Marcel Yanogo was born in Ouagadougou (pronouced wah-gah-doo-goo), the capital of Burkina Faso, Africa, in 1963. Of course, back then, his country still went by its French-colonial name: Upper Volta. Its rebirth in 1984 via coup d’état came with a change of name, incorporating words from two of Burkina Faso’s major languages: “Burkina” from the Mossi (pronounced “Mòoré”) word for “Honest People” and “Faso” from the Dyula (or Jula) word for “Fatherland.”
“I was born in a Christian family,” says Marcel, who is fluent in English, French, and Mossi—a trait that has become invaluable in his ministry to pastors from his multilingual country. “But I would like to tell you the story of how I became a Christian.” Marcel’s father was a pastor, so his exposure to the gospel was part of his childhood. “Every Sunday you have to go to church, you have to stay quiet—if not, you don’t get food at home!” he says wryly. In spite of his strong education, though, Marcel spent the first thirteen years of his life simply hearing the gospel, not accepting it for himself.
“When I was 13 years old, another pastor came into our church,” he explains. “It was a Friday night service. During the teaching, he said something that touched my heart. He said, ‘It doesn’t matter if you are born in a Christian family: you are not a Christian. It doesn’t matter even if your father is a pastor: you are not saved yet. You have to meet Jesus yourself and receive him as your savior and your Lord.’” These words struck Marcel to the core, and after the service he requested an appointment to talk to the pastor more. It was after this conversation that Marcel gave his life to Jesus Christ.
At 14 he was baptized, and since then his walk with God and growth in Christ has been what he terms a “step-by-step” process. “I want to tell you, my Christian life is not like the apostle Paul’s Christian life,” he says with a smile. “When Paul got saved, he changed dramatically. But for me, I have grown step-by-step, learning from mistakes.”
This step-by-step process has played out in a deliberate, sometimes slow path for Marcel. But no matter the length, each phase has prepare him for the new challenges in subsequent ones.
At 17 years old, Marcel first felt his calling to ministry. But it was not until he was 25, when he had completed his schooling and a residency at his local church, which included time in Children’s Ministry and Worship, that he was hired on officially to teach and lead. At the time he was hired, his church only offered one service in Mossi. So, Marcel’s senior pastor asked him to lead a service in French. This was where he would serve for the next sixteen years.
Before this, during his years of training, another important event took place: Marcel met his eventual wife and partner in his teaching ministry, Pauline.
Born in Yako, a town 68 miles north of Ouagadougou, Pauline had a similar journey to salvation. “My father was a pastor also,” says Pauline, who marks her acceptance of Christ at age nine during a convention. In contrast to Marcel’s slightly more urban upbringing in Ouagadougou, Pauline lived on the outskirts of her village in “the bush” of Burkina Faso. She completed her elementary education near home, but in order to attend secondary school, she headed to Ouagadougou. It was during this time that Marcel and Pauline crossed paths at a youth camp.
By this time, Marcel had gone to Bobo-Dioulasso, the second-largest city in Burkina Faso, to attend Bible school. “There were about 600 youths from every corner of Burkina coming to camp. Pauline and I were in the same compartment on the train traveling to Koudougou. I met her there, but we didn’t talk much. During camp I tried to talk to her, but it was hard to find each other. So, I wrote her a letter,” he says. He let her know he was at Bible school training to be a pastor, and asked her to marry him. “I wait, wait, wait, until she gave me an answer. Good answer,” he says as they both smile. “She said ‘yes.’”
In Burkina, though, that was just the start of a very involved process. Once Pauline had given her answer, Marcel talked to his family, church leaders, and pastor. They sent a delegation to Pauline’s village to meet her father. Her father called a village and church meeting, and then sent a delegation back to Marcel’s church.
“This process took like two years,” explains Marcel. “But even after it was complete, I was at Bible school and she was still at secondary school, so we couldn’t get married. It wasn’t the right time: I had no job, no work, no money, no house, no bicycle, no nothing.” In the end, Marcel and Pauline dated for six years before they tied the knot. How do they feel about it? “I don’t advise you to follow my example: it’s too long!” says Marcel with a laugh.
As Marcel learned and served in his local church, it was with Pauline by his side. After sixteen years, though, Marcel felt again God’s gentle prompting in his heart: it was time to take another step. “God put in my heart a teaching ministry and a church planting ministry,” says Marcel. As he taught in French at his church, Marcel had realized the gaping lack of commentaries in Burkina Faso’s local languages. Since less than 30% of their population has been to school, this need is felt deeply in the church culture.
“From this need of teaching, God guided me to start the very first verse-by-verse Bible school in our language: Mossi. And not just for my country, but for all West Africa.” Right now, Marcel has students from all over Burkina plus bordering nations like Côté d’Ivoire. Currently, they have 127 students, and can fit 200 if they have enough food and transportation.
While Marcel teaches and commutes to a local church where he still serves as pastor to about 400, Pauline heads up facilities management. She cooks food, gives Marcel advice, takes care of the cleaning, and watches over the pastors in case of illness. Says Marcel, “Pauline is a great support for me in the teaching ministry.”
One development that Marcel was not expecting is the unity this school has provided across denominations. “I am astounded at that. I didn’t expect other churches to send students, but right now 40% of them are outside of my denomination.” In the past, denominations have been in competition, reluctant to mix. “Now they can go back to their denomination and recognize bad teaching. The spirit of competition is not working. This is a miracle.” They also continue receiving many pastors from the north of Burkina Faso, even though this area experiences some of the most intense persecution in the region from the likes of Boko Haram.
The school’s facilities have also become a sort of retreat center. Pastors looking to take three or four days to pray in solitude and receive teaching may come here to seek God’s will. The facility now also hosts a new venture, headed up by Pauline: a camp for high-school girls, most of whom are Muslim. “Last year we got more than 100 of them,” says Marcel. “Some who are Muslim gave their lives to Jesus Christ.” This next camp begins Sunday, August 20th, and runs through the 27th.
The current needs for the teaching ministry all begin with prayer: for Marcel’s strength, for the safety of the pastors, and for God’s continued provision. Practically, Marcel is hoping to finish a wall around their compound, which will help protect their students from the dangers of African nights. They also need a new building large enough to receive their maximum 200 students all at the same time.
Even as Burkina continues experiencing unrest and terrorism, like the attack that killed 17 in Ouagadougou on August 14th, Marcel and Pauline continue to follow the step-by-step guidance that has directed them so far, trusting God for provision, strength, and wisdom in the face of tragedy.
Marcel’s own surname means “That is good,” and as he continues to pursue God’s will in his ministry and life, with each trial his response echoes this sentiment: God is good.