was the chief that was the key man who needed to be persuaded.
Land wasn't purchased in those days; it was obtained through an agreement that involved an exchange of gifts. And the preferr main gift to give to a chief for a piece of land was a case of whiskey or rum. So one of the first problems was finding out from the chief's assistants what gifts he would appreciate, while assuring him that the Baptist missionaries never gave gifts of whiskey to anybody!
Jim felt the weight of this responsibility as the dialoguing about the gifts went on and on. He was helped in this by the C&MA staff who had dealt with the Baoulé [tribe centered in Bouaké] people for a number of years. After about the third or fourth negotiation for gifts, the missionaries up north were wondering how far this would go and how long it would take. But the only way to handle this old guy was with kid gloves; he had a reputation for being very, very difficult — in fact, the préfetsaid he was the most difficult chief in the whole Baoulé kingdom!
Meeting by meeting Jim tried to be as diplomatic and as cautious and as careful as he could without seeming to be pushy or over-anxious. He also needed to hold the line when the chief was obviously trying to get more than he knew was reasonable. As Jim remembers it: "[The chief would] say, ‘Well, I'll think about it and you come back.' and then you knew it was time to give him a gift, and then you'd give that, and, ‘Well, OK, we'll think it over and we'll let you know.' And you'd come back, then you'd come back, and it was always that ‘Come back, come back,' and you couldn't push him because that's the way they operate."
Quite apart from the exchange of gifts and negotiations, there were other obstacles that seemed insurmountable. As Jim remembers thinking: "It became sort of like standing back and just watching the Lord work each time ... it was almost a fun thing — just to stand back and see how the Lord was going to overcome the next obstacle before you got to another one." And all this time the days were going by; with the Guinea borders closed, it was imperative to start the new school soon.
Oh, the final gifts to the chief for the original piece of land were: a chaise longue, because he was getting old, a good radio, and a token amount of cash!
"There's just one problem..."One of the early problems with the chief concerned the amount of land that the missionaries felt they needed in order to build an adequate boarding complex. The original request, therefore, was for nine hectares (a hectare is 2.471 acres), a lot 300 meters along the road by 300 meters deep. But the chief replied that that was far too much land and offered much less. Negotiations continued from both ends until both sides agreed on six hectares, a lot 200 meters by 300 meters. He refused to give any more land at that time, but said to come back and ask for more when more was needed.
Since the six hectares would only cover the beginning stages of the school and not leave room for expansion, Jim checked with the mayor. He was assured that the most important part of the negotiations was getting the first amount of land; after that it came under his jurisdiction as well as the chief's. The school was able to get more land once or twice through this procedure.
Finally, the amount of land was agreed upon, the gifts were agreed upon, and as Jim went to the village to meet with the chief, he was sure that the whole procedure was almost finished. What more could be left to do?
But that day the chief remarked, for the first time in all those weeks, "There's just one problem ... I had promised this land to an ambassador..."
The chief had never mentioned this problem before! He had promised the land to an Ivorian ambassador who had said he wanted it. Jim was told that he would need to find and talk to this ambassador and get him to say officially that the mission could have it instead.
Where was this ambassador, where was his office? "He's a roving ambassador," the chief replied. "He goes all over the world ... he's gone most of the time. He might be in Japan or New York or who knows where." All Jim could say to himself was, "This is going to be real fun to see how the Lord works this one out!"
For an AmbassadorAs Jim left Bouaké to return to his work upcountry, he mentioned to his C&MA friend Joe Ost that he would be going all the way to Abidjan on Monday to see if he could find the ambassador's office and try to get hold of him. Jim knew he had to contact the office in person and attempt to make an appointment.
Meanwhile, as the weeks continued to pass, the missionaries were nervous because it was getting very close to the time limit after which it would be impossible to finish enough buildings to be able to open the school on time. Some were wondering if CBs had made the right decision to go to Bouaké; others were wondering if the old chief would just continue to give them the run-around and then finally say no after all. What could Jim say? "I didn't think that the Lord had brought us this far to let us down and all we could do was push ahead. But, I just decided that it was in the Lord's hand, so we'd keep going."
Monday morning Jim boarded the train to go all the way south to Abidjan, and when it pulled into Bouaké where he normally got off, he wasn't even paying attention when Joe Ost came to the window and yelled, "You're getting off here!" What could this be about ... he needed to get to Abidjan to try to find that ambassador's office and see what could be done.
Jim got off the train and Joe began telling him that the ambassador was in town for the long holiday weekend — and was staying with his friend, the mayor! They needed to go to the mayor's office and see if they could possibly impose on the mayor's cordiality and visit him and his house guest on this holiday. They knew they were being quite audacious, but the mayor had been following the mission's progress with the land and was quite interested in helping within the limits of his jurisdiction.
It must be mentioned here that this mayor, M. Djibo, was always cordial and helpful and encouraging in the whole affair of beginning an MK school in Bouaké. He took quite a bit of pride in his town and in the school that was built and enjoyed showing people what had been done in his bailiwick. Every time that Jim had to go to his office, which was many, many times, he was always very helpful. The missions owe a debt to him, maybe in ways that they will never know.
The mayor was true to form on this day and informed Jim and Joe to come to his house at 8:00 p.m. The missionaries had a little prayer meeting and dressed carefully. Jim had thrown a suit into his case that morning, thinking that should the ambassador be in his Abidjan office, he'd want to meet him in a suit. Jim knew he was a well-educated, well-traveled Ivorian.
To their surprise, at 8:00 p.m. the mayor greeted them at his home in his lounging pajamas — after all, it was a holiday evening. The ambassador was still partially dressed from the day; but the missionaries were quite dressed up, in their "bib and tucker," as Jim put it. As they talked to the ambassador, and realized that he had visited the United States in his tours, Jim had an idea: If this man has lived in the United States, he knows how the Americans think and talk and he knows we come to the point. Perhaps it would be less of a surprise to just handle it the American way. So Jim told him the story, what the mission had been trying to do in order to have a school for their MKs, and that no one had known that the chief had promised him the land. Jim made it clear that he didn't want to ask for the impossible, but that he, on behalf of the mission, had gone through weeks of negotiations; could anything be done? He was as open and frank as he thought he could be without being abrupt.
The ambassador agreed, "If you really need the land for something like that, I'll let you have it; I don't really need it." But before the missionaries could get too excited, they realized that the chief would want some proof that they had actually talked with the ambassador!
So Jim plunged in again, asking if it would be possible for the ambassador to write out a record of what he had just said and sign it. He agreed, but Jim had visions of him returning to Abidjan and dictating it to a secretary, and his being gone on a trip while the letter lay on a desk, and time passing and passing. He gulped and asked, "Would there be any way you could do that while you're here so we'd have it now?" "I'll give it to you tomorrow morning!" he promised.
"That'll be the day," Jim thought as he and Joe left for home.
That would be the day! The signed paper was ready for them the next morning.
Before he ever returned up north, Jim raced out to see the chief and showed him the piece of paper from the ambassador. He doesn't honestly know if the chief thought they would never find the ambassador and that would stop the proceedings, or if he was playing with them, or what. But he can't remember that the chief had any more obstacles for them after that.
"I Hope You Realize What Happened Today!"The day came when Jim and the préfet, the French colonial administrator, had to go together to the village to get the chief's thumbprint, which was his signature, on the document that would give the land to the mission. As they prepared to leave, the préfet mentioned that he hoped Jim wasn't too optimistic: "I don't want you to get your hopes up too high because I don't believe for a minute that he's going to sign that paper today." Jim wondered aloud what more the chief could provide in the way of obstacles. The préfet informed him that the chief was known as the most ornery rascal they ever had had to deal with, and he had never yet signed on the first trip. Jim could only reply that this was in the Lord's hands and He was greater than any man.
The préfet and his entourage and Jim got into the car, drove to the village, and went through all the greetings with the chief, then stated their business — and, lo and behold, the chief put his thumbprint on the document, and the préfet, his entourage, and Jim got into the car and headed back to town. All the way back the Frenchman kept shaking his head and saying, "I can't believe it! I hope you realize what happened today!"
Yes, Jim realized what had happened: To know that the Lord was at work made all the trips, all the waiting, and everything else, worth it.
A Provision to Occupy the LandOnce more Jim returned to his work up north knowing that another trip was needed for one more paper, this time a permit to occupy the land. This would allow a builder to begin work on the campus.
But there were two more problems to be solved before building could begin: a water tower needed to be built for a good supply of water while the building was going on as well as for the students and staff, and a house needed to be found for the builder, so he would have an adequate place in which to live for the six months or so before a residence would be ready on the land. But Bouaké wasn't the town it is now; the normal houses were little more than huts. And none of the missionaries had a spare house available for that length of time.
It fell once again to Jim to solve this problem and he scoured Bouaké looking for an adequate house. Finally, he came upon an African who was building a small house near the bakery that he hoped to be able to rent to Europeans. In those days a careful person could build a house that would pay for itself in about five years' rent; after that the rent would be income. But the African owner had run into a snag.
He had gotten the house to the place where everything was finished but the plumbing and electricity, and had run out of money. He had already promised the house to a Frenchman, an officer who was stationed on the edge of town, but the man couldn't move in until the house was finished. And the owner couldn't finish the house because he was out of money. He was also having second thoughts about renting it to the Frenchman because it would take at least six months after the officer moved in before the governmental red tape was settled and the rent would begin to be paid. So he was becoming more and more anxious to rent it to a private group.
About that time Jim came along and realized that this was the first place he had seen that could be workable accommodations for the missionary builder. He asked the owner how much money he would need to finish the house, bargained with him on the rent, and offered to pay it in advance so that he could finish the house.
The African then had to find the French officer and explain the new situation to him — he was angry about it, but released the owner from the agreement. Jim paid five months' rent and the C&MA people helped him to push the owner to finish, stopping by the house periodically to see how the work was going, so Jim didn't have to make extra trips to Bouaké. The location turned out to be ideal as all supplies had to be purchased in town, and the commute wasn't that far.
Norman Camp, a missionary unable to return to the Congo, was willing to come as builder and he worked so fast that he was finished with this rented house before the five months were up. As Jim looked back over his search for housing and realized again that this house was the only place he had found that would meet the need, he marveled at yet another provision where the timing was so obvious as to not be accidental.
"What Is All This?"Two dorms and some classrooms and the teachers' residence had all been built and school had actually been in session for a few months when one day an official was passing by the road in front of the school. As he drove by and noticed all of the buildings, he said to the aides in the car with him, "What is all this?" No one seemed to know.
The official returned to his office and began to check through his records. There was no record to be found for any Baptist school on that section of the M'Bahiakro Road. There had to be another special permit — he knew that for a fact as it had to come from his office!
What a shock to Jim Halbert and the other missionaries when they received his telegram telling them to stop operation of the school! It meant another quick trip to Bouaké to see the mayor, who was able to help yet again. It was strictly a misunderstanding; no one had known this permit was necessary.
But it was another hurdle that took a few weeks to settle, another time of trusting God to preserve the school He was building.
"Stand Still and See..."Over and over as Jim Halbert worked through the situations surrounding the founding of a new MK school in Côte d'Ivoire, he was reminded of the Lord's words to Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:17, where He told the king that the battle was not his, but God's and he was not to be afraid or discouraged. Rather he was to stand still and see the deliverance the Lord would give.
A military man of the world would laugh at these words because they are so contrary to how the world expects to accomplish its goals. But so many times Jim found himself doing all he could to take care of what needed to be done, sometimes having no idea what the answer was, and then being faced with obstacle after obstacle. And God's word to him would be: Stand still and see how I'm going to work this out.
Jim reminisces that this whole experience was an exercise in faith that was one of the best lessons he learned during his time in Côte d'Ivoire, a lesson he has been thankful for ever since.
International Christian Academy
The new school was named Ivory Coast Academy until 1990 — when
it was renamed International Christian Academy. It is known internationally
as ICA by its former staff and students, and locally as École Baptiste
or the Baptist School.
— Melody G. Nelson, November 1996