The Oikos School for Church Planting has been going now for six months, and already we are seeing some of the fruit from it. Since we hold classes for only three days at the end of each month, the students are able to apply what they learn right away between each session. This also gives us the opportunity to go out to each of their villages throughout the month to meet with them one-on-one in order to hear how they are applying the training, coach them through any problems they are facing, pray with them for their village/city, and encourage them in their work. Some of the students are brand new believers who are learning to lead a house church while others are pastors of denominational churches who realized their need to make disciples and plant new churches rather than just maintain the status quo. Whatever their case, these students are reporting some incredibly exciting things! Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege of visiting most of the students (the last few will be tomorrow), so I wanted to share with you some of the reports they have given. Not wanting to make this a terribly long post, I’ll share these stories in 2-3 posts over the next week.
Zakari, Eric, and Edward
In order to better understand the significance of what I’m about to say, you have to understand that Christianity in Togo is severely divided into several denominations which not only don’t get along with one another, but often persecute one another and seek to destroy and undermine each other’s work. Most interdenominational “relationships,” if you could call them that, function with a great deal of pride, jealousy, and gossip.
This was a concern of ours in starting a school that was open to anyone who held to the core beliefs of Christianity and had a desire to follow Jesus and make disciples as he commanded. We are happy to say, though, that bringing in people from various denominations has led to what we hope is the beginning of much healing and repentance that needs to take place among pastors here.
In the case of Zakari (Baptist), Eric (Pentecostal), and Edward (Methodist), they were all living and pastoring in the same general area within the Tamberma region (more about the Tamberma people in a later post), but they used to never speak to each other. They weren’t hostile, but simply kept their distance and minded their own business. Now that they are all attending the school, however, they have begun meeting together regularly to encourage one another, pray together, and collaborate their efforts to reach their area with the gospel of Jesus. They call themselves the “Association for the Evangelization of the Tamberma.” Several months ago they also began a rotation of weekly prayer meetings in each of their churches in which all the church members attend. At first some of the members were quite upset and were insisting on doing things “their way,” meaning according to their particular denomination. The three pastors, however, explained that they were gathering for Jesus alone and not for a denomination. And now that the churches have experienced unity and fellowship in Christ with other believers from different backgrounds, they wouldn’t have it any other way! Even the villagers around them are noticing the difference, saying things like, “I can’t believe how these Christians get along so well with one another. Look how they truly love each other!” Slowly but surely, the once-dogmatic distinctives and preferences from each of their denominations are fading as they love Jesus together, as they work together to see His gospel reach their villages, and as they learn together at the school that Christianity is not just about how we do church, but about how we live and who we worship as Lord and King.
I wanted to share a particular story the came from Edward. He is a young, single guy living on his own, which is incredibly rare to see here in Togo. He lives near his parents, but wanted to get out of their house because he is the only Jesus-follower in his family and he was experiencing some serious spiritual warfare by living in a house where fetishes (similar to idols) are constantly worshipped.
As we talked with him, he told us about how being at the school has given him a new boldness and has strengthened his faith. Over the past few years his crops have not done too well for various reasons. This year, however, he has decided to put his crops entirely in God’s hands and trust Him to provide the food and income he needs to continue traveling to other villages to make disciples. The rains have come especially late this year, but well before they started Edward decided to plant a field of soybeans. All the other villagers were telling him and a neighbor of his, who planted soybeans at the exact same time, that there is no way they will grow because there’s no water. Well, after a couple weeks his soybeans somehow began sprouting and growing while his neighbor’s didn’t. Everyone was astonished at this, as you can imagine! I just saw this large field of soybeans a couple weeks ago, and they are still doing great.
In past years he has had problems with birds coming and eating the seeds out of the ground, and even though he would watch his field vigilantly, they would still get a lot of his seeds and destroy a good portion of the crop. This year, though, he has not been home much to watch over his field because he’s often traveling to nearby villages to make disciples. He has entrusted the Lord to watch over his field, and amazingly he hasn’t had a problem at all with pests, birds, or theft. Now that’s what I call farming by faith!