From time to time the Lord is gracious in allowing us to see firsthand the fruit of our labor. I understand that some missionaries have spent literal decades sowing the gospel in a culture without ever getting to see the result of their efforts, so I count it a great blessing to have experienced what I did yesterday.
When we left Togo in July of last year, the village of Caouno had, to my knowledge, a grand total of three followers of Jesus: Yao’s wife, his sister, and his daughter. Yao had died earlier that year and with him had died all my hopes of seeing that village turn to Jesus. The one thing that kept us going out there week after week for five months to meet with these three discouraged ladies was the fact that we knew God had led us there, that He had prepared Yao to receive Jesus, and that He would use His death in some way that we couldn’t understand at the time.
At Yao’s funeral we had the opportunity to play numerous times an audio recording of Yao telling his story of how he met Jesus and how his life changed. We thought that this might be what the Lord would use to reach this village, but nothing we could see came from this either.
Two days before we left Togo, Andrew and Daré were doing a Bible study with the three ladies when Yao’s brother, Komlah, came from his house to talk with them. In the course of the conversation, Komlah mentioned that his wife was having some serious stomach problems. Daré took this opportunity to ask Komlah if he had done any witchdoctor ceremonies to fix the problem. As it turned out, Komlah was himself a witchdoctor, and he responded that they had tried everything, but that she was still suffering. Daré then pressed a little further to show Komlah his need to abandon fetishes (the form of idolatry the Lamba people practice) and follow Jesus. By the end of the conversation Komlah had recognized Jesus as his Lord and committed to follow Him! Soon after, his wife turned to Jesus as well and was miraculously healed of her stomach problems.
This turn of events began a chain reaction that has continued up to the present. People have been coming to Komlah’s house so he can do a witchdoctor ceremony and sacrifice, but he tells them that he no longer does those sacrifices anymore, and proceeds to tell them about the one sacrifice of Christ made one time for all. Once people heard about his wife being healed, they began coming any time the fledgling church gathered so the church could pray for them as well. Numerous people have reported being instantly healed of whatever they were suffering from, which has strengthened the faith of these young believers and shown them that Jesus truly is who He claims to be.
Just a couple months ago all the new believers in this church walked down to a small creek and got baptized to show their commitment to follow Jesus. One man, the village drunk as he’s known, wanted to get baptized too even though he hadn’t been planning to. Up to that point, he had been showing up drunk nearly every time they had church, but had recently been more sober and paying attention to what was said during the meetings. When Andrew asked him why he wanted to be baptized, he responded, “I want to leave my old life behind and begin a new life walking on Jesus’ path. I believe on Him now and He is in charge of my life.” Many of the people were saying that he couldn’t get baptized yet because he hadn’t proved himself yet (this is a common teaching in churches here), but Andrew and Daré were adamant that if he had put his faith in Christ that he could get baptized too. Well, from that day until now the man hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol and has shown signs of radical change and growth in his life. He shared a couple weeks ago that he suffers from bad nightmares (a very common problem among the Lamba) and so the church prayed for him to be released from this, and just yesterday he reported that he has not had a single one since!
Yesterday I got to sit under Komlah’s mango tree with around 15 adults from the village and listen to each one of them tell their story of what their life was like before they met Jesus, how they met Jesus, and what their life is like now. I saw people who used to be depressed and never smiling full of joy. I saw people who were once sick and suffering all the time rejoicing that their health is restored. I saw people who used to be in bondage to fetishes and the demons who inhabit them now free in Christ.
As I was sitting there hearing story after story about the power of Jesus in people’s lives, I couldn’t help but think of Yao, whose body is buried just 100 feet from where we were sitting. I reflected on how he desired so much that others would come to know Jesus like he did, but how he never got to see that happen. Then this verse came to my mind, “…a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life.” Yao truly was one who understood the meaning of giving up his life, and he was like that one grain of wheat that died in order to bring a harvest of life to his village.
Today as I was reflecting on all this, I became totally overwhelmed with a sense of peace and clarity about the whole situation and all that God has done and is doing in Caouno. All those frustrating months of fruitlessness, all those times trying to help Yao’s health while watching him slowly deteriorate, all those prayers prayed for him that seemed to go unanswered; all of it seemed to make perfect sense now. I collapsed on my knees in tears, thanking Jesus for his goodness, for his sovereignty, and for his patience with me.
This church still has a very long way to go, and there is still a lot of work to be done there, but by God’s grace we are trusting Him to continue and finish what he started with a pencil-thin, bedridden bone cancer victim who had a hunger to know Jesus. Would you pray with us for this small body of believers in the village of Caouno to grow in their faith, maturity, and boldness as they seek to follow Jesus together?