Last Saturday marked exactly one year since we left the States to come back to Togo. As you probably already know, that was the beginning of our ministry “reboot,” when we began working among the Lamba people group. When I look back at all the people we’ve worked with in the past year, Yao is the one person who brings me the greatest amount of mixed feelings: joy and sorrow, hope and despair, inspiration and discouragement.
From the first day we met Yao, we knew that he was different. It was obvious that he had been prepared by God to receive his word and follow Jesus. And just like the two brothers who live near him, Yao has shown thaxt the Holy Spirit is actively working in his life, and he has a great desire to share what God is doing in his life with others.
The problem with Yao, however, is that he can’t walk. Almost a year ago, he broke his upper femur very close to his hip. As he told us the story about how it happened, however, it seemed nearly impossible that the strongest bone in his body could break so easily. So about a month ago we drove him down to the Kara hospital to get an x-ray and blood test done. After four anxious days of waiting (yes, things really do take that long here!), we were told by the doctor that he has advanced bone cancer in his femur. It also appears that it has spread to other parts of his body, based on the fact that he has a quickly growing lump on top of his head. This was incredibly discouraging to us as we realized that, while he shows no other signs of being sick, he may only have weeks or months to live; we really don’t know. The saddest part of all this is that if he lived in a developed country, it probably would have been detected much earlier and he could have treated it and possibly overcome it. With the advanced stage of the cancer, and with the abysmal health care in Togo, death is an imminent certainty for him, barring an absolute miracle.
We have told Yao that God can, and sometimes does, miraculously heal people—and we have been actively praying for his healing—but that it ultimately does not depend on our prayers, our faith, or our desires, but on God alone. Yao believes that God can heal him, and he has been encouraged by listening to a few stories of Jesus healing people just like him. It’s hard to know what to do; on the one hand, we absolutely believe that God has the power to heal him, even in his seemingly impossible case; on the other hand, we know that God does not guarantee healing for everyone who asks, and we do not want to give him a false hope. He had a great comment about this, though, as he explained it in a very African metaphorical way. He said that strong winds often blow, and some trees are mostly unaffected by it while others are immediately blown down. Some, however, are partially uprooted but still living. They are close to falling, but can sometimes hang on for years like that. God is the only one who decided when they fall or if they continue to stand strong.
In the midst of all this, we have discovered that Yao’s brother (who is currently lodging and feeding him) wants to become a charlatan (like a witchdoctor) and has begun speaking against Yao’s decision to become a Jesus follower. This has caused some tension in the household, so Yao would like to construct his own house nearby and move with his wife and kids during the next dry season. In the meantime, Yao has continued sharing the story of Jesus with everyone in the household. He has also said that if God enables him to, he will take God’s word to the village where he worked for a number of years leading up to his accident. Because of his influence, Yao’s sister has been coming to the Bible studies at his house, and has stated that she also wants to leave her fetishes and follow Jesus. He has also begun urging a nearby family to follow Jesus and abandon their fetishes that have caused them so many problems. To be perfectly honest, sometimes when I see Yao’s condition but see his heart to help other people and bring them the liberating story of Jesus, I am tempted to question God. I want to ask him, “Lord, for what reason would you not heal Yao?”
NOTE: If this next paragraph confuses you, please read this post for more clarity.
Last Monday, Tchéou was speaking with Yao about the ways that fetishes and atingali (a fetish cult) take away more in the end than they promise to give, when suddenly Yao said that the Lord helped him to realize something. He said that a couple years ago his son was very sick and was not getting better. Somebody recommended that he go see a person who was very strong in atingali. He and his brother went together, and Yao’s son was healed. His brother bought a large portion of atingali, and Yao was talked into buying a little as well, which he then took to his house and burried in the ground. He realized that all of his problems began shortly after that, and he traced it all back to when he brought it to his house. He said that as soon as he is able to he is going to dig it up and return it to its owner.
Please pray for Yao and his family. They are suffering in so many ways, yet they are realize that there is a new richness in their lives which far surpasses any wealth they are lacking. We are looking to help them with a second income source, though, besides what his wife makes from selling food and drink. We are considering getting Yao set up with some sort of solar phone charger so he can run a little business from his house. This would also provide him with many opportunites to speak with people in his village that he would not otherwise be able to visit. We are still in the process of choosing what type of device would be best for him, but if you are interested in helping out with this please tell us and we’ll let you know if, how, and when you can do so.
Yao is more motivated to follow Jesus to share his liberating story with others than anyone I’ve ever seen, yet at the same time he is severely limited physically. In spite of his desperate situation, we know that he will stand like a strong tree bearing fruit until God allows the final wind to blow through his leaves, whether that is a month, a year, or a decade from now.