Some people have very unrealistic ideas of what Togo is like. We get asked the question quite often, “What kinds of animals do you see there?” What they expect to hear is, “Lions, elephants, zebras, and giraffes,” but the real answer: mostly pigs, goats, chickens, mangy dogs, and the occasional even-more-mangy cat. However, it’s been so long since we wrote an update on our blog that you may have begun to wonder if we were eaten by lions (or mangy cats). I’m happy to inform you that we’re all safe and sound and doing well. I just allowed time (way too much time!) to slip by, and didn’t realize it had been so long since last writing an update. I suppose I could come up with some kind of crazy excuse, like my stomach exploding from eating pig intestines and drinking sorghum beer that literally moved on its own, but that would be going overboard. After all, I wouldn’t want to lie; my stomach didn’t really explode. So much has happened since I last wrote, though, that I feel terrible for not keeping you up to date with what’s going on. I’ll do my best, however, to keep it as brief as possible while I catch you up on the last few months.
January was quite a frustrating month in the ministry with a lot of no-shows for our regularly scheduled Bible studies and moringa meetings. I learned the hard way that Lamba villagers aren’t satisfied with a one-day New Year’s celebration like we are, but instead take at least the whole first week of the year to walk from house to house (sometimes even from village to village) to eat and drink, just to eat and drink some more! While they have a great time doing this, the sad part is that the social obligation to provide food and drink for visitors puts a huge burden on these subsistence farmers, some of whom use up most of their food storage for this celebration even though their harvest isn’t for another nine months. Shortly after this calms down there are a few more rounds of celebrations, but this time for the Atingali spirit worship. There are dances held at various villages, and some villages hold multiple dances at different houses over the course of a few weeks.
Honestly, my reaction to all this wasn’t good. I became a bit discouraged without even realizing it. For the first couple weeks in February I lacked the normal passion and sense of purpose that I usually have, and I found myself mostly just going through the motions of ministry. Through a number of circumstances, God began waking me up to my spiritual apathy and taught me an important lesson, one that I’ve had to learn countless times: that all ministry must flow out of an abiding relationship with Jesus. Just like a branch receives life from the vine to bear fruit (John 15), I must rest in Jesus and allow his life-giving nourishment to minister through me. From this came a renewed passion for the gospel and a revived purpose to see Jesus glorified. Interestingly enough, around this same time God began working in Tchéou as well to reignite his Christ-ward view and his vision for the Lamba people. We know now that God was simply preparing us for what he was about to do.
A few weeks ago I felt God telling me that we needed to return to a household we had visited several months before, where the father has been suffering with some kind of illness for over a year now that has completely debilitated his legs. When we arrived, he explained that when we had stopped by his house the previous month we didn’t find him at home because he had travelled to Défalé to see a traditional healer/witchdoctor who was supposedly very “strong” and could heal him by his incantations and fetish rituals. This was the second healer he had been to (in addition to the hospital), this time costing him around $100, which is equivalent to over two months’ wages. Both attempts by these healers involved cutting open the skin of his arms, legs, head, and bottom of his feet and packing it with some kind of black powder. The only thing he has to show for it now are 100 scars all over his body.
As we talked, he and his wife explained that they are tired of their traditional fetishes and the people they depend on to administrate them. They have cost their family everything and haven’t helped a bit. He expressed that he has even thought about committing suicide, but the thought of his family struggling without him has stopped him so far. He was incredibly encouraged that we stopped by and offered him hope. After listening to him for a while, I knew God was leading me to speak very bluntly, boldly, yet compassionately to him. I told him it’s true that he can’t put his hope in fetishes or healers, but that Jesus is the only one who can heal him. I said that Jesus wants him to leave everything else behind to follow him and to “walk on his trail” (a common expression here). He received this very well and essentially said, “OK, but how do I do that? How do I know if I have done something against God?”
With that, we scheduled to come back two times per week to begin walking through the Bible with him so he can learn the answers to those questions for himself. We have been meeting now for a couple weeks, and he is learning a lot already and is hungry to know more. He also has a Fulani neighbor who has come to the studies when he’s not far from home with his cows, and he is also very curious to know more about “God’s trail.” Please be praying for “Neuf et Demi” (9 & 1/2, as everyone calls him, since he is missing half a finger!), his family, and this curious neighbor as we continue studying God’s word with them.
Yao, just like Neuf et Demi, is desperate. He wants to see Jesus do a miracle in his life, but understands that even if he doesn’t heal him physically, he still must follow Jesus. He is fluent in French, so he asked for a Bible (the Bible has been published in Lamba, but nearly nobody knows how to read their own language!) which we brought to him on our following visit. We started DBS studies with him and his family that following week, and they are fascinated to learn how God created man and how all the pain and suffering we see in the world today was due to our disobedience to our Creator.
While we were at Yao’s house last week, an old widow said that she would like us to come to her house and meet her four sons. We went last Friday and it turns out that one of her sons is very interested in becoming a Christian and would like us to come study the Bible with him. We haven’t spoken with him yet, but we’re looking forward to seeing where this leads. The irony of all these open doors is that every one of these new households is along the same road where Andrew had his accident!
With Andrew and his family coming back at the end of this month, we are very excited about this new phase of our ministry. We still have a long way to go, but it’s neat to see God opening so many new doors after having such a discouraging start to the new year.
Above all, we are trying to continue to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading as we go forward, and we appreciate very much your prayers for wisdom and discernment over the coming weeks and months.