Church planter Patrice Viakinnou shares his vision for ministry to New York City’s West-African population.
Send Network: How did God lead you to become a church planter?
Patrice Viakinnou: I came from West Africa in 2007. I was leading a Christian center in Porto Novo, the capital of Benin, but God sent us to the United States to expand His Kingdom. After a few years serving in Atlanta, I started thinking about church planting. I looked around, and I saw that everybody is here. It’s a land of immigration. I started thinking about a new concept called Proximity Global Mission—how to reach the world for Christ without leaving the United States. A friend connected me to Brother Aslam Masih at the North American Mission Board. He shared with me the process that I had to go through and the assessment training to be approved by NAMB, and I said, ‘Anywhere, anytime, any cost. I am ready because God sent me to the United States to serve here.’ I think that every Christian who comes here as an immigrant has a responsibility. It’s not by accident we are here. Some people, like me, came for ministry. Some people came for business. Whatever land you are in, God sent you there as a blessing to make disciples.
I think that every Christian who comes here as an immigrant has a responsibility. It’s not by accident we are here.
SN: How were you introduced to New York City as a mission field?
PV: I had a meeting with Steve Canter—the Send City Missionary for New York. I went to New York City with my wife just to see the place. I was not impressed by the beauty and by all of this stuff; I was impressed by the people. People were like ants everywhere, and you see every kind of people. I said, “Yes. I want to be there. I want to be in this place because something needs to happen.” If you want to make disciples of all the nations, we need to find the place where they are. And more than 75% of people now live in big cities. For me, New York City is a gift; it’s a global capital city.
SN: Explain your ministry in the city.
PV: I explain it with a number. It’s 1:18:20. One is one church. Eighteen is 18 countries. You have 18 countries in West Africa—nine speak French, 6 speak English and three speak Portuguese. My focus here in New York City is to plant a French-speaking church. You have more than 50,000 West-African, French-speaking people in New York City, and you have people from all 18 countries. And 20 is the 20 major unreached people groups from that area. Part of our strategy is to influence the influencer. Everybody who is a foreigner is an influencer. When you reach out to an immigrant for Christ, you expand the kingdom of God three times. If somebody came from West Africa to the United States as a Muslim, and we reach him for Christ, he will have an influence locally here in the U.S. He also has a network back home, and that means that he can share his new faith to his people at home. He is impacting the kingdom of God a second time. And third, he can become a bridge for those who want to go to Africa to expand the kingdom of God.
Part of our strategy is to influence the influencer. Everybody who is a foreigner is an influencer.
SN: What is unique about ministering to West Africans?
PV: We have this blessing in Africa. We live in community. So it’s not difficult for us to approach each other. So you can use that natural connection to build relationship. I think they are also very receptive to everything about God. Whatever their belief system, if they are animists or Muslims, the African people, they know about god. And so every time you speak about God to them, they are very sensitive in their response. They are open to receive the word of God from anybody—African or western people—but it depends on your attitude. You have to be a good listener. You have to share love with them—not push them. You have to be patient. We take time in Africa. They want to see who you are. And they want to see how you will take their hand with a smile. How you look at them. And these little things are very important for African people. They also love to worship. They need to express their faith. They need to have respect for God. It’s something natural. Many West-African people who are here want to worship like we worship in Africa. They want to spend time in prayer. They want to spend time singing and singing and singing because they have to express their gratitude and their love to Christ.
You have to be a good listener. You have to share love with them—not push them. You have to be patient. We take time in Africa.
The ladies have a strong role at home in the family, too. Most of them are hard workers, and they really take care of the family, so we have a respect for our wives. When you win West-African ladies for Christ, basically, you win the family for Christ.
SN: In addition to your connections to Send Network, how are you leveraging your unique network as a West African, French-speaking planter?
PV: We don’t have money in Africa, but people pray. My church keeps praying for me every week. When I have any kind of situation, all of my church is praying for me—fasting and praying. Africa, for me, is the first in terms of prayer support. The second point we think of in terms of network is the other French-speaking countries like France and Belgium. They don’t have a big number, but they have a strong financial support that we can mobilze to work with, and many of their people are here in New York City, too. We have another strong French-speaking population coming from Montreal and Quebec. So I think we need to think about how to make a synergy in terms of how we can mobilize the world to come to the global gate to make a difference for Christ.
Published October 8, 2015