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Two Diplomats Serving Christ in Ottawa
Among the many ambassadors who come to Ottawa to represent their countries, there are those whose faith shines clearly. Here are two examples.

I t's 5 a.m. and, while most of Ottawa is fast asleep, two top level diplomats are already awake and praying. Both His Excellency Dennis Ignatius, ambassador of Malaysia, and Her Excellency Kaba Camara, ambassador from Ivory Coast, use the early morning hours to connect with God before they begin their busy days of appointments, negotiations, receptions and events.

Ignatius's path to God

"Spending one to two hours alone with God each morning helps me keep my heart and mind attuned to Him throughout the day," says Ignatius.

An ambassador's day can easily include two or three receptions with hundreds of guests.

"These large gatherings are an efficient way to check in briefly with many people at the same time," says Ignatius. "But it's important that we give ourselves the opportunity to listen to God."

A career diplomat who has been in the foreign service for 34 years with postings all over the world, Ignatius has not always been such a strong believer. Although he grew up in traditional Christianity, Ignatius had many questions about the purpose of life and the role faith plays in it.

"After university I joined the foreign service, was posted in Washington and felt at the top of my career. But still there was an emptiness gnawing at me," remembers Ignatius. "Your mind can decide whatever it wants to, but the human heart still cries out for the touch of God."

When his father wrote to him and said, "You've given up on a God you don't know," Ignatius realized he was seeing God in terms of the rituals and traditions of the Christian Church and decided to give God another chance.

Ignatius began surreptitiously reading the Bible on his lunch hours and was amazed to find in it "new ideas about Jesus' love, purpose and plans."

Ignatius's constant prayer, "God, I want to know you," was answered one afternoon when an incredible bright light filled his Washington office. It was Jesus telling him: "All of your life I have pursued you. Here I am. If you accept me, I will come into your life. Your pride, your intellectual reasonings have stood in your way."

This moment led Ignatius to turn his life around and to this day he continues to feel that intimacy with God. "As ambassador, I get to do many wonderful things for my country," he says. "Promoting trade makes a difference in the lives of citizens. But that is temporary. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for eternity. It is a great privilege to share Christ with believers."

Ignatius's book Fire Begets Fire (available at www.firebegetsfire.org), is an invitation for believers "to get back into a relationship with God." When Ignatius travels, he often speaks in churches on weekends, hoping to inspire Christians.

Camara's conversion

When Her Excellency Kaba Camara agreed to meet with Faith Today it was in her prayer room. She began the meeting by asking the Holy Spirit to be with us and to guide us. Later the discussion turned to sharing faith.

"Everyone knows I am Christian. When I go to a party and someone notices I am not drinking wine, I say 'I would rather be full of the Holy Spirit than of alcohol.' “Comments like this, she says, sometimes encourage people to ask her about her faith.

Camara's conversion to Christianity from Islam began in 1989. On a pilgrimage to Mecca that year, she heard a voice telling her she was Christian. "I could hear that voice speaking clearly in French despite the Arabic voices all around me," Camara remembers. For the next three years Camara struggled with the meaning of that message. In August 1991 she became a Christian. Despite the pressures of work and the struggles her country is going through on the road to peace, Camara knows the Lord is taking care of her.

Guided by faith

Camara's first calling is as Jesus Christ's ambassador. "My work as an ambassador for my country is a continuation of my commitment to Christ," she says.

Her diplomatic work of building friendship and understanding between Ivory Coast and Canada is guided by her faith.

"I have good relations with everyone — with my diplomatic colleagues, the staff at the embassy, members of my community," reports Camara. "Whenever I have questions about how to act in a situation, I always think about what Jesus would do in my place."

The Lord often asks Camara to pray for nations. On September 19, 2002, she was in New York when war started in her country. Concerns over land ownership and nationality led Northerners to attack the government-controlled South.

Camara is from the North, and friends in New York thought it would be too dangerous for her to return to her country. But on October 7 the Lord told her to go home.

Nothing had happened to her when she returned to Ivory Coast.

Maintaining balance

Robert Montgomery is deputy director of the Christian Embassy, a Campus Crusade for Christ ministry seeking to serve Ottawa diplomats.

“Ignatius and Camara are hard-working and active ambassadors who are committed to handling their diplomatic responsibilities with integrity and honesty.  They represent their countries very well and take strong initiatives on behalf of their respective nations,” says Montgomery.

To do so requires a great deal of grace and self-discipline.

Camara works out three nights a week with a personal trainer at Good Life Fitness.  “I need to have a healthy body and a healthy mind so that I can do God’s work,” says Camara.  When people occasionally compliment her on her healthy appearance, Camara says her favourite response is to say, “I’m blessed by the Holy Spirit.”

Ignatius agrees on the importance of self-discipline.  “Work can be so hectic I have to consciously make time for physical activity.”

He is a member of the Diplomatic Tennis Club and jogs three days a week.

Camara also seeks to maintain balance in her life by devoting her weekends to her faith and her faith community whenever possible.  She prays for guidance when commitments overlap.

Camara met with Faith Today before the Liberal leadership convention in Montreal.  She had been invited to attend the convention as an observer.  But this invitation conflicted with another meeting in Calgary and a local prayer meeting.  How could she be in three places at once?  The registration fee of $1,250 for the Liberal leadership convention also seemed quite steep.

“I come from a poor country.  I cannot justify that expense to my citizens,” explained Camara.  She determined she would have to read about the convention in the paper. 

However, things turned out differently. Camara found out the fee does not apply to ambassadors. Her deputy attended the meeting in Calgary, and so she was able to seize the opportunities offered at the leadership convention.

Diplomatic work

Camara represents her country and works on strengthening relations between the two countries.  “We have to pray for the authorities of the country we are in,” says Camara.

Ivory Coast is the world’s leading cocoa producer.  Part of Camara’s work includes promoting trade exports of cocoa to Canada.  Not an easy task when peace is still tenuous in her country.

“Many doors are closed here in Canada because my country is not in peace.  But I trust in God and I live in peace.”

Beyond diplomacy

Like Camara, Ignatius asks for God’s blessing in his diplomatic work.  And he has many responsibilities in Canada.  There is a growing business relationship between Canada and Malaysia that he is working on promoting.  The light rail in Kuala Lumpur, for example, is being built with technical assistance from Bombardier.  Ignatius also works at increasing the understanding of Malaysia in Canada.

But Ignatius considers himself an ambassador for Christ as well as for his country.

“So many people are hurting and we’ve learned to ignore them,” he says.  “The government can provide physical things like medication and housing.  But no government can bring inner peace and healing.  This is being Christ to the world.”

Kathleen Wilker is a freelance writer in Ottawa.

Originally published in Faith Today, July/August 2007. Revised to incorporate a correction in January 2008.

Used with permission.  Copyright © 2008 Christianity.ca.

 

 
 
 
 

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